Jan 2 2008
Even if you never played the original Quakeworld Team Fortress, you probably know someone that did, and they're probably still talking about the fun they had to this day. As nostalgic as many of us are about Team Fortress, early versions of the mod had all sorts of problems, including a poor selection of maps and numerous class imbalances, although these things did improve over time. The sequel, oddly dubbed Team Fortress Classic, had a better engine and many refinements over the original, but never caught on to the same extent, partly because Counter-Strike had arrived.
Valve decided to give this old favorite a new life by releasing Team Fortress 2, and it has been quite a sensation. It's available as part of the Orange Box or it can be downloaded separately on Steam, and it has quickly found a place among the most popular multiplayer online shooters for the PC.
TF2 is built on the Half-Life 2 graphics engine, which still does a nice job even next to the new generation of engines that is emerging. As the screenshots reveal, the art direction for the game is absolutely brilliant, as they've abandoned realism for amusing caricatures of the traditional Team Fortress classes. Words can't express how beautifully this animated-film look captures the spirit of what this beloved shooter is about. The environments are consistent with the models, and deployables like sentry guns have delightful construction sequences. The emotes and voices for the various classes are highly appropriate, which contributes to the casual atmosphere of the game. TF2 is an excellent example of how artwork can do as much or more for a game than the fanciest graphics technology, while still offering good performance on older PCs.
Back to Basics
Of course, as in other aspects of life, appearance isn't everything. Solid gameplay remains the only thing that will keep people coming back, and TF2 shines in this regard as well.
Where most modern shooters strive to give people more and more weapons and vehicles to play with, TF2 moves in the opposite direction. There are no vehicles and each class has only a few weapons at their disposal. Grenades, aside from the Demoman's grenade launcher, have been removed completely. This was a controversial decision and I've heard a number of complaints about it, but I like it even though it limits your options a little. There's enough going on without having to run through a minefield of grenade spam around every corner.
The 9 classes from the original are all present and accounted for: Soldier, Demoman, Heavy, Pyro, Sniper, Engineer, Scout, Spy, and Medic. In effect each class has a primary weapon or skill, a secondary weapon, and a melee weapon. Most of the classes have retained their traditional weapons and roles, but there are exceptions.
Engineers can build a teleporter as well as a dispenser and a sentry gun. Sentry guns are quite deadly when fully upgraded and they're critical for a good defense. The teleporter requires the Engineer to build both an entrance and an exit, and they take a while to recharge after being used. As a result, you can move more teammates with multiple transporters than just one.
Along with being able to disguise themselves as a member of the enemy team, Spies have been given stealth and backstab abilities. Their cloak gives them 10 seconds of invisibility, although being shot or bumping into enemy players can give them away. Backstab is pretty close to a guaranteed kill against any class if you can get into position, but you don't take much damage so it's not always easy. Although tranquilizer darts are gone, Spies have sapper charges that make quick work of sentry guns. The game is typically played without friendly fire, so the best defense against spies is to shoot anyone you suspect and see if they take damage. Pyros are particularly effective spy hunters, because if someone on your team catches fire, it's obvious you have an enemy in your midst.
The class that has seen the biggest changes is probably the Medic, who can no longer infect the enemy (as cool as that was). Rather than healing with a melee weapon as they have in previous versions, they now have a gun that effectively shoots health at teammates, and continues to heal them as long you hold the trigger down. Medics can also boost a player's health beyond their normal maximum. Their most spectacular move, however, is a temporary invulnerability shield that encompasses both themselves and their target. This "ubercharge" only becomes available after the Medic has done a certain amount of healing, and it's key for pushing into heavily fortified enemy strongholds.