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The Greatest Game Ever Played


The title is a question. Team Fortress 2 is the answer. If you don’t want to watch me fellate a video game, look away now. TF2 is an incredibly unique, infinitely replayable, perfectly balanced, class based first person shooter. Conceived by Valve in 1998, it underwent several major design changes which required multiple and complete rebuilds before being birthed after a 9 year gestation in 2007. If we can learn anything from this, it’s that perfection takes time.


I can’t emphasize the “unique” and “balanced” aspects enough. Pounding so many different options and abilities into a game while having none of them overpower the others is no small feat. Depending on the selected class, TF2 players can: double jump, have twice as much health as other players, build automated gun/missile turrets, teleport, turn completely invisible, wear a disguise that makes you indistinguishable from the enemy, become invincible for 10 seconds and reflect an enemy’s rockets back at them. Those are all big, scary, potentially game breaking abilities. Any one has the potential to be overpowered, but each one has enough limitations and counters to keep it balanced while still remaining fun. For example, the stationary turrets are quite susceptible to the 10 seconds of invincibility, while the invincibility is often thwarted by those who are not immobile running the hell away.

A decloaking spy. Half James Bond, half Predator, all suck for the guy with his back turned.

This incredible range of options is also the biggest key to the game’s longevity. Current popular shooters, like Call of Duty or Battlefield, have “class” systems that present a Nickelbackesque level of variety. A player gets to pick from 25 nearly identical rifles and machine guns, then choose whether they’d like to hit more things or do more damage to things, then charge off into battle nearly indistinguishable from everyone else. Mainstream shooters have 3 classes: guy with gun, guy with gun and health pack, guy with gun and ghillie suit. TF2 has 9 classes, and you should be sitting down for this, they are noticeably different from each other! It pains me to make a comparison to this god forsaken game, but changing classes in TF2 is akin to changing classes in World of Warcraft. It becomes a whole new game. Even swapping out gear within the same class provides more options than are available in most other shooters. The Demoman, for example, is normally equipped with remotely detonated mines. However, he can swap that out for a sword and shield. This changes him from a camping defender of objectives to a maniac with the ability to sprint at incredible speed and thwack your head clean off. “But that’s crazy”, you say. “My interest is piqued”, you continue. “Please tell me more”, you persistently badger. Very well.

Airborne party crasher

Scenario 1: You are at the base of a tower. The enemy is having a picnic at the top. Do you walk up several flights of stairs and mow them all down with your MP5? No! For you are a TF2 Soldier! You will shoot a rocket straight down into the ground and launch yourself into the sky. After landing amongst them at the tower’s top, you will beat everyone to death with a shovel.

Scenario 2: A friendly doctor is mending your wounds. The doctor is hit in the face with a baseball bat, catches fire, and is soaked head to toe by a jar full of urine. Do you marvel at the unfortunate series of events and quickly drive him to the emergency room? No! For you are a TF2 Heavy! You feed him a sandwich and he gains 100 health.

That right. Jar full of urine. I never exaggerate.

Innovation doesn’t stop at character design. TF2 even manages to bring originality to something as entrenched as game types. Along with standard capture the flag, control points and death matches there’s this thing called “payload”. A train track runs the length of the map. A wheeled cart carrying a giant ACME style bomb sits at one end, and a suspiciously explodable objective sits at the other. The offense moves the cart by standing near it; the defense stops the cart by making sure the offense is dead. Payload doesn’t sound like that big of a deal until you play a few rounds. With a slow moving objective running the length of the map, the point of action is constantly changing. This creates a more dynamic environment than immobile control points, and ensures that the entire map gets used.

Just two more quick hits. One: the game still receives free updates. There was one just this week that brought in three new maps and a major upgrade to the engineer class. Call of Duty charges your $15 for that kind of service… but instead of a class update, you get 2 extra maps that aren’t even new. Two: Sense of humor. This is harder to describe than I thought it would be, so I’ll just link two official TF2 videos.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sue P permalink
    2010/07/16 9:17 am

    WOW! i don’t play games, but that sounds GREAT!

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