Tuesday, 25 March 2008


So, Team Fortress 2. Like World of Warcraft, it's the elephant in the room that it's impossible to ignore at the moment if you're talking about online games.

I got The Orange Box for Christmas but didn't play it much; work was busy and I didn't think the PC in my room could handle it. But a reformat and some optimisation later - and playing with everything on low settings - and, well, there ya go.

It may look simple on the surface, like a playable version of The Incredibles, but within it has depth that humbles the original Team Fortress - and does the same to bleeding-edge online titles, such as Unreal Tournament 3 and Call of Duty 4. Those games may look more realistic, but in terms of gameplay - where, when it boils down to it, the real victories are won - Team Fortress 2 trumps them.

I favour the soldier class at the moment, but I think this is only because I'm relatively new to the game. An all-rounder with a rocket launcher and shotgun isn't entirely foreign ground to me, and coping with that is far easier than learning the many nuances of, say, the Spy, that I see in PC Gamer every month.

No doubt I'll get round to the other eight classes eventually. At the moment I'm having too much fun rampaging around the brilliantly-designed maps, employing the skills I learnt many years ago, during CTF and TDM games in Unreal Tournament at school. It's not as if I'm even doing that well yet - most games end with me being killed more times than I vanquish foes - but the odd bit of magic rears its cartoonish head: a hopefully volley of rocket fire will connect, the perfect merger of anticipation, aiming and ping, with someone's head. They explode with a ferocious energy that wouldn't look out of place in a Pixar film, and I rejoice for a second.

Then I'm gunned down by a bloody sniper, all Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin, gloating at me from some far-flung ledge.

I also like the use of statistics: seeing exactly how I'm doing eliminates much of the guesswork that older games made you use just to figure out how you were getting on. I like to see the gap between kills I've made and times I've been taken out getting smaller.

The balancing is perfect: equilibrium on a knife-edge. It makes team games a total joy - a group of you charging forward always feels like it has a chance at taking the next control point because you know that there's a change you'll do well because of the varied skills in your team, how they compliment each other, and how there's some players on the opposition side who your character can take down. Similarly, there's no huge mantle of responsibility on your shoulders: there's enough scope to be able to go on a gung-ho, charging run to the top of a control point as you know there will always be your team backing you up, or at least holding their ground until you respawn.

Negative points? There's not enough hours in the day.

Oh well. One more match won't hurt.

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