Team Fortress 2 has been around for years, so you might think it’s a little nuts to give you a “review” of the game. I mean, who reviews a game that’s been out for so long? It’s old news, let’s move on to other brighter, shinier games, right?
Well, that’s just the thing. Even though TF2 has been out forever, thousands of people still play it, daily and religiously (I know, because I’m one of them). And more are coming every day, especially since it became a Free-to-play a couple of years back.
So how can this be? What makes a game so awesome and enduring that even now, six years after its release, it is just as popular – probably even more popular – than ever? Well, I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are people who play, but here are a few reasons that are pretty universal.
1) It’s a Good Freaking Game
The moment you load it up, you realize that there’s something different about Team Fortress 2. The graphics are not photorealistic like many shooters these days, but instead have more of a cartoony feel, reminiscent of the drawings of early 20th century artists like J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell. This gives the game an instant nostalgic feel (kind of like what happens with Bioshock’s distinctive Art Deco look), but it also allows the game to be more free with how it works, and how it relates to you. In other words, while the graphics are impressive and don’t let you down, they obviously don’t take themselves too seriously, and neither does the game.
That being said, while the game is definitely full of humor and parody, gameplay is still just as solid and exciting as you’d ever want, not to mention simple and easy to grasp. Two competing teams, fighting over territory or Intelligence (the flag) or a giant cartoony bomb in a minecart? How could you go wrong there? Each of the two teams has access to nine different playing classes, each with its own unique weapons, skills, and personality. This personality, in fact, infuses every part of the gameplay, so that you can’t possibly play the Scout the same way you play the Spy, or the Heavy like you would a Pyro. In fact, you’ll notice that your real-life actions and comments and even your own facial expressions will change throughout the game, not just when you get mad and start raging over team chat, but also when you’re running through the maps or setting up ambushes or helping your other teammates accomplish whatever goal you’re supposed to accomplish. It’s as immersive an experience as you’ll ever get from a WASD FPS.
As for those goals, you don’t really have “missions,” per se, like in other shooters. Each map has its own particular game mode (some maps do encompass several different game modes, but to achieve this, the map has to be altered, so that it’s almost a whole different map). The game modes are easy to understand – Capture the Flag, Control Point, etc. – and it may not seem at first that there’s a whole lot of strategy involved, but as the name implies, the game is centered around the team concept, to the point that you can tell right away if a team is working together or not, simply by how fast they pwn the other team, or how fast the other team rolls over them. Sure, the absolute basic substance of the game is just running around killing the other guys, but if that’s all you do, it can get old pretty darn quick, especially when you lose round after round after round.
Then again, there’s nothing more satisfying than blowing up your opponent, or blasting a hole in his head, and there is plenty of that in Team Fortress 2. In fact, if you don’t have a hundred deaths your first day, you’re either a Shooter God, or you’re not playing right. At the same time, though, you will also get to the point that your hundred deaths will be balanced by a hundred and fifty kills, or better. The point is, the carnage never stops, and it doesn’t have to, because as soon as you die, you respawn to come back and wreak your revenge on those who pwned you just seconds ago.
And that is Team Fortress 2.
2) Constant No-Cost Updates
No other game I have ever heard of consistently releases new content years and years after initial release. Sure, the fancy new games might have a few updates here and there, especially in the first few weeks or months, but most of those involve bug fixes and glitch repair. Actual new content, stuff that changes the game and makes your experience richer and more diverse, that usually comes in the form of a DLC, developed over time and released with much hoopla and most of the time costing you at least half of what the game cost you in the first place.
Not TF2. What we have is a pretty steady stream of brand new content for the game, which actually improves the game (in most cases) and changes how you can play it, all completely free. There are bug fixes too, but the majority of the content deals with new items that the player classes can use, new game modes, new ways of playing existing game modes, new maps, things like that, usually to the tune of at least one update per month. And lately, with the new Steam Workshop in place, a lot of the content is actually produced by players of the game, so you know that it’s tested and thought through and worthy to be in the game.
What this does is create an atmosphere of change that can happen at a moment’s notice in the game, and which usually enhances the game in positive ways. The basic structure of the game doesn’t change, the actual mechanics of how you play and how you interact with the other players, so it’s not like you’re getting a whole new game every month. But the fact that your favorite class suddenly has three new weapons it can use, or a new hat you can wear, or that a new map that highlights trees or snow or water has been thrown in there, or a new game mode that showcases the new abilities that your favorite class has been given, all this makes the game new and fresh almost every time you play it. Nothing else, I think, has contributed to the overall longevity of this game than the fact that it constantly seems like a new game. And not in a bad way.
3) The Game is Absolutely FREE
This last point has actually caused quite a bit of debate, and to tell you the God’s honest truth, I’m not real sure how I feel about it myself. But there is no doubt AT ALL that when Valve made Team Fortress 2 a Free-to-play title, they opened up a gigantic new world for us all.
The positive side of it is that the focus has shifted from marketing the game itself to developing and releasing new content for the game, which in turn means the content itself comes faster and is better. Sure, the audience for all this content is much, much larger, which essentially translates into more money, anyways (even though you never have to pay a cent, many people still do, buying stuff in the infamous Mann Co. Store like hats and weapons and those silly little Crate Keys). But in the long run, having one of the best games on the market suddenly become completely free has opened up a whole new dynamic across this entire industry, and the ones who ultimately reap the rewards are the ones who play it.
Then again, there is a negative side, which of course is that now that anyone can play, anyone does play. And that can sometimes be bad. Technically the game has an “M” rating, which is supposed to limit the number of nine-year-olds squeaking over the mic and running around blowing random stuff up just for the heck of it, but when anyone with an Internet connection and a halfway-decent video card can load up the game, with no check and balances on the system . . . well, any veteran who has played in the past two years since F2P went live will tell you how maddening that can be.
So that’s the center of that argument, the potential for new content versus the potential for a giant noobfest every time you play, but in my opinion, I tend to lean towards the idea that the new content is worth the headache, especially since I usually play on servers that have tools in place to boot out unruly players if they get way too annoying, and with veterans who are very good at minimizing the effect of stupid people on the overall success of my team.
In any case, there’s no doubt whatsoever that the whole F2P idea gave TF2 an infusion of new blood and new life, guaranteeing that it will continue to stay fresh and exciting for a long time to come.
So there you have it, my “review” of Team Fortress 2, and some ideas on why it has lasted so long and stayed so awesome. Want to know more? Well, considering what I just said about the relatively recent flood of new players to the game, it occurs to me that many of you may benefit from some helpful direction from a bona fide veteran who isn’t yelling at you for being nooby. In my coming articles, I’d like to talk about some of the best ways to play this amazing game, explaining the different classes and game modes and some ideas on tactics and strategy that you can use to be a better player. And not just from the standpoint of winning, which we all of course want to do, but just being a part of a team, how your attitude and behavior can affect not just your own experience, but everyone else’s, as well.
So I hope you’ll come back and read some more. And meanwhile, I’ll see you out there!