Imagine if Pixar’s The Incredibles was set in a construction yard fought over not by a lovable family of superheroes, but by two groups of heavily armed mercenaries. Then imagine it was rated R for violence and gore. That, essentially, is Valve’s team-based multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 in a nutshell.
First released in 2007 for the PC, Team Fortress 2 is actually a sequel to the 1999 Half-Life mod Team Fortress Classic. After nearly 10 years of development, the game underwent numerous stylistic changes from gritty realism to the cartoonish exaggeration that defines it as one of the most distinctive games out there. The game once looked like a gritty war simulator. Now it’s a Norman Rockwell painting that’s trying to kill you.
The game’s plot is pretty inconsequential but the developers had to justify the constant warfare: Two teams, the Reliable Excavation & Demolition (RED) team and the Builders League United (BLU) team, represent huge holding companies that secretly control the entire world. You play as part of a team of mercenaries vying for supremacy across a variety of maps. These maps vary from capture the flag to holding objectives to pushing explosive carts from one side of the map to the other. Each player selects one of nine distinct classes and joins with their teammates to win the day before time runs out or the score limit is reached.
The nine classes offer different arsenals and vastly different ways to play. There’s the polite Aussie sniper, the black Scottish cycloptic demolition man, and of course, the trash-talking, speedy baseball-loving scout. The traditional run and gun FPS junky might like the soldier’s rocket launcher and splash damage, or maybe they prefer the slow-moving but powerful chaingun of the heavy. Sneaky tactical types may prefer to be a pyro and wait in ambush to use his/her huge flamethrower. Or maybe they prefer the stealth elements of the spy and his ability to not only disappear, but impersonate members of the opposing team.
Though the game launched in 2007, Valve still offers regular updates for the game (in fact, they recently finished update 119—yikes!). These upgrades include new maps, unlockable weapons, hats, achievements, and funny videos promoting the different classes. Valve’s Meet the Team series of movies are some of the funniest, sharpest, and most intriguing promotional shorts of any game, ever made. Not only are they great advertisements for the game, but they make you want to come back and play again.
After three years of updates, the game is now a well-polished diamond of game craftsmanship. No matter what class you play, you can have an immediate impact on the give and take inherent in conquering objectives. This isn’t just a slog between two teams—you have to use not only tactics in how you play, but the team itself has to come up with a strategy to win. In Badlands, it’s pivotal where the engineer places his sentry guns. These will help hold captured points for enemy pushes. But equally important is when a group of pyros, scouts, heavies, medics, and soldiers decide to attack a new point. Their support (snipers, spys, and even demomen) all have to contribute appropriately and in a timely fashion to succeed. If an enemy’s scouts and soldiers start making a run for the spire, for example, I enjoy sneaking around to a corner and playing a sniper where I can pick them off one by one while remaining largely out of range. If they had the support of a good spy or sniper, I’d be toast. But that’s the greatness of the game: it has a rock-paper-scissors feel to it. Every class is finely tuned for one task and is therefore very vulnerable if not in that position.
While I love headhunting from a distance, snipers are pretty useless at midrange and very vulnerable to scouts and pyros at close range. Meanwhile, spies are great at taking out medics, snipers, engineers, and any enemy with its back turned. But a pyro, scout, or a suspicious soldier can make short work of them. Scouts have no long-range attack (though they’re really fast), and pyros (even with their flare gun) can’t compete with a heavy at mid range. You need to know how to use your tools and how best to compliment your teammates.
You’ll be blowing up your opponents in missile silos, forts, construction yards, and barns. Everything has a western feel to it while still sprinkled with spy gizmos and “evil genius” tech. While the maps themselves are varied in their layouts, the overall style doesn’t change much and can get a bit redundant. I’d love to snipe from a snowy bunker or see what kind of objectives you can find in a jungle setting.
On my 2.8GHz Core i7 iMac, Team Fortress 2 ran solidly, though not without some coughs. After participating in the Mac beta, I got to watch this game evolve from nearly unplayable to something that is nearly identical to the experience you’d have on a Windows PC.
I also don’t particularly like the server menu as it’s set up. I’m accustomed to seeing dozens of maps and games going on, but the initial menu only has a few and these are usually full. I’ve always been able to dig and find a game I’d like, but I’m not sure why the servers being pushed to the top are the same half dozen nearly-full arena/capture maps.
Macworld’s buying advice
Some games capture the moment and become hot-sellers but disappear into obscurity later, not able to withstand the tides of changing technology. Others, so called “cult classics,” go unappreciated when initially released but have unique charms that keep players coming back years later. Team Fortress 2 is neither. It was a hit when it was released and it’s still a popular and well-oiled machine now. There’s a reason why it’s still the preferred multiplayer shooter of many gamers, despite being three years old. The Halo and Call of Duty series also impress with their multiplayer features, but even they can’t compete with the well-balanced, funny, and eclectic missions you’ll enjoy with Team Fortress 2. See you all on the servers… Last one alive, lock the door!
[Chris Holt is a Macworld associate editor.]
[Editor’s Note 6/10/10: Valve just announced the game’s launch and some added bonuses to players who download the game on the Mac. According to Valve, “Those who play TF2 on the Mac will receive a free set of ‘earbuds’ for their player character. Purchase the game this weekend on either platform and save 50% off the regular price. Or, try it via the Team Fortress 2 Free Weekend happening now on Steam. In addition to all the TF2-Mac goodness, a new single-player training mode has been rolled out for both PC and Mac.”]