Team Fortress 2

I’ve been busy these last few weeks, and look to remain busy for a few weeks yet, but I should probably write up a little something about my inaugural experience with TF2. It’s been a long time since I played an online FPS, mainly because there came a point when it was impossible to be good enough to compete without spending more hours per day practicing than I cared to, or could afford to. There was a time when I was office Quake champion, but only because I was the first to figure out the benefits of permanently turning on mouselook (wich modern FPS games don’t even let you turn off). But that was a very short time. It did, however, lead to my first taste of the original Team Fortress, back when it was a Quake mod. I understand that there have been a number of other versions of the game between this beginning and TF2, but I know little about them.

I remember thinking at the time that the whole idea of assigning gameplay-mandated roles had some potential, but that this potential was largely wasted due to the players’ general lack of interest in actually playing as a team and acting in concert. It would be surprising if this had changed for the better over the years that Generation 4chan got online, but I was pleasantly surprised that the dev team had come up with ways to compensate for it, with gameplay modes that really encourage specialization.

For example, on a Payload map (a mode that is, as far as I know, unique to TF2), one team has to push a cart full of explosives along a track to the enemy base before time runs out. The attacking team needs people to stay by the cart and push it and also needs people to scout ahead and clear out resistance. Which you can do most effectively depends on your chosen class — for example, the fast but fragile Scout will find that sticking by the slow-moving cart negates their one advantage. The defending team obviously needs to get people away from the cart, and the rocker-launcher-wielding Soldier class seems ideal for this, as the blast from their weapons can clear people out of cart-pushing range even if it doesn’t kill them. Meanwhile, their Engineers will be taking advantage of the cart’s fixed route by placing automated gun turrets well in advance of it, while their Snipers will be pressing as close to the enemy base as they dare in order to keep people from reaching the cart in the first place. Or at least that’s how it went when I played.

The game’s style is one of exaggerated, cartoony slapstick. Humor in games seems to be one of my recurring themes this year, and I’ve mentioned before how TF2 has been credited with creating a resurgence of humor in the industry. And it does it without a lot of explicit jokes — mainly it just gives the players the tools for inflicting absurd harm on each other and standing back. Much has been written about this already, but the really interesting thing about the slapstick here is that it’s even identifiable as such. I mean, the action really isn’t all that far separated from that of any other FPS. The whole genre has always been proudly over-the-top, from Wolfenstein 3D onward. So why does this game come off as more of a comedy than most? The caricatured character art and animations are of course a large part of it, but this is not sufficient in itself to leave a humorous impression. I think the pacing helps. Let’s say an enemy Heavy ambushes you, and you return fire, but you die first. This takes about the same amount of time to happen as it takes to read that sentence aloud. Which is to say, it lasts just long enough for the player to fully register that it’s happening, and doesn’t drag on beyond that moment. Obviously not everything is like this, though — in particular, two of the classes, the Sniper and the Spy, specialize in killing the enemy before the enemy knows they’re there. And apparently there’s a tradition of rivalry between these two classes.

One thing I’ve been uncertain about is how this game fits into the Oath. TF2 isn’t winnable, and it keeps adding more content — even now, nearly two years after its release, it keeps getting special bonus items as updates. This puts it into the same category as MMORPGs. Also like MMORPGs, it requires other players online, and thus won’t necessarily be easily turned back to after a delay of years. In short, it doesn’t fit within the model of the Stack. Nonetheless, I’m willing to call this game Complete once I’ve spent a nontrivial amount of time trying out each of the character classes. So far, I’ve tried the Scout, Heavy, and Soldier. Six more to go.

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