[AUTHOR'S NOTE: It might not look like I'm really on topic with this Monthly Musing, but I do have a point, so make sure you read until the end. Also, cocks. Tr00 dat.]
It stands to reason that, if you are even slightly interested in PC gaming, you will have heard of Team Fortress 2. Valve’s multiplayer magnum opus has endured critical acclaim and wonderful popularity, and rightly so, as it is one of the finest pieces of multiplayer gaming ever crafted, and the ability to tweak the game as you like and the constant influx of free updates by Valve have only served to enhance that experience.
Or have they?
Valve’s regular class updates and the ability to alter the rules of the game as you see fit via the console does add another layer of complexity to the game. But was it really needed? Have class limits and instant respawns tainted Valve’s glorious game mechanics? Have these class updates ruined the inch perfect balance that they attained with the nine classes available? Both have altered Valve’s near flawless creation, and that is what we’ve forgotten – Team Fortress 2, without addition or alteration, without mods, class updates and new weapons, is the best that is has ever been, and it’s a shame that we have all forgotten how that was.
First of all, a little history about the game. Team Fortress was originally a mod itself, based on the Quake engine. The signature cartoonish style of Team Fortress 2 was missing, but other than that, it’s business as usual – Red Team vs. Blu Team, go capture a point or capture the flag a few times to win. After being adapted for Quake, Team Fortress Classic was created as a mod for Half-Life, and became super-duper popular, with people still playing it this very day. Obviously, Valve liking the idea of making sequels to popular games, development of Team Fortress 2 began. First screens of the game were shown at 1999’s E3, a full EIGHT YEARS after the finished product made it into The Orange Box, but it was time well spent – Valve themselves said that “we quietly made three or four full games” before they hit what we know and love today.
Team Fortress 2 came out with The Orange Box and met with critical acclaim, holding scores of 92 on both Metacritic and GameRankings, with critics commenting on the good balance that the game offers. And they were right. Anyone who plays class based shooters will know that, without a balanced set of classes, the game will suddenly turn into a grief-fest. But Valve hit the balance right on the head – sure, the Heavy can turn anything that comes close into pate, but the slow movement speed makes him an easy victim for the headshot of a Sniper or the backstab of a Spy. Conversely, the Scouts quick movement and lethal close-range damage was countered by his low health. The class system was also good in that not doing the job of your class would make certain death and defeat an almost certainty. If a Sniper tried to join the main fight rather than sniping from a distance, he’d most certainly be turned into a red smear on the walls, whereas if he does his job and put his bullets through people’s eyes from the next town over, he’d score more kills and most certainly help out his team a lot more. Every class had strengths and weaknesses, and no-one class shone more than other. This meant that successful teams had to have players from all classes – despite common belief, a team of nothing but Spies and Snipers will most certainly lose.
As far as I’m concerned, the game was-near perfectly balanced (I’ll admit I had issues with the Spy, but hell, I’m pretty sure everyone does ). And then when Valve announced that the Medic would be receiving an update with some new Medic-specific weapons, I was intrigued. Hey, pretty much everyone was intrigued, but probably not in the way that I was. I was confused as to how one class can receive new weapons where the other eight do not, and how the game would stay balanced. So, update day rolled around, and, to be honest, I was amazed at what I saw.
The Medic’s syringe gun, most definitely the weakest gun on the game, was improved to heal the medic for 3 health each time one of his syringes hit his target. This, for me, was certainly a step in the wrong direction. The reason for the syringe gun’s horrible weakness was to make the Medic useless in a combat situation, so he would concentrate on healing his fellow teammates, but now, the Medic could hold his own in combat, and maybe even score a few kills. Worse than that was the ubersaw, the new melee weapon that filled the Medic’s “Ubercharge” meter (which would allow the medic to make himself and the person he is healing invulnerable, or, with the new update, score 100% critical hits). Before, the only way to charge up this meter was to heal, which would encourage players to do so – now, it would be quicker, easier, and a helluva lot more exciting to run into the fray and try to gain charge be bonesawing anything that moved. With this update, not only was the medic discouraged to stand around healing, he was also given a tool to make it that much easier for him to survive one-on-one fights – something he was never supposed to have.
All this did not sit well with me, and, come the next update (the Pyro) I was worried that the Pyro’s new weapons would also screw with his original role. While the Backburner (a new flamethrower that scored 100% critical hits if someone is attacked from behind) did fit in with the Pyro’s M.O. as a close-range ambush class, the Flare Gun was the polar opposite. It allowed the Pyro to burn his victims from afar, meaning that one of the Pyro’s weaknesses – his inadequacy at long range – was gone. More updates followed and the same things happened. The Heavy, who was pretty weak unless he had a Medic backing him, now had the ability to heal himself with the Sandvich. The Sniper was given The Huntsman, a bow which made him just as deadly at close range as he was from afar. The Spy, whose one real method of killing was to backstab, was given a gun that crits on a headshot, meaning that any good spy would rather lop off people’s heads from afar than being forced to get close. Last but not least, the Scout’s Sandman served the same purpose as the Pyro’s flare gun – made the scouts inability to hurt at long range much less of a weakness. During all of this, the Demoman, Engineer and Soldier all had to make do without updates, so their weaknesses stayed as weaknesses, whilst every other class seemed to drop them quite easily.
Not only were these updates upsetting the balance, some updates were more useful than others. Take the Sniper’s Razorback, a shield designed to block the backstab of a Spy. This new tool was almost made obsolete by the Spy’s new crit-on-headshot Ambassador revolver – any spy who spotted the wood on the Sniper’s back would just step back, decloak out of the Sniper’s view, make two shots at the Sniper’s head and cloak away again. I’ll admit that this is perfectly fine – Sniper’s are weak against spies and this is how it stayed – but Valve didn’t have to throw in the near-pointless Razorback to give Snipers the illusion of Spy safety.
Valve’s inclusion of the console system and the ability to change almost every aspect on a server also affects the game balance. Sure, it can be fun to use lightning on Counter-Strike or spawn ten Witches in the saferoom on Left 4 Dead, but on Team Fortress, the most used mods seem to be Class Limits and Instant Respawn. Class Limits limit how many people can choose which class, and sometimes takes a class out of the equation together. Just doing that affects the balance so much – imagine this: A game where Snipers have been deemed too powerful and have been banned. Now, Heavies will be able to attack with less consequence and Engineers won’t be able to start building their sentries without Spies bearing down on them, Spies who’d usually be after the Snipers. Now imagine that Demomen had been banned – good luck destroying that sentry around the next corner, away from the rockets of a soldier or the greasy mitts of a Spy. Instant respawn also affects the game. You may or may not know that TF2 implements a system called “momentum”, where the respawn time is different depending on how the game is going. A simple example is that an attacking team will have quicker respawns than a defending team – this is fair enough, it’s far easier to bunker down and defend than draw guns and attack, so death should carry a higher price on the defence. But with Instant Respawns this goes down the can. Defending teams will receive the same respawns as attacking teams, making defences harder to breach, and making final captures, which are often a stone’s throw away from the spawn point of a team, will be twice as difficult.
All of this sounds like digression from the subject at hand – remembering forgotten relics of games that people might not’ve appreciated. Well, that is exactly what I am doing. Team Fortress 2, one the finest games ever created in the history of gaming, was at its peak before the class updates and before Valve let people mess around in the console. But we’re all stuck in the mentality of “OMG THE SNIPER GOT A BOW LET ME PLAY” to remember just how great that was! Team Fortress 2, without updates, without new weapons, without class limits or instant respawns or anything like that, is The Forgotten. All of this new stuff and tweaked server rules have blinded us and made us forget just how good Team Fortress was pre-update. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still good and I urge you to try it if you haven’t already, but what was once a 10 out of 10 2 years ago has become an 8 out of 10 today. And it’s a shame that most people have forgotten the five-star marvel that Valve released in 2007. It’s a simple case of don’t fix what isn’t broken, and also of a simple case of don’t let the players decide the rules.
The irony is, the update-less, mod-less Xbox 360 version of this game that people have been whining about is actually a better version than what we PC owners have got. Play it with pride, Xbox 360 owners, your time with the perfect version of TF2, which PC owners have forgotten, is most definitely limited.