Disembowel enemy players with high-viscera hilarity in colorful team-based matches.
PC Release: October 9, 2007
By Ian Coppock
On one hand, it seems entirely pointless to review an entity as well-known as Team Fortress 2. Telling a video gamer about Team Fortress 2 is like telling a human being about breathing. Team Fortress 2 is so endemic to the world of video games that it can indeed be approximated to a basic human function. On the other hand, Team Fortress 2 is unique, weathering challenges from hundreds of other video games for almost a decade, and still remaining one of the world’s most popular multiplayer shooters. Our time is therefore best spent analyzing what makes the game so endearing, rather than hashing over what it is. There’s something to be said for TF2‘s staying power, so let’s see what exactly has given this game its longevity.
For anyone who is brand-new to gaming (and for those gamers who’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years), Team Fortress 2 is a class-based multiplayer shooter that is one part teamwork, one part carnage, and one part goofy. Players can pick from one of nine classes of soldier and duke it out in simple team-based matches. Whichever team can kill the most people, capture the most areas, or complete any number of other objectives, wins. The teams are divvied up into red and blue teams, and each team’s half of the map retains its own interior decorating.
In a far cry from the serious sci-fi aesthetic of the original Team Fortress, Team Fortress 2 espouses a cartoony camp style that looks like something out of a 1960’s comic book. The environments are big, blocky and colorful, and each of the nine characters has his own accent and wonky mannerisms. Most characters have hilariously exaggerated foreign accents; indeed, the writers picked voices that they imagined people from the 60’s would’ve picked. The result is a big bowl of goofs and violence that is fun, but perhaps more importantly, unafraid to be a bit loose and not take itself so seriously.
Team Fortress 2‘s gameplay is an especially high-octane brand of the chaos endemic to team-based shooters. Players take their character out in the field and kill as many targets as possible. Each class has his own arsenal of weapons and is uniquely suited for a specific combat role. The Heavy, for example, is great at keeping hordes of enemies away from checkpoints, while the Sniper excels at picking off foes from a distance. Players can also get behind the wheel of a support class, like the Medic (whose duties are self-explanatory) and the Engineer, who can build turrets and hand out supplies.
In addition to being divided between these roles, some classes are easier to master than others. The Soldier class is pretty straightforward; whip out a rocket launcher and shoot until everything stops moving. Some classes require more finesse, like the Spy, that ski-masked chap in the preceding screenshot. Spies can disguise themselves as enemy combatants, but there is an art to this technique that is simple to learn and difficult to master. That’s actually a good summation of Team Fortress 2 in general. It’s very easy to pick up, and much harder to excel at. Perhaps that’s why it’s so popular.
Team Fortress 2‘s impact on the world of video games is difficult to overstate. The game received critical acclaim upon release for its simple gameplay and unique Pixar-run-amok look. Even though the game’s been out for almost a decade, Team Fortress 2 attracts tens if not hundreds of thousands of players every day, giving it staying power rivaled only by other Valve titles, like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Each character in Team Fortress 2 is an Internet meme within the gaming community. Thousands of fan-made machinima videos featuring the characters have been produced in Garry’s Mod over the years, pitting them against each other and against characters from other media. Sir Uber Kat, one such machinima producer, garnered acclaim for his video in which the Heavy becomes the night watchman in Five Night’s at Freddy’s. No other multiplayer shooter has spawned such a universe of fan media and adoration as Team Fortress 2. The question is… why? Why has Team Fortress 2 accrued so much popularity and longevity when hundreds of other multiplayer shooters have failed to do the same?
The first and most basic cause underlying TF2‘s success is simply that it runs well. Like almost everything Valve’s ever put out, Team Fortress 2 is relatively bug-free, and the fact that it’s built on the Source engine means that it works like a charm on pretty much every system. The game hasn’t gone without a few blemishes over its 10-year-career, but it hasn’t suffered, say, a Battlefield 4-level epidemic of bugs and glitches. The game is also a joy on PC because of its in-depth options menu. Field of view, advanced visual effects, you name it, it’s in there. The amount of freedom players have in crafting their own TF2 experience is admirable.
Another factor behind Team Fortress 2‘s eminence in PC gaming is its pay structure. The core game is free to play, allowing anyone in any economic situation to pick it up and go wild. Players can purchase cosmetic enhancements for their characters for a dollar here, two bucks there, in a much more acceptable use of microtransactions than we’ve seen in recent years. Even though these cosmetics are priced, the game is also buoyed by a steady stream of free updates and tweaks. Team Fortress 2 also has a massive Steam workshop community, with custom-made maps and items everywhere under the sun. Between the game’s rock-solid optimizations, its formidable options menu, free updates from Valve, and its open-ended array of personal items and custom maps, it’s little surprise that Team Fortress 2 has been able to sustain itself all these years.
Team Fortress 2‘s popularity is also due in no small part to its simplicity. The game is a great place for casuals and gamers who are new to the multiplayer shooter scene in general to start. Team Fortress 2 is entirely class-based and lacks a leveling system, so it ensures that everyone is put on an even playing field. The only way to get better is to keep playing; this isn’t a game where players can buy their way to stardom with loot drops and gameplay perks. Being given the same set of tools across all classes and all levels of experience helps a great deal with novice players new to the TF2 scene. It also helps that Team Fortress 2 has one of the more hospitable player communities on the Internet; it’s far and away friendlier than Dota 2, that’s for sure.
Team Fortress 2 is relatively friendly to newbies for a multiplayer shooter, but it doesn’t make a perfect introduction. The game has tutorials in place to help players find their way around the various classes, but these tutorials only cover six of the nine player classes. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete explanation as to why three of the classes are missing, but it’s a bit conspicuous. It also causes new players to form a glut around these six classes when the missing three can be just as essential to winning a match. There’s an excess of tutorials elsewhere on the Internet for these three overlooked heroes, but having to consult a tutorial outside of a video game is not ideal.
Team Fortress 2‘s simplicity is most replete in the gameplay. The tools and antics of each class are easy to understand, even if mastering them takes quite a bit more time. In addition to being divided by their roles, the classes in Team Fortress 2 can also be divvied up by the difficulty that goes into playing them effectively. The Heavy is not hard to understand; he comes equipped with a huge minigun and is great at mowing down enemies. The rocket launcher-armed soldier and the bomb-slinging demoman similarly require little finesse to be effective.
On the other end of the spectrum are support and specialty classes that require a lot of practice in order to become good with, like the aforementioned Spy. These classes’s roles are not as obvious or glamorous as those of the front-line troops, but their abilities are just as essential to winning a match. No one wants to play as the Medic, but that class’s healing gun makes him an absolute necessity for any team that hopes to survive. Teamwork in a team-based shooter should be a no-brainer, and the classes in Team Fortress 2 have been masterfully designed to work well together. Pick and choose soldiers carefully before each match. It never hurts to see who else on the team is assuming what role.
The final piece of Team Fortress 2‘s time-defying puzzle is the allure of its universe. It sports a look markedly different from the countless grimy multiplayer shooters out there, and its simple, colorful aesthetic produces no shortage of visual interest. The game has a tiny nugget of lore at the center of all its matches concerning the fictitious Mann Co., a ruthless corporation whose antics propel the fighting. Each match in the game is MC’d by the Administrator, a ruthless woman voiced by GlaDOS voice actress Ellen McLain. Over the years, Valve has put out some ancillary media chronicling the misadventures of the various characters, including short films and comic books. Valve has retained their show-don’t-tell approach for the micro-narratives within Team Fortress 2, making the game awash in fan theories. Any TF2 player will tell you that the most popular conspiracy theory is whether the Pyro is a man or woman beneath that mask.
Despite these official Valve media, the characters of Team Fortress 2 are far more well-known in the machinima community. Machinima producers using the tool sets in Garry’s Mod have created their own adventure series starring the characters and their wacky personalities. Much more than the one-off lines they utter in Team Fortress 2, the characters featured in these productions are the subjects of everything from serial war dramas to hilarious crossovers. There’s no shortage of videos crossing the TF2 universe over with popular indie games. They’ve been featured in everything from the toll booth of Papers, Please to the office in Freddy Fazbear’s pizza. These videos have done an immeasurable amount to boost Team Fortress 2‘s profile over the years.
In closing, Team Fortress 2‘s longevity stems from its simplicity, its fluidity, and its immense charm. It’s easy for any gamer, new or inveterate, to pick up TF2 and immerse themselves in all sorts of cost-free fun. The community remains massive, and mostly friendly. New content and maps are released onto the game’s Steam Workshop page every day. Valve continues to update their title with new material and tweaks. The game’s aesthetic makes it glow in a genre full of grimy duds. Team Fortress 2 has been allowed to persist because it is so easy to love. It’s also proof that a multiplayer shooter doesn’t need to release a new title every year to remain popular. Team Fortress 2 exhibits no signs of slowing down, and gamers who’ve never tried it would do well to hop on its train.
You can buy Team Fortress 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.