Last year, Valve dropped a bombshell on the first-person shooter market with their latest and greatest hit: Team Fortress 2.
"TF2", as it's commonly known by its many adoring fans around the world, is the much anticipated sequel to a very popular quake 1 mod (or modification), aptly known as Team Fortress. Many of TF2's features, mechanics, and team-based gameplay goals reflect the original in several ways.
Much like the original Team Fortress, TF2 is focused on two competing teams fighting over goals or objectives that vary depending on the map currently in rotation. These vary from capture-and-hold control point style objectives, to the more classic capture-the-flag (Team Fortress 2 uses "intelligence" instead of flags). More recently, Valve has introduced several new gameplay objective modes. One of these revolves around one team pushing a hilariously designed "bomb cart" with comical writings on the front, while the defending team does all they can to prevent the attackers from reaching their checkpoints with said cart.
Players can choose between one of nine classes to play at any given time, and barring any server-side restrictions, have the option to change their current class at any time. To do this, they must return to the starting safe-zone. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses, and some create wonderful synergies with each other, such as the Heavy and the Medic. It's a sort of rock-paper-scissors approach to class balance that, when combined with the ability to change classes relatively often, can create a very fun and dynamic combat flow with classes being introduced to counter others non-stop. More advanced players will often find that simply sticking with the same class will put them at a disadvantage, as the opposing team will react to this by simply choosing the counter class(es). This is a great way to prevent player burnout; by simply offering many different roles for you to play at any given time. Using this method, Valve manages to keep the gameplay fresh without actually changing the game. This gives each scenario a large amount of replay value, because you never end up playing a map the same way twice.
There are nine different classes for players to choose from. In no specific order, they are: The Soldier, The Pyro, The Demoman, The Sniper, The Spy, The Heavy, The Medic, The Engineer, and The Scout.
The broad selection of classes and roles to assume really opens up many different playstyles that players can use to reach their objectives.
For example: A player with steady aim might find themselves best suited to suppress the advancing forces with well-placed sniper fire, while another might find it more suitable to sneak behind the enemy lines and backstab all of the attackers with the spy instead.
A more strategic player might find themselves thoroughly enjoying the engineer, as he can lay down tactical placements of deadly auto-aiming turrets, as well as teleporter pads for teammates to use, and places to heal up and restock supplies. Meanwhile, a more bloodthirsty friend (or foe) might enjoy getting behind the mini chaingun of the heavy, lumbering slowly towards their foes, and ripping their enemies to shreds.
Design Fun and Flaws:
All in all, the game is a lot of fun. There is a very strong emphasis on teamwork in TF2, which means that there's really nothing better than getting a few buddies together and jumping on a server and simply wreaking havoc wherever you go. Few things are more satisfying than exercising a concerted effort to render an opposing teams' defenses useless with deadly precision. The gameplay possibilities are seemingly endless, because you never really know just what's going to be around the corner.
Albeit few and far between, there are some frustrating things about the game. For starters, the game can feel awfully frustrating for a player who joins up on a server by himself where people aren't playing very well as a team. When you have a game that strongly emphasizes teamwork, and your team isn't working together, it's very easy to find yourself running into counter classes that eat you for lunch, or sacrificing yourself for the team only to see them go the other way. This game is really meant to be played with well-coordinated teammates, and not doing so will often lead to frustration.
Another flaw would be the fact that the game simply does not allow the ability to inflict damage on your teammates. While this would normally be a good approach to prevent griefing, it greatly diminishes the viability for one of the nine classes in TF2, the spy. The spy's role is to cloak past the front lines, and disguise themselves as enemy players. Thus, a common tactic is to shoot any suspicious looking teammate, just to make sure it isn't a lurking spy. This can cause endless frustration for players learning how to pick up the spy class, simply because your enemies will shoot anyone, friend or foe, before you even have the chance to do your job. When punishment for friendly fire is removed in the name of grief prevention, you also encourage the enemy to shoot at any teammate they can, since there's absolutely no detriment for doing so. I find it difficult to view this game as being truly competitive on the same level that Counterstrike or Quake ever was, simply because you're rewarded for bad gameplay (shooting at your teammates). In addition, sometimes it's just nice to have the ability to put your teammates in their place.
From a design standpoint, the game is almost perfect. It keeps people entertained for hours on end, and is packed full of comical flavor. Valve's art direction and design is unique for an FPS game, although it bears some resemblance to the older but popular "No one lives forever" PC spy game. Valve has put a tremendous amount of effort into bringing each of the nine character classes to life with their own unique, and very well done voice-overs. Combined with the wonderful, cartoony art direction inspired by the likes of Norman Rockwell, Valve has created a near flawless rendition of what is likely to remain one of the most popular team-based FPS games of all time.