Team Fortress 2 (XBox 360)

“Stand on the point for fucks sake. He’s just a spy, stand on the fucking point you stupid bastards”

I find myself screaming that for more than I’d wish when I play Team Fortress 2 (hence known as TF2 to save my fingers). Even though I’m dead and as such communication with my team is moot until I get welcomed back to the land of the living, and grab a shovel to get digging, I still attempt to issue orders. That is the kind of passion TF2 invokes, the kind of passion where you can easily forget everything you’ve been doing for the last five weeks just out of sheer frustration. And it’s not frustration at being utterly owned by someone who has cleverly replaced letters with numbers in his username (eg. T0TA1 C0NT), but it’s frustration in knowing that you’ve been outmanoeuvred.

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This is fine when you’ve been routed by some Sun Tzu style shit, the entire team coalescing to destroy you and everything you hold dear, however when the other team wins because they managed to slip in through a hole in your otherwise ironclad defences it’s easy to hit levels of high octane hatred. This level of passion, over something so trivial, is perhaps the greatest sign of how well designed the game is.

And well designed it should be, what with its ten year development cycle and all. Although to be honest, the current incarnation probably only took a few years. Like Superman Returns, TF2 had something of a troubled development. Ideas were created, honed, modified, abandoned, resurrected, and abandoned again, for something close onto eight years. You only need to look at the Counter-Strike like images (look right and weep) from early development screenshots to see how rapid a departure the finished product was from what was being created. What we eventually got was a game which seems almost designed to piss off purists and which is also incredibly, incredibly, good fun.

Even when it launched as a Quake mod Team Fortress was always ‘serious business’. Those unlucky enough to join a Team Fortress Classic/Gold match months or years after its release would encounter something which wasn’t particularly a game. Indeed calling it a game would at least imply fun was being had, TFC was instead a beast of immense concentration. Like Darwinism in PC form TFC was the kind of application which required a near militaristic fervour and months of practice to become even useable. Otherwise you’d spend entire games watching your screen turn red every thirty seconds as yet another ‘leet sniper’ headshotted you through the narrowest possible openings.

What TF2 does is bring everyone back down to a level pegging; it does so by reinventing itself. The bones of the game may still be in place, but everything else is exceptionally different. Grenades are gone, Snipers have been toned back, balance has been enforced with near totalitarian zeal, and team based play has been brought to the forefront even more so than in its PC forebears. All of this wrapped up in graphics which are clearly inspired by the work of Pixar and Tex Avery and sprinkled with liberal doses of black humour.

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What TF2 brings to the Team Fortress series is a new sense of fun. The bright visuals, hilarious character designs, unique taunts and Looney Tunes style play environments give the game a vibrancy that was missing from its dour ancestors.

To those unfamiliar with the core concept of Team Fortress here’s the basics. You’re part of a team, in this case Red and Blu (sic), you have objectives to complete, and you have nine classes with which to complete them with. The objectives fall into two categories, capturing the intelligence and territorial control. In former you’ve got to infiltrate the enemy’s base and grab their intelligence before they do the same to you, in the former you’ve got to gain and keep control of key ‘capture points’ throughout the map. To do this you can use any of the nine classes from the rocket spamming Soldier to the Double Jumping Scout. Each class has its own particular nuance and with a few hours play you start to figure out exactly what each situation requires in terms of classes.

What the class system does is change TF2 from being a traditional FPS into something a little more interesting and multifaceted. If you’re looking to frag some noobs you can load up a Soldier or a Heavy and Rocket/Chaingun dozens of people to hell.

But play as a Scout and your priorities suddenly change, your minimised health make you play the game as platformer more than anything else, rushing to get to key areas before defences have been set up and using your trusty double jump to get to inaccessible areas.

If you choose to play as an Engineer then the game becomes ‘My First RTS’ as you find yourself constantly setting up defences to protect vital areas or creating forward command points with teleporters, dispensers and trusty sentry guns to keep things safe.

Play as a Spy and you’ll earn my ire, but you’ll also find the game turning into something far more intellectual. Blessed with the ability to disguise as the other team and with the ability to backstab any enemy for a one shot kill (at the risk of compromising your disguise) you find yourself having to fool another eight people into believing you’re actually on their team. Or at least making them stop shooting at you long enough for you to shiv their most dangerous player (usually the huge Slavic dude with the person sized anti personnel cannon).

Also of note is that largely, unless you’re playing against the truly idiotic, you have to try and correlate your actions with that of the team. It’s almost impossible to get anything done by yourself due to the severe balancing in effect. You might be able to charge an enemy base with a soldier and kill half of the team, but in doing so you’ll find yourself dieing before you can do anything useful and by the time you get back the enemy will have just set up with even tighter defences.

When you’re playing the game with people who know what they’re doing and can synchronise the game is an unparalleled joy, there’s nothing like seeing a Spy swoop in and cripple a piece of key infrastructure, soldiers and demomen delivering an explosive coup de grace, as Snipers pick off the teams best players and scouts seize the objective. Playing the game without these miraculous sorts of players is akin to something from Dante’s inferno, only instead of pushing a rock you’re taking and losing the same fucking capture point constantly.

But even in defeat the game is still immensely fun; whenever you get killed you’re given a shot of the person who just killed you. If they’re abiding by the strict laws of ‘uber pwnge’ then they should be taunting. As such after being killed by a Sentry you should see the owner, if he’s any kind of man, doing a little jig. Conversely if you find yourself burnt to death by a Pyro it’s all too likely you’ll get an image of your mortal enemy busting out some mean ‘axe guitar’. It’s these touches, the individual taunts, which give TF2 so much life, and life is what TF2 is all about.

It’s a frantic game, the pace is insanely hectic with even the slowest characters moving about as fast as master chief, which is constantly awash with colour and noise and moments of wondrous hyper violence. And yet the package is almost killed by some truly horrible technical issues. For one the game is still a laggy pile of lagginess on anything higher than a 6 vs 6 game. I understand the 360 architecture relies on the game host to foot the bandwidth and as such most people just aren’t capable of hosting 8 vs 8 matches, which is a shame as the game comes alive the more people you have playing it.

The games matchmaking system also leaves a lot to be desired, Ranked matches are far more of a pain that they need to be and the lack of clan support really kills some of the team based aspects of the game. I still don’t know why you can’t invite any friends to a ranked match, it just seems to conflict with the rest of the game. Other issues, like having to disconnect from Player Matches to alter how many people are playing is just an irritant especially when it can take upwards of twenty minutes to get six opponents due to the low population of TF2ers on the 360.

The fact of the the matter is that TF2 is just about fun enough to rise above these flaws, but the flaws are ultimately going to kill the game. A lot of people have been put off by the lag and archaic structure and the result is a community which almost feels incestuous. In my five weeks of gaming I don’t think I’ve fought more than eighty different people, which makes the game get kinda predictable after a while.

But whilst it still has people playing TF2 is a diamond in the rough.

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3 Responses to “Team Fortress 2 (XBox 360)”

  1. Rob Hughes Says:

    Nice write up Spike. Hopefully once I get my Rock Band obsession out of the way, I’ll be back on playing with you guys. I fully expect to see you decimate the other team in a matter of minutes like usual!

  2. Spike Marshall Says:

    Thanks for the feedback, I was just about to add a section to the end to address some of your concerns. I completely forgot to write about the lag and horrible interface.

  3. I have to start taunting people when I kill them now. When I first started playing, it was just something I did accidentally when trying to change up weapons. I had no idea my very manhood was in question.

    Of course, my first clue should have been the glaring lack of clever innuendo in my gamertag. And the fact that my mom is dead.

    Great writeup. I look forward to more.

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