Friday, August 22, 2008

Team Fortress 2 review

Alright, here's the first of the new PC-related articles. I hope those of you who came here for the Nintendo stick around for the PC.

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: October 10th, 2007
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
ESRB Notes: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
Also Available For: Playstation 3 and XBox 360

The world of Team Fortress began in 1996 with the Quake modification of the same name. A huge hit, it was later upgraded and adapted in Team Fortress Classic in 1999. That's as far as the franchise would be going for a long time, though. While Team Fortress 2 was revealed the same year Team Fortress Classic was released, it wouldn't be released until eight years later. As of today, the game has been on the market for ten months, and players have been going nuts for it, myself included. I hope this review will make you understand just why I love this game so much.

Team Fortress 2 is a team-based online first-person shooter. It has absolutely no single player mode of any kind, instead being nothing but online matches. Being team based, success relies heavily on working as a group and not an individual. Making teamwork even more essential are the various strengths and weaknesses of Team Fortress 2's nine distinct classes. The classes are as follows (In alphabetical order):

Demoman: A black, Scottish cyclops, the Demoman specializes in explosives. His grenades are on a short timer, and will explode either when time runs out or if they hit an enemy after being launched. The sticky bombs can be placed and detonated remotely, blowing enemies to pieces. Finally, his melee weapon, the bottle, delivers both crushing blows and refreshing beverages. Detonating sticky bombs beneath his feet sends the Demoman flying, allowing him to reach high ledges for a better view of the action.

Engineer: A good ol' boy from the big state of Texas, the Engineer's known for building complex machines in seconds. His sentry gun can shoot down enemies with ease, and his dispenser supplies allies with both health and ammunition. His amazing teleporter can instantly warp friendly units from place to place, but only if both an entrance and exit are constructed. He also carries with him three weapons: A reliable shotgun, a small pistol, and a wrench used for both repairing his machines and whacking enemies.

Sentry gun: Check. Dispenser: Check. Evil laugh: Check

Heavy: An imposing Russian man with a brain about as large as a bullet, the Heavy Weapons Guy's trademark is his humongous gun. Even though the gun has a capacity of 200 rounds, its insanely fast firing rate spits them out at such a speed that he's likely to finish off his ammunition in almost no time at all. His secondary weapon is a trusty shotgun, great for finishing off puny enemies moving too fast for his main gun to keep up with. Finally, instead of a third weapon like a wrench or bottle, the Heavy uses his fists to do the talking. One blow from those big hands is sure to send any foe reeling. Even though he's by far the slowest class, the Heavy is a force to be reckoned with.

Medic: A German doctor seemingly more interested in pain than healing, the Medic deals exclusively with medically-based weaponry. His Medigun can heal allies from a short distance, allowing him to hide in safety while somebody else takes all the beatings. His Syringe Gun fires medical needles at his foes, but they're filled with anything but painkillers. Finally, the Medic has his trusty Bonesaw, great for amputating limbs from patients both anesthetized and awake. The Medic's Medigun has a special ability, going by the name of Uber. Whenever the Medigun is healing, the Ubercharge slowly builds. When the meter fills up completely, the Medic can latch his Medigun onto an ally, and initiate an Uber. This makes both the Medic and the target invulnerable for a short time, posing a huge threat to any foe nearby. The Medic is surely an important part of any team, and a single Uber can instantly turn the tables of any battle.

Pyro: The Pyro may as well be a Canadian woman for all we know, since his thick mask muffles any speech to the point of being nearly incomprehensible. His trademark flamethrower can ignite foes from a short distance, leaving them burning and taking damage for several seconds afterwords. He, like the Heavy and Engineer, also wields a shotgun for taking care of foes too far to be set aflame. Finally, his melee weapon is a fire axe, although it serves a purpose quite opposite of a firefighter's intent of rescue.

Scout: A big-talking punk from Brooklyn, the Scout is rarely seen due to how incredibly fast he runs. His Scattergun (Resembling a sawed-off shotgun) is great for dealing with foes at medium range, while his pistol picks up the foes further away. Up close, though, the Scout prefers to use his trusty steel baseball bat to do the dirty work. With super-speed and double-jumping abilities, the Scout is key to reconnaissance and fetch-missions.

Sniper: A sharp-shooting marksman from the land down under, Australia, the Sniper likes to do his work from a distance. Using his sniper rifle, the Sniper can easily zoom in and target foes from far across the battlefield, shooting them in the body for heavy damage, or firing a round into their head for a one-shot kill. The Sniper also wields a small automatic gun in the form of an SMG. While incredibly weak, the SMG can be used to take care of any enemy that gets a little too close for comfort. When the foe really gets in his face, the Sniper can pull out his Kukri and slash the opponent to death with the knife's large, curved blade.

Soldier: An American army major who gains great joy from blood and guts, the Soldier is definitely a monster on the battlefield. His claim to fame is the incredibly powerful rocket launcher, firing slow-moving explosives packed with deadly force. Like many other classes, the Soldier can fall back on his trusty shotgun when the enemy gets a little too close. His melee weapon is a small shovel, but this spade digs nothing but graves. Similar to the Demoman's sticky bomb-jump, the Soldier can fire a rocket at his feet to fly into the air and reach new places.

Spy: A man of many faces and nationalities, the Spy slips behind enemy lines with ease. His primary weapon is a small handgun, with very weak shots and a small clip size. His secondary weapon is useful only against Engineer buildings, and it goes by the name of Sapper. The Sapper can be placed on any of the four different Engineer machines, slowly weakening it to the point of destruction. Also, the Sapper immobilizes the building it's attached to, making it unable to do anything. The only way to remove a Sapper is with an Engineer's wrench, so the Spy makes sure to strike when there is nobody around. The Spy's third weapon is a Butterfly Knife, and it's one of the only two weapons in the game able to kill instantly (The other being the sniper rifle). If the Spy attacks an enemy from behind with the Butterfly Knife, it's a one-hit kill, as well as one heck of a rush. If attacking from any other angle, though, it's fairly weak. Obviously the Spy works better in the shadows, thus the reason for the most complex ability in the game: Disguise. Using the Spyotron 2000, the Spy can disguise himself as any class from either team, blending into crowds and becoming far harder to detect. However, unlike allies which can be walked through, enemies cannot. Thus, the Spy must tread carefully and avoid bumping into foes, blowing his cover. Finally, the Spy can turn invisible for a short time, becoming entirely undetectable to the foe. The Spy is definitely the most complex of all the classes in Team Fortress 2, and the length of this paragraph proves it. One good Spy can devastate an entire charging group of enemies, an ability every team can benefit from.

The classes in Team Fortress 2 (Left to right: Pyro, Engineer, Spy, Heavy, Sniper, Scout, Soldier, Demoman, Medic)

With plenty of classes to choose from, there's bound to be a perfect fit for any player. Aside from the Spy, every character is very easy to learn, making transitioning from class to class quite simple and effortless. The class design is very balanced and fair on the most part, with any arising problems swiftly being dealt with by Valve via a patch. Also, each class is easily identified at a glance, making it incredibly simple to figure out what you're up against (Unless it's a Spy, in which case you're screwed). Truly a very fun system, and it really sets Team Fortress 2 apart from the other shooters on the market.

The objective of each game in Team Fortress 2 changes depending on the map that is being played. The primary mode is Capture Point, with the goal being capture all the specially marked spots all over the map, or in some variations, defend them from being captured by the enemy team. In one other minor variation, both teams start holding just one capture point, and the condition for victory for both teams is to capture the other team's lone point.

Another play mode is Capture The Flag, in which each team must capture a set amount of intelligence-containing briefcases from the enemy base. This mode relies very heavily on team work, as it would be incredibly difficult for one player to pull this off on his or her own.

Since the game's release, two new modes have been officially added to the game. First is Payload, in which BLU Team must escort a bomb on a mine cart to RED Team's base. If the cart is left alone for too long, it rolls backwards, meaning BLU needs to constantly keep an eye on it, while RED always needs to bombard it with bullets, flames and explosives to keep cart-pushing BLU fighters at bay.

The newest mode added to Team Fortress 2 is Arena. It's comparable to the Deathmatch mode of most first-person shooters, but the difference is the team-based gameplay. Each round starts with either team at the far end of the map, with one closed control point in the middle. After sixty seconds of attacking, dodging and hiding, the middle point opens up, creating an objective for each team to fight for. The game ends when either the capture point is taken, or when all players on one team are wiped out.

I really enjoy all of these varied modes, each of which presenting a unique challenge requiring separated approaches. There are at least two official maps available for each mode, with dozens of different player-made maps to enjoy as well. Team Fortress 2 offers so many different ways to play that it almost literally blows my mind. Almost. If it did, that would be very messy, and we don't want that.

As I've said many times before, teamwork is a big part of Team Fortress 2. Alerting your allies to threats is key to success, and that's why Valve added in several short, quick phrases for players to say quickly in the thick of battle. With just two quick keystrokes, you can alert teammates to spies, sentries, incoming enemies and more, as well as request a dispenser, tell a Medic to launch an Uber, and even compliment someone on a nice shot. There's also a selection of things that can be said just for fun, such as a battle cry ("Let's get 'em!"), positive messages ("You've done me proud, boys"), and negative messages ("BOOOO!"). What exactly is said changes from class to class, with the previous messages coming from the Scout, Soldier and Heavy respectively. Each class has two or more different sound bytes for each "quick phrase", all of them unique and, at times, humourous. Of course, if you have a headset, you can easily supply your own audio commentary, or just type in your own custom messages manually.

In fact, humour is a large part of the Team Fortress 2 experience. When hit by an explosive, characters explode in an exaggerated deluge of blood and body parts, and several vocal sound bytes are there just for the sake of laughter ("Oh, they're gonna have to glue you back together... IN HELL!" is sometimes automatically said by a Demoman after blowing up an enemy, and it never fails to make me laugh). Also, each character has a taunt associated with each individual weapon. Demomen lift their groin shield and yell "Ka-BOOM!", while Medics stretch their rubber gloves and say "That wasn't medicine...". Many of these taunts have several different sound bytes associated with them, making for a good gloat every time.

I celebrate while capturing the point... on an empty server.

If I had to describe my gameplay experience with Team Fortress 2 in one word, it would be "Chaos". Rockets flying over my head, sticky bombs detonating beneath my feet, Butterfly Knives plunging into my back... It's nothing but insanity left and right, and I honestly couldn't be happier. Of course, that's not to say that organized gameplay isn't possible in Team Fortress 2. In fact, it's quite the opposite! Still, though, even the most well-planned assault can end in Soldier chunks all over the place.

As you can see from the above two screenshots, Team Fortress 2 is quite the good looking game. Want to hear something really interesting, though? Those screenshots are hardly representative of this game's true visual prowess, as my PC moves about as fast as a superglue-coated snail at full graphics. For a real look at Team Fortress 2's beauty, take a gander at the following screenshot I shamelessly pilfered from 1Fort:

If Chris Livingston is reading this, I apologize for nothing!

And thus the true beauty of Team Fortress 2 shines through. The model detail is amazing, and the lighting effects are plain breathtaking. And hot damn, I freaking love that art style. It's like the cast of The Incredibles all went nuts and killed each other, except Frozone was drunk, Scottish, and had one eyeball. There's really nothing else I can say except it looks amazing.

The music on the menus in Team Fortress 2 is beautifully orchestrated and incredibly catchy. In fact, I have it all in my playlist right now, as well as on a mix CD for the sound system downstairs! Drums, saxophones, flutes, and so many other instruments make up each of the game's three menu tracks. They're all so beautifully well-done, it's almost a shame that the battles are music-less. At least that allows me to focus on the gunfire...

The most outstanding part of how Team Fortress 2 sounds, though, is the voice acting. Each character sounds just as distinct as they look, from the Medic's German accent to the Heavy's angry Russian yells. You'll never mistake a Soldier for a Sniper, or mix up Pyros and Engineers. Also, some of the things they say are just so darned hilarious. From the Heavy frantically screaming "I spy! The Spy is a lie!" to the Demoman drunkenly blurting out "If I wasn't the man I was I'd kiss ya!", it's nothing but laughs left and right.

Finally, the sound effects for all the weapons is a treat for the ears. The sentry gun beeps and whirs as it awaits a target, and the flamethrower makes a sound well fitting of its huge flame. Team Fortress 2 succeeds in yet another field!

While Team Fortress 2 is addictive on its own, Valve constantly introduces new game modes and maps every few months to keep things going, as well as to help improve upon some classes' weaknesses. Just this week Valve released an update that helped the Heavy become a far more effective force on the battlefield, giving him three new unlockable weapons: Natascha (A special mini-gun to replace his affectionately-named Sascha), the Killer Gloves of Boxing (A pair of gloves that slow down the Heavy's punches, but also add the benefit of guaranteed critical hits after killing someone), and the Sandvich (A sandwich to replace the Heavy's shotgun, allowing him to heal without the aid of a Medic).

New unlockable weapons such as the Heavy's Sandvich both improve on Team Fortress 2, as well as increase the games longevity.

As if this game wasn't addictive enough, Valve had to go and make it even more so. If I weren't having such a good time, I'd probably be upset about this.


Gameplay: 10/10
Team Fortress 2 plays like a dream. With so many different modes, maps and classes, it's just mind-bogglingly diverse, and it's all so incredibly fun. Working as a team is also a nice idea in this time of "free-for-all" gameplay ruling all. Definitely the best first-person shooter I have ever played.

Graphics: 10/10
Just like how Team Fortress 2 plays like a dream, it looks the part, too. The visual effects are some of the best I've ever seen, and the incredibly unique and expressive art style gives life to the characters in a way I never thought possible in a first-person shooter. Just an amazing-looking game.

Audio: 10/10
Again, I can think of nothing bad to say here that's anything more than trivial. The music on the main menu is fantastic, the voice acting is brilliantly funny, and the weapon sounds are all perfect. Just amazing.

Longevity: 10/10
As long as there's people to play against, Team Fortress 2 will continue to bring me back. After all, as long as there are players, there will be new maps, modes and more to keep me interested. Valve will certainly be supporting Team Fortress 2 for a very long time, and I'll be there with them the whole way for sure.

OVERALL: 10/10
There's really nothing more to say. Team Fortress 2 is just an amazing game in every conceivable way. From the way it looks to the way it plays, it's a triumph in every category. In my honest opinion, Team Fortress 2 is the definitive online multiplayer experience. So much to do, and so many ways to do it.

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If you're not quite ready to pay up for Team Fortress 2 just yet, there's an easy way to tell if you like it: Give it a test run! From now until the 24th, Valve is offering a free weekend to anyone who wishes to give the game a go. Just follow the instructions at the top of this page, and you'll be fragging in no time. So go on, give it a try!

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