Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: October 10, 2007
Good things usually come to those who wait — but this isn't always the case. Those unfortunate enough to keenly anticipate John Romero's Daikatana were severely let down; and there was ample disappointment when, after 16 years of waiting for a new "Star Wars" movie, we were given Jar Jar Binks. Thanks, George. Those of you who have been patiently waiting the nine long years since a sequel was announced to the popular squad-based first-person shooter Team Fortress can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as it's shaping up to be a very well designed and highly playable game without any Gungans.
Team Fortress 2 is a team-based battle where you get to play as one of nine different characters, each with his own distinct style of gameplay. This means that there is probably a character to match most people's style of FPS gaming, whether you're a fast and furious frag fiend used to jumping off the walls of an Unreal Tournament level, or the unsung hero who prefers to support the team in your own quiet and deviously clever way. Team Fortress 2 manages at once to be both accessible to the new gamer looking for a gentle introduction to the brutal world of online ownage, and highly satisfying for veterans of the genre who already know what they want from a good FPS game with lasting appeal.
Each of the nine available classes is divided into attack, defense and support styles and all are almost immediately intuitive to play. However, mastering the nuances of each character's widely differing speed, weapon range, health, damage and special abilities will require a serious time investment, and this is where the fun comes in.
The Scout is a wiry little guy equipped with a Scattergun, pistol, caffeine-charged quick pace and super nimble double jump that lets him get ahead of the pack as he sprints toward the goal. The Demoman is loaded with bouncing mines that explode after a short pause, and sticky mines that can be detonated manually. Pyro is a flame-throwing maniac while the Heavy is a slow moving death deliverer. The Engineer is a passive- aggressive type who collects scrap metal on the battlefield to build into lethal traps and useful devices. Rounding out the crowd are the rocket-wielding Soldier, Sniper and the indispensable Medic who can pass out invulnerability bonuses for a short period of time if he heals enough allies.
Lastly, and perhaps most interesting and demanding of all the classes is the sharply dressed Spy with his even sharper daggers. He can become invisible for short periods of time, allowing him to infiltrate behind enemy lines. Once there, he can disguise himself as any one of the nine characters and dispatch enemies with one quick dagger to the back. To play the spy well may take the greatest mental agility because it relies on blending into your surroundings in a believable way. For example, experienced players will be able to spot the noob spy a mile off because he's the Heavy weapons teammate running away from the other team instead of toward them. At any rate, you can always play it safe and shoot at teammates because friendly fire does no damage.
For every strength, there is a counter-balancing weakness so that no single character is ever able to dominate at the expense of the others. The Scout's lightning pace is countered by his relatively low health. The Pyro's awesome fire power is strictly short-range. The impressive damage dished out by the Heavy is tempered by his tortoise-like speed.
This finely tuned balancing act is the game design equivalent of keeping nine plates spinning at the same time, and developer Valve has largely done an excellent job and is continuing to tweak this and that through the beta trial period. What this balance means for gamers is that Team Fortress 2 is explicitly a team-oriented experience, and setting out on your own won't get you very far at all. Engineers, for example, build contraptions faster when they're banging their wrenches in unison to build deadly sentry turrets or highly useful teleport and healing devices. The defenselessness of the slow-moving Heavy can be overcome if he's paired with a diligent Medic who keeps his health full while he mows a bloody trail with his handheld chain gun.
All of the gameplay is presented in vibrant and colorful cartoon style, the visual equivalent of a violent spin-off of Pixar's "The Incredibles." Rocket explosions with their bubbly particle effects rend characters limb from bloody limb in the best cartoon violence tradition. Each character is drawn very distinctively, which makes them instantly recognizable in the heat of battle so you'll know right away whether to fight or take flight. The cartoon visuals and equally comical sound effects help to land Team Fortress 2 firmly in fun territory and set it apart from most other FPS games, which have been striving to create more lifelike gore and gritty realism.
There are three different gameplay modes and currently six maps available in the beta release. To make life simpler, each gameplay mode comes with a short video tutorial, and levels are generally laid out in a fairly open and self-explanatory manner. In capture the flag (CTF_) maps, the goal is simply to thieve enemy intelligence from the heart of their base and return it home in one piece. Territory control (TC_) maps involve capturing enemy control points by occupying them for a period of time, but the twist is that the CPU decides which pair of control points are up for grabs, so you are only ever fighting for one control point per round. Control point (CP_) maps work on a fairly similar basis, except that any of the unlocked control points are available to occupy at any time.
Death comes frequently in this fast-paced game and results in a brief re-spawn time, which gives you just enough time to nurse your wounds, change your class if you desire and plot your revenge. For the statistically inclined, Team Fortress 2 keeps track of a real wealth of information. For instance, the game will let you know if you've bested your previous personal record for staying alive or slaying opponents. During load screens you'll be treated to the embarrassing or envious sight of how much time you've spent and kills you've racked up with each character, so you'll be able to better assess your personal playing style and hone your competitive edge.
The highlight of Team Fortress 2 is definitely the variety offered by its nine different character classes, which will take any serious gamer many hours to fully explore and match to his or her own FPS gaming habits. Equally as important is that it's a lot of fun and easy to pick up and play. With its unique and highly stylized graphics and highly accessible and addictive gameplay, Team Fortress 2 is destined to be a crowd pleaser and a solid staple of the online FPS gaming community.
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