Consistently repetitive and frustrating, multiplayer shooters have come less about cooperation and more about individually unlocking new equipment and gaining levels. Subjugating their players to long stretches of annoying level-grinding amidst irritating players and tactics, these games become most enjoyable at the expense of other players. If one is having fun playing a game like Call of Duty, someone else is being frustrated because of it. A fundamental lack of balance makes it so that players that have invested the most time into playing will dominate the competition, not because they have developed the most skill, but because they have unlocked superior equipment. Thus, player development is relegated to the unethical realm of rewarding players for completing repetitive and annoying tasks.
Shooters suck. Or so I thought until I came across a game so consistently enthralling, so cooperatively challenging, so comically lighthearted, accessible and rewarding, that it not only changed my mind but restored my faith in the viability of multiplayer shooters entirely.
Team Fortress 2 is the finest multiplayer shooter I have played since the original Call of Duty. A tactical game, matches revolve around one team attempting to complete an objective, i.e. pushing a cart to a goal, attacking a base or dominating the map, while the other team attempts to prevent that goal from being accomplished.
At the core of the action are nine character classes. Each with its own unique role in the battlefield and its own strengths and weaknesses, none are useless and each play as if it were from a different game.
The three offensive classes are respectively the Scout, Soldier and Pyro. The Scout moves far faster than any other class, can double jump and can capture points twice as fast as any other class. Able to substitute his pistol for ability-enhancing sodas, he can speed through stalemates quickly into unguarded capture points, instantly turning a game around. The Soldier is equipped with a rocket launcher and can use it to launch himself high into the air. His shotgun can be swapped for a trumpet, which can give allies offensive and defensive bonuses when he takes enough damage. The Pyro is a close-range class and is most dangerous when hiding behind corners. Armed with a flamethrower and a shotgun, upgradable to a long-range flare-gun, his attacks deal fire-damage, sapping away health quickly.
Defensive classes include the Demoman, Heavy and Engineer. The Demoman is armed with a powerful grenade launcher and a remote-detonated stickybomb launcher. His grenade launcher can be used to hold back advances and kill advancing enemies and destroy buildings and the stickybombs can create dangerous traps. The Heavy, Team Fortress 2’s mascot, can instantly fortify any position with a low-recoil, rapid-fire minigun and boost his health with a variety of “sandviches”. Engineers are critical to any successful strategy and play an important support role. Capable of erecting sentry guns, ammo and health dispenser and teleporters, Engineers reinforce defensive perimeters, resupply offensive pushes and allow for the rapid and constant reinforcement of new troops.
Support roles take a gamut of classes that do not fall into any particular position. The Sniper, an Australian man, is armed with a long-range sniper rifle that charges up its power when zoomed in. The sniper rifle is swappable for a “Huntsman” bow, which sacrifices the scope in exchange for faster charge-time. The Medic is armed with a healing gun which restores health to allies in addition to a syringe gun. The only class with regenerating health, Medics play an important offensive and defensive role by building up “Ubercharges” by healing enough damage in one life. Ubercharges grant ten-seconds of invincibility and ammo regeneration to the deploying Medic and any ally. An Ubercharged Heavy can instantly break through any stalemate and destroy any fortification, turning the tide of the game in seconds. The Spy is armed with only a revolver but has the important ability of disguising himself as a member of the opposing team. A stealth-class at heart, the Spy must adapt his behavior to match that of the player that he is disguised as. While in enemy bases, a Spy can sabotage defenses by destroying Engineer buildings and backstabbing Heavies. By destroying teleporters and sentries behind enemy lines, a single Spy can turn an entire game around.
Team Fortress 2’s fundamental class design places less emphasis on combat and marksmanship and focuses primarily on role-playing instead. Points are rewarded not only for kills, but for healing, teleporting, building destruction, kill-assisting and back-stabbing. Success in Team Fortress 2 comes not out of killing everything in sight and maximizing one’s score, but playing one’s role well, and in turn, bringing success to the team. There are no “jack-of-all trades” classes, each player must rely on the support and help of others. The fundamental design of each class makes the roles come naturally, and as a result, Team Fortress 2 is not only one of the most strategically deep tactical shooters out there, but one of the most accessible.
Team Fortress 2’s class system procures a tangible sense of camaraderie. Performing actions that turn around the course of a match are a regular occurrence for many of the classes, be it singlehandedly capturing the final point as a Scout, destroying a critical sentry as a Spy or stopping an assault as a Heavy. The careful interplay of class abilities makes for extremely well-balanced games as well as many thrilling abilities. No class can succeed without another and likewise, each class has the ability to serve the team in countless ways.
Graphics, Art and Audio
A major complaint against modern shooters is that characters are "generic" and pallete "grey, black and red". Fortunately for Team Fortress 2's sake, "gritty and intense" art is eschewed for "bright and cartoony". Utilizing the most recent version of the Source engine, the game has a distinct, semi-cell-shaded Pixar-esque art style. Characters are easily distinguished from the environment due to the color distinction between their surroundings and classes are easily distinguished by their unique silhouettes. This makes playing far easier and the lack of a radar insignificant.
Further simplifying navigation and combat is the fundamental art-direction of the environments. Each side of the map looks entirely different. The RED team's side resembles a red barn with dirt floors and industrial equipment and the BLU team's side resembles a lab with blue-tinted walls and white floors. The maps are linear, not wide open, and thus facilitate objective-based gameplay very well. The more esoteric maps, like the Halloween-themed Mann Manor, offer a nice change of pace and look fantastic.
By a large margin, Team Fortress 2's character design distinguishes it from its competitors. The distinct silhouettes, humorous voice-acting and expressive faces lend each class a vibrant personality practically unfound in any military shooter in recent memory. Wonderful character animation solidifies the personality of the characters. Each class walks with a different gait and fires his respective weapon with a real sense of power. Character taunts, which freeze the player in place to preform a short animation, are preformed by tapping the "G" key and showcase some of the finest humor and serve well to characterize each class. From the Heavy's hug of his minigun, the Demoman's mocking "flash" and the Scout's dance, the taunts are animated beautifully and serve well to make the battlefield a much more lively and dynamic environment than it otherwise would be.
Sound design in Team Fortress 2, while not groundbreaking like the game's animation, remains very well done. Weapons sound powerful and distinct, each class and weapon can be distinguished by the sounds they make. Voice acting is phenomenal in Team Fortress 2 and furthers the humor of the game, regional accents by the Australian Sniper, the Russian Heavy and the British Spy lend the characters a Street Fighter-esque humor and serve to brighten the mood of the otherwise somber genre.
As an online shooter, music is rather insignificant in Team Fortress 2. What music there is remains fun, catchy and memorable. Appearing only in the game’s main menu, the game’s funky main theme remains a true standout.
Conclusion and Support
Perhaps the best aspect of Team Fortress 2’s design is the constant support that Valve provides for it. Released with only six maps and two game-modes, Team Fortress 2 has expanded greatly since its inception, a perpetual stream of new game modes, maps and items are added through Valve’s Steam. As a result, Team Fortress 2 retains longevity and addictiveness. The addition of a microtransaction system for purchasing special items remains delicately balanced and non-intrusive on one’s full enjoyment of the game (a business model that, in other games, has served to destroy their longevity).
The most striking aspect of Valve’s neverending support for the game is that new content is provided totally free of charge. Team Fortress 2’s additional content, if it adhered to a traditional business model, would have cost the price of multiple DLC packs. The fact that the new maps and modes are provided entirely gratis distinguishes the game from its console brethren.
In all honesty, there is little to criticize about Team Fortress 2. The unique and innovative artistic direction, diverse characters, neverending support and addictive, strategic gameplay are the finest I have ever encountered. Restoring my faith in the shooter entirely, I am proud to honor Team Fortress 2 with My Back Pages' second-ever 5/5
EDIT: Team Fortress 2 has gone free-to-play, you have NO excuse not to download this. (runs fine on old computers)