Team Fortress 2


Review by Oscar Whitkin

Team Fortress 2. It’s the game that kickstarted one of the most popular genres of multiplayer games today: the team FPS. Made in 2007, Team Fortress 2 was revolutionary at its time. Its style was unlike anything seen before. Gamemodes that have become standard for PvP games such as capture-the-flag, taking objectives, pushing payloads and engaging in deathmatches were all brought to the fore. Only a few games can match TF2’s sustained popularity: 126,000 active players a decade after release. But what made this game last, when so many others like it around that era are nothing more than ancient relics?
The art direction in TF2 is pretty unique. The world and characters look like they’re out of the Incredibles, and the soundtrack and level design match that. It’s cartoony but doesn’t dumb things down – you’re still shooting real people with real guns, and there’s more than your fair share of blood and gibs (albeit of the brightly coloured, cartoon variety). The maps are effective and varied, but they all still feel part of the game’s world.

Team Fortress 2 also boasts surprisingly developed lore and world-building – definitely more than you’d expect from a multiplayer FPS. A series of animated shorts were released by Valve with the game’s launch, each focusing on one of the nine playable classes’ backstories and personality, as well as a few others that accompanied major updates. These shorts are well-made and perfectly convey these characters and their personalities. They are bite-sized snippets of the soul of TF2 – silly and serious at a moment’s turn. There is also an official comic series exploring the ‘story’ of the game, which is absolutely bonkers in the best possible way and much too fun to talk about here.

Team Fortress 2 sets itself apart from the competition not just by its artstyle but with its well-designed gameplay. The ingame atmosphere can be of gruelling competitivity or light-hearted fun. Taunts have become standard in multiplayer games, but TF2’s are special. Most of them are initiated by one player, but can be joined by anyone else – even if they’re on the enemy team! This often leads to matches where the entire server is performing Russian folk-dancing or conga-lining in wholesome harmony instead of battling to the death or pushing the objective. This is what it is to play TF2, and it’s something no other game has gotten nearly as well.

But what about the actual gameplay? Well, Team Fortress 2 boasts excellent weapon and class balance. There are nine classes in question, each fulfilling a unique role ingame. For example, the Demoman’s designation is defence– simple enough, or so it sounds. But there is so much more to it. Able to lay up to eight stickybomb mines at once, he can either wait patiently for the opponents to blunder into his trap or go for a more offensive strategy, firing all his bombs directly under the feet of the enemy team, blowing them all to kingdom come (and mostly likely himself along with them). He could also swap out his grenade launchers for a longsword and shield to go berserker on the battlefield, utilising his possessed blade to buff his health with each soul it takes. Every class comes with various items like these which each offer alternative styles of play. For example, the Scout can either use the Scattergun, which fires six well-rounded shots, or the Force-a-Nature, which fires only two shots in quick succession, dealing monstrous damage at point-blank but nothing at long range. Each class has around six of these items for each of their three weapon slots. That’s a lot of different playstyles!

All this might sound overwhelming, but Valve has done a suprisingly good job balancing the vast array of items and classes. No item is objectively ‘better’ than any other; it takes away just as much as it gives. The Sniper can trade in his trusty SMG for (gross-out warning) a jar of piss to throw, which triples damage to any enemy it soaks. This is a devastating attack, both physically and psychologically, but it leaves the Sniper without a reliable backup weapon since it does no damage on its own. This keeps the game from feeling outright unfair. And no matter the weapons, the classes themselves are balanced too. The Heavy can mow down anyone in front of him, but is extremely vulnerable to flanking Spies and sneaky Snipers. In turn, the Spy may be able to disguise as enemy players and turn invisible, but once he’s found out, it’s pretty much over. The balance in this game feels fair, but it’s possible to defy the odds, so skill is rewarded as well.

Team Fortress 2’s fanbase is dedicated. It’s also surprisingly diverse. There is your fair share of seasoned veterans who have been playing since the game’s release, yet the amount of casuals, traders, friendlies, memers and newbies that populate Valve’s servers is a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. The community is close-knit and has a feeling of comradery between players, perhaps due to the uncertain feeling of TF2’s future and its relative obscurity.

This community’s strength is no accident. Valve has engaged the game’s community far more than many devs would. Fans of the game can build and submit assets for it – such as new cosmetics, weapons, and even maps – and Valve will occasionally add them to the game! As of now, Valve-made updates are rare, but the community keeps the game going on its own. And since its content is made by some of the most dedicated fans imaginable (let’s just say building a functioning map in Hammer Editor is not exactly a walk in the park), the quality is professional-grade and it’s made by people who know what the game needs and care enough to make it happen. The community of TF2 is a large factor in its longevity, and the game couldn’t ask for a more dedicated fanbase.

This is also a good time to talk about the cosmetics, because oh boy, the cosmetics. This game transcends the usual skins and victory poses seen in games like Overwatch and Fortnite. In TF2, cosmetics are practically worshipped in a hat-based religion. This is a bit of a running joke that the devs are aware of – even officially describing Team Fortress 2 as ‘a war-themed hat simulator’. There are currently just over 1,600 different hats to wear ingame. These range from a towering pillar of three top-hats to the dovahkiin helmet to a fishbowl and pipe to replacing your head with a bird’s (complete with voice lines such as “Squawk! Eagle head domination, sonny!” and “You and I are a lot alike. Except I’m an owl, and you’re dead.”). The hats are inexplicably such a central feature of the game that an entire economy is built around it. Yes, people put real money into this - thousands of dollars in some cases. And they do turn a profit of hundreds if they play their cards right. It’s just like investing stock – as these hats become more popular, their prices go up. Entire online businesses are built around this! It may sound stupid, but when you see that people are buying a golden frying pan weapon skin for (this is not a joke) $4,200 USD, it’s a different story.

TF2 has, and always will be, a classic. There’s nothing quite like it, though many have tried. The style, the gameplay, the community – it all blends into something truly special. Each match feels like its own, if it’s because of a lucky critical hit that wipes the opposing team off the map or a fun little interaction with a friendly enemy crouching behind your team’s barracks, offering you a high-five. It’s these experiences that makes you come back to TF2, time and time again. Of course, when a video game is this old, there is always concern about what’s next. The community is unsure of the game’s future, and as of recently Valve has announced they will not be majorly updating the game for the foreseeable future. However, annual Halloween and Christmas updates continue to come, and when they dropped in 2020, player numbers were the highest since 2018. The game is still going strong, even after almost 15 years. And despite everything it’s been through, it’s still enjoyable and accessible to new players. TF2 has stood the test of time. And with video games, that’s really something special. ■

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