Madcap mayhem, that is how I would describe the gameplay in Valve’s Team Fortress 2, now available on the PC and Xbox 360 as part of The Orange Box, or by itself for download over Steam, Valve’s large digital distribution network for the PC.
Team Fortress 2 is an online, multi-player only, first-person shooter. Like most games of this nature, the action could be described as ?chasing around dudes with guns, and shooting them.? However, such a phrase could not even begin to portray the real game here. No, there are a large number of things that set Team Fortress 2 apart from the rest of the FPS pack.
To begin with, this game is, as the name implies, all about teams. Many games of this nature boil down to solo frag-fests. You may be divided up into two groups labeled as ?teams,? but for the most part it is every man for his own kill count, and co-operatve strategy be damned. Not so in Team Fortress 2. The game types presented here makes teamwork essential. Capture the Flag and Control Points both make territorial control of the maps paramount. Additionally, the interesting and dynamic interplay between the game’s character types make communication between team members a prerequisite to success, which brings us to our next point.
Most shooters toss everyone into the game on an equal footing, usually carrying around some pea-shooter and looking for a better gun to upgrade to. TF2, however, differentiates each player from the get-go, by having players choose as one of nine unique character classes, loosely grouped into three groups: offensive classes Scout, Soldier, and Pyro; defensive classes Demoman, Heavy Weapons Guy, and Engineer; and support classes Medic, Sniper, and Spy.
Each class has its signature primary weapon (the Pyro’s flamethrower, the Solder’s bazooka, the Heavy’s Gatling gun) and one to three additional sub-weapons, usually something like a pistol, shotgun, melee weapon, or class-specific items and abilities such as the Engineer’s tools used to build sentry turrets, the Spy’s kit of disguises, and the Medic’s health gun. Accordingly, each class has several roles to play and niches to fill in the game.
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1. The Scout has a shotgun that is super-powerful at close range, but his main draw is his extreme running speed and superior maneuverability. They zip around the maps, outrunning everyone and handily avoiding weapons fire. They also have the nifty ability to capture control points (by standing on them and waiting for the timer to run down) in half the time of any other class.
2. The Pyro has a flamethrower, which is extremely lethal at close range, as any enemy alighted will burn until they either find some water, or die. He also carries with him a fire axe and shotgun for going up against a rival Pyro, where flame-retardant suits hinder lethality.
3. The Soldier’s main weapon is his bazooka, which makes giblets of enemies with ease, and makes taking out enemy sentry guns a snap. It also gives him the ability to ?rocket-jump,? by firing straight down into the ground and simultaneously jumping, to reach heights unavailable to most classes.
4. The Demoman carries a grenade thrower, which is handy for bouncing deadly explosives around corners and into enemy faces. He also has sticky bombs, which can be adhered to any surface and remotely detonated, and are great for laying traps.
5. The Heavy Weapon’s Guy’s primary weapon is a massive Gatling gun that, once barrels are up to speed, and tear through enemy units like a tornado through a tree house. He also features the most health points of any class, though he is big and slow to compensate for his strength.
6. The Engineer is able to build machines for the cause. Chief among them is the sentry gun, an automated turret that scans it’s field of view for bad guys to mow down. They are extremely effective at higher levels of modification, and can drastically reduce the effectiveness of an enemy offensive. Other machines include health and ammo dispensers and teleporters. The Engineer also carries a shotgun around for more personal work.
7. The Medic is a nice addition to any team, with his ability to restore members’ health and give them an ?Ubercharge,? a ten-second period of invulnerability in which to fell cunningly placed sentry guns or multiple enemy troops. In addition to his health-shooting gun, he carries a syringe-shooter and bone saw. This is one doc whose bill you don’t want to forget to pay.
8. The Sniper can use his long rifle to pick off enemy units from his shadowy perch, or to take down sentry guns from outside their effective range. He is best served by moving stealthily from place to place, never lingering past the time needed for a few headshots.
9. The Spy is great for infiltrating enemy territory. He has the ability to disguise himself as any character class from either team, though this means no shooting unless he wants the disguise to drop. This is a great way to get behind that Heavy blocking the door the rest of your team wants to run through. He also has a cloaking ability, which for about 15 seconds will render him almost completely invisible, which is very useful for shaking pursuit if found out. He carries a six-shooter, but most dirty work will be done from behind with his butterfly knife (an insta-kill), or with an electric sapper placed upon enemy sentry guns.
All nine character classes are extremely well balanced. If your team finds itself up against a proverbial wall, a quick class-change, available at any time, at the low cost of a respawn (exactly like when you are killed), is probably just the answer. It is immensely satisfying to put up a super-deadly sentry gun in front of your team’s intelligence briefcase in Capture the Flag mode, and it is just as satisfying as a Spy to knife that enemy Engineer and destroy his sentry with a sapper. The same could be said of being a Heavy with a Medic giving you a window of invincibility to charge into a room of the opposition and just decimate them.
While few in number at just six, the maps in TF2 are excellent. They are absolutely huge, and layed out perfectly to catalyze very fun tug-of-war games between well-balanced teams. Depending on the game and round, some areas of larger maps are made accessible or inaccessible. In a game of Capture Points on Hydro, for example, there are six points to capture. The red and blue teams each start in possession of three points, and must battle over the one in the ones at the front. If a team wins one point, then the next round will progress to another area within the overall map. Doors and hatches lock or open as the case may be, giving each section of that map a unique flavor depending on how the tide of the game is flowing.
All this is wrapped up in a wonderfully cartoon-like art style. One glimpse from across a map is all it takes to discern what class a player is, as they are all instantly recognizable. The maps and weapons and antics of all the players are akin to a Road Runner cartoon in TF2’s novel style. It is extremely endearing, as each class shouts varying lines of grin-worthy dialog to each other as encouragement or taunts. The unique art style also facilitates gameplay, as it stresses processors less in order to enable a silky-smooth frame-rate, and takes emphasis off of realism in the combat, to allow it’s full craziness free reign.
If you like multi-player online FPS’s, Team Fortress 2 will not disappoint, and it is different enough from other big games out there, such as Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, to enjoy alongside one of those without getting shooter fatigue. It’s as much fun as I have ever had on Xbox Live – that is for sure.