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Team Fortress 2 (PC) artwork

Team Fortress 2 (PC) review

"Team Fortress 2 doesn’t have many maps, and of them, only about three or four are particularly popular. Yet they are so carefully designed, and inspire so many different approaches for both offense and defense, that in a way it doesn’t matter, because each game is completely different from the last, and all match each other in sheer intensity."

Let’s talk about the first time I played Team Fortress 2.

The game offers no introduction to its basic mechanics, so you’re expected to simply jump into a match and learn as you progress. I did just that, figuring that I’ve played enough online shooters to understanding how Team Fortress 2 works. My first map was called 2Fort, an oddly symmetrical arena featuring two identical hideouts separated by a bridge. I joined the blue team, and was then told to pick a class. There are nine character classes in Team Fortress 2, each with their own weapons, abilities, and stats. I decided to go with the “heavy weapons guy,” an appropriately burly chap with a monstrous minigun and a strangely endearing Russian accent. He looked badass enough.

The game told me I needed to make my way into enemy HQ, steal their intel, and run it back to my own base. So it’s a game of capture the flag? Okay. I made my way out to the bridge, where the red and blue teams were in constant conflict, and got ready to fire up my minigun… and I was almost immediately stopped in my tracks. It seems the heavy’s particularly enormous features (including his particularly enormous head) and slow running speed made him an easy target for the enemy sniper perched on the opposite ledge.

Time to change my strategy. I took a look at the support classes and came upon the spy, a character designed specifically for stealth. He can turn invisible for brief periods of time and even disguise himself as a member of the other team! Sounded exactly like what I needed. I dressed myself up as a red soldier and made my way once again over the bridge. This time, I made it into the first hallway of the enemy fort before getting shot in the face by a red pyro who’d used up all of his flamethrower fuel and was now barfing out shotgun shells.

How could this be, when I appeared to the red team to be one of their own? It seems the spy’s tricks are now such a widespread tactic, especially in 2Fort, that players have grown accustomed to attacking members of their own team to root out enemies in disguise, since there’s no friendly fire in Team Fortress 2. At least that explains why my blue allies were always so quick to shoot me in the confines of our own base.

My third class of choice was the scout, a nimble fellow with a shotgun and a bat, weak but speedy, perfect for getting somewhere quickly without worrying about combat. A perfect choice, it seemed – I took off, this time taking the sewer rather than the main route, and somehow slipped past any red foes who might have killed me had they gotten the chance. A sign on the wall told me I was getting close to grabbing the enemy intel, and I nearly got to my destination when, all of a sudden, my scout exploded into a thousand lovely pieces, which the game was quick to label for me. (“Your foot!” “Your torso!” “A bit of you!”) Evidently, an enemy demoman had dropped a few sticky bombs where he knew a clumsy, reckless fool like me would likely stumble.

Why wasn’t I doing well? It wasn’t because I was choosing the wrong classes, or because I suck at video games, though I suppose you could argue both points. It was because I wasn’t working as a team. That word found its way into Team Fortress 2’s title for a reason: The tasks you’re given could never be accomplished by one man. You’ve got to work together if you ever hope to win a match here.

There are nine classes, and all of them have been so meticulously balanced that no single class stands out as being particularly effective over the others. It goes for range: The pyro can rock your world if he gets close enough to set your ass on fire, but he’s all but harmless if he’s more than six feet away; likewise, the sniper is the essential long-range unit, but once the enemy advances and he’s forced to zoom out to see what’s going on, he’s done for. It goes for power: The heavy can sustain quite a bit of damage, but he’s also a slow, hulking behemoth; on the other hand, scouts sport very little default health, but good luck hitting one of them. Players will obviously develop their own styles and favorite classes over time, but it’s nice to see that no one is given an unfair advantage.

A good game of Team Fortress 2 requires sacrifice as well – certain classes don’t get to see much action but nevertheless play a vital role in a game’s outcome. Engineers aren’t equipped with the best weaponry because they’re meant to stay back behind the lines and set up teleporters, ammo dispensers, and – this is especially important – sentry turrets. It’s an unexciting role at first, but once the opposing team manages to break through enemy lines, those sentries will rack up the kills at an alarming rate.

My least-favorite class is the medic because, again, they aren’t fighters, despite a very cool automatic syringe gun that is rarely used. Their central role in Team Fortress 2 is to heal the other players with their mediguns, which you’ll quickly realize is a vital strategy and is only one of many examples I could give of how effective teamwork in Team Fortress 2 really is. We’ve already established that the heavy is easy to take down thanks to his slow speed and considerable size. But when he’s teamed up with a medic who’s constantly healing him, the pair are a force to be reckoned with, and the opposition needs to revise their strategy: Screw the heavy, kill that medic first! This odd tactic sprung up an amusing running joke on Penny Arcade because it’s such a surprising example of how far teamwork can take you.

Team Fortress 2 doesn’t have many maps, and of them, only about three or four are particularly popular. Yet they are so carefully designed, and inspire so many different approaches for both offense and defense, that in a way it doesn’t matter, because each game is completely different from the last, and all match each other in sheer intensity.

A map called Gold Rush has the offensive team pushing a payload cart along a track to the enemy base, while the defending team prevents them from getting it there. You’ll see the blue team putting all of their heavies and medics on the cart to keep it in constant motion, while the red team employs the use of their engineers to set up their all-important sentries back at base. Red demomen with lay sticky bombs in places they know blue players will have to set foot. Blue spies will sneak behind enemy lines and take out red snipers. Blue engineers will set up warp points enabling their comrades to get into the action faster. Red pyros will assault the cart full-force. One game, one million conflicts – it’s so easy to get caught up in the role of your own class that you ignore the wealth of colliding strategies erupting all around you.

The game is fast and intense, yet anything but mindless. It’s an online game that begs for the use of a headset, only because communication between teammates will only heighten your ability to work together. My experiences with other online games sometimes leave me scowling at the number of senseless jerks flooding the internet, yet the irresistible pull of Team Fortress 2’s teamwork is so rewarding that there’s very little jive talk, just a whole lot of congratulations and thank-yous and no-problems.

The original Team Fortress Classic was a simple Half-Life mod that experimented with the idea of multiple classes and the employment of good teamwork to make the most of them. You’d never know it by looking at the sequel, which ditches realism in favor of an exaggerated, cartoonish visual style, giving Team Fortress 2 a look and feel unlike any other shooter I’ve ever played. The game isn’t so innovative as to warrant that description in the gameplay department itself, so instead the graphics work as just one more element in the inexplicable clockwork of Team Fortress 2 that keeps you coming back for more, and more, and more.

Suskie's avatar
Staff review by Mike Suskie (July 06, 2008)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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timrod posted July 07, 2008:

Uhh, Suskie, you totally got the Heavy wrong. He's Russian, not German.
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Suskie posted July 07, 2008:

Are you serious? Maybe I'm getting him mixed up with the medic. I'll change it, assuming you're right.
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timrod posted July 07, 2008:

Yeah, Heavy is Russian, Medic is German.

That's the promotional vid Valve did for the Heavy, you can very clearly tell he has a Russian accent.

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Suskie posted July 07, 2008:

I guess I never really paid much attention despite the number of times I've heard "We must push little cart!" I'm terrible with accents anyway. Thanks for the heads-up.

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