We debated just how to cover the recent release of Valve’s long-awaiting Orange Box. Review it as one product? Look at each game alone? Ignore the review and just get lost in the sheer value of the Box? While the latter was easily the most tempting option, we manned up and decided that these were games so good, they deserved standalone attention. And sweet monkey Jesus, Team Fortress 2 is one fun, fast, and visually stunning game.
TF2 has an impressive pedigree. It was one of the first big mods for Quake, released back in 1996 and put together by three keen Aussies who later worked with Valve to release Team Fortress Classic for the Half Life engine. It was a huge success, and Valve soon made plans for a bigger, better and grittier release in the shape of Team Fortress 2; which soon became known as one of the biggest pieces of gaming vapour-ware the world had known. Until now.
The new iteration of TF2 is radically different from any previous version or ideal. All pretense of ‘simulation’ is thrown out the window in favour of insane physics, old school fragging and Incredibles-esque character design.
Visually, TF2 owes more to games like Lucasarts’ venerable Monkey Island series, with exaggerated cartoon figures dashing across a brightly coloured landscape, rather than, say, the gritty look and feel of Half Life 2 or other team-based shooters like Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (reviewed last issue). The hulking Heavy is the perfect example of TF2’s design ethos – tiny legs support a huge barrel chest, topped off by a blunt, bullet-like head; and his weapon is a ludicrously large mini-gun on steroids. His voice is a thick Russian caricature that booms across the map, instantly warning the enemy that hot-lead death is about to rain down on their position.
This leads into another of TF2’s strong points. Each character class, and there are nine of them, is perfectly unique from both a design and gameplay perspective. Run-speed, firepower, health, and area damage abilities are all traded off each other to make picking the best class for a given map and team an ongoing exercise in never-quite reached perfection. Going back to the Heavy, no other class can match him for hit points or sustained firepower, but he’s also the slowest class, and completely lacks any kind of pin point accuracy; but supported by a Medic, and flanked by a Demoman and a Soldier, and you start to see how all these unique classes are designed to interact.
If there’s any flaw in the game, it’s the limited amount of maps included with the initial release. There are only six; given the speed of some games, you’ll find most servers will rotate back to the same maps frequently in any sufficiently long gaming session. But to our mind, this is a very clever move. With nine classes to explore and co-ordinate, TF2 offers not variety of locale, but variety of strategy, which is a true rarity in this kind of FPS. In one particularly long attempt to win on the venerable 2Fort, for instance, strategy can shift from using stealthed Spies to infiltrate the enemy base, to converted rushes of teamed Medics and Soldiers. Similarly, defensive measures can sway between Heavies and Snipers stopping assaults dead, to planned ambushes that combine charges from a Demoman and automated turrets put in place by Engineers. Given time there’ll be even more involved strategies created, and more insane ways to counter them.
Steam’s new Community features also feature in the game’s longevity. Nearly every session at the keyboard will unlock new achievements, or at least tell you how close you’ve come to beating your old high score, damage output or time spent alive.
Even if you don’t want to get the entire Orange Box, TF2 can be purchased separately via Steam – and any FPS fan with a sense of humour and an itchy trigger finger will find this a must-own.