Guest Author - James Shea
One of the three games in Valve's "Orange Box" package, Team Fortress 2 is a long-awaited sequel (announced in 1998) to the original "Team Fortress Classic" mod for Half-Life 1. Despite the abhorrently long delay, this game is worth every second of development.
Team Fortress was one of the first big games to use classes, each with their own weapons and specialty. Following either a Capture The Flag or a Control Point objective type, players combined the unique abilities of each class to capture their objectives. TF2 has kept this basic premise, and added a wicked, madcap sense of humor and colorful stylistic choices to it.
There are 9 classes in the game each given their own weapons (including a unique melee weapon), abilities, and personalities. First is the scout, who is the fast character who is meant to rush in, get the flag, and get out. In TF2, the Scout has a smart mouth and constantly wisecracks as he downs foes with one of his three weapons - a shotgun, a pistol, and an aluminum bat. The Soldier is next - a grunt armed with a rocket launcher, a shotgun, a shovel, and a military drawl. The soldier can "rocket jump" by firing at his feet, which injures him but launches him far upwards. The Pyro is armed, as one might guess, with a flamethrower (as well as a shotgun and a fire axe) and is the game's least comprehensible character - muffled as he is by his flame-retardant suit and mask. The Pyro is meant to ambush characters, due to the flamethrower's short range, but if he can get in close and start spraying fire and setting enemies ablaze, the kills just rack up.
The Demoman is a bit of a quandary - a self-described "black Scottish cyclops", he is equipped with two grenade launchers (one that launches regular grenades, one that launches remote-detonated "sticky" grenades that can be used as deterrents for enemies proceeding carelessly through doors) and an empty bottle as a melee weapon. The Heavy is perhaps the game's most recognizable character - a huge, Russian man armed with a minigun. Gameplay for the Heavy consists of firing or winding up the character's huge weapon, or on occasion using his backup shotgun or his mighty fists. The Engineer is one of the more intellect-oriented classes in the game; not adept at physical combat, the Engineer prefers to build gadgets to help his team. The devices that can be built are a sentry gun (an automatically firing turret that can be upgraded to three different levels of weaponry), a dispenser (which gives health and ammo), and a teleporter. All of the engineer's devices require metal to build or upgrade, which is gained by collecting ammo from fallen enemies. The Engineer's personality is laid-back, with a southern drawl more relaxed than the Soldier's.
The Medic is the main support unit for any team - with the use of his healing Medigun, the Medic is responsible for keeping his team alive. Furthermore, after healing enough, the Medic can use his Ubercharge ability to render himself and a target invulnerable for roughly ten seconds. The Medic has a German accent, perhaps a nod to the stereotypical Mad Doctor. Snipers are Australian Bush Rangers armed with high-powered rifles. These rifles charge up their power, but only when zoomed in; this encourages snipers to wait and time their shots, rather than using the sniper rifle as a really accurate close-combat weapon (as seen in Counter-Strike). Requiring reflexes and accuracy, the Sniper is a highly specialized class, and every map has windows looking out over a large battleground for the Sniper to fully use his abilities. Finally, the Spy is perhaps the most complex class. Capable of taking the appearance of an enemy unit (to allies, he appears to be wearing a paper mask with the target class' face drawn on it), the Spy must try his best to infiltrate the enemy and take them out - through backstabbing, sappers (which disable engineer tools), and good old-fashioned misdirection. As a backup, Spies can cloak themselves, useful for infiltrating and exiting the enemy base. While Spies cannot be easily detected, certain suspicious behaviors can be noted and so a Spy must try his best to blend in - for example, not charging the enemy base from his own base, where no regular soldier would be doing so.
These nine classes form the wildest, most madcap First Person Shooter in recent history. Set on six different stages (the development team states in the in-game commentary that more were considered, but playtesters noted that players usually only play maps that they really like over and over, for example De_Dust in Counter-Strike) with a Mad Scientist theme, players join either the BLU (Builder's League United) or RED (Reliable Excavation Demolition) teams. Both sides are fronts for secret corporations, and the maps revolve around capturing secret data (the equivalent of CTF) or important secret bases housing nuclear weapons or laser beams (the Control Point game type).
The graphics are the most noticable and unique new feature to the game. Using a cartoonish style and shading/lighting type, the characters and maps are designed to let the characters stand out and be identifiable by their color, class, and weapon (in that order). The result is fantastic - TF2's style is possibly the best use of a cartoonish style in a video game that I have seen. Each character is vibrantly alive and unique, a fact further fleshed out by their in-game taunts and sounds (many taunts activate automatically when certain conditions are met - for example, if a Scout kills a Heavy with his bat, there's a sound clip for that). A far cry from the mostly silent and serious setting of Team Fortress Classic, TF2 embraces the ridiculousness and outlandishness present in its gameplay, making light of combatants rushing headlong into their death (when killed, you get a screenshot of your killer, complete with arrows marking your body and, if you were killed by something explosive, any little parts that are nearby).
As a whole, this game is a blast. Its frantic gameplay, hilarious voice acting, and strategic simplicity make this a game for almost anyone to enjoy. There's nothing to dislike about this game - even the small map selection doesn't seem to matter because of how involved one becomes with the strategy used in each. This game is brilliant.