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Brian Szabelski avatar 8:29 PM on 01.31.2009  (server time)
Playing with others: Pushing the little cart

Let's face it: online multiplayer is a mixed bag. Sometimes you get the best game ever, and sometimes, you want to quit three second into the whole thing. For a while, I got a lot of the latter. Other than playing with Dtoiders on Xbox Live, online multiplayer had left a bad taste in my mouth. Hackers, exploiters, jackasses and morons were in plentiful supply, always there to ruin whatever fun you might have planned. Like, for example, the time I got booted from a Forza 2 race I was winning simply because I wasn't the only one continuously doing donuts and smashing into walls. Memories like that made me bitter at online play and pine for days of old, when offline play and A.I. bots reigned supreme.

But then I got a new computer, one that could run Team Fortress 2. And everything I had ever thought about online multiplayer went up in smoke.

I had heard many good things about the game from the Dtoid community and other friends, and even got a taste of the game on the 360, but that was on Live, and my experiences were slightly different. It wouldn't be until I sat behind the glow of my new PC that I would get to experience Team Fortress 2 the way it was meant to be played. And boy, was I missing out on a lot.

My first venture into the game found myself on a randomly-selected server, playing around with a bunch of people I didn't even know. On the Xbox 360 version, this would have led to potential name-calling, annoying 13-year-olds, and one of six predetermined maps. But the server I bounced into happened to have a separate connection to a server that was full of music and sound clips that could be played, as well as several user-created maps I had never even played, like Goldrush. I didn't even know payload maps existed before this, but I soon found myself loving them as I tore people apart with my minigun or blowing them to pieces with a cluster of well-placed sticky bombs along the tracks. Hearing my Heavy scream, "We must push little cart!" made me squeal with joy, as did the banter of the players around me, cracking jokes in between giving me a heads-up on where the enemy snipers were. Further adventures led to even more discoveries: servers that kept track of all of your stats and assigned an internal points score based on how well you were doing over the course of your time on the server, servers dedicated to one map 24/7/365, and servers with all kinds of crazy things like nothing but crit shots and instant respawns. Clearly, I had been missing out on a lot being tethered to my console gaming experience.

I ended up splitting my time between two different groups, playing which ever one was more packed at the time. I played through all of the different classes, realizing quickly that I did not like the Soldier and loved the Pyro, Heavy, Demoman and Engineer. But there was something different that made TF2 stand out and got me hooked on multiplayer gaming again: the fun.

It helps that TF2 features a cel-shaded, cartoon art style, mixing blood and explosions along with a sense of silliness. But it's that extra element, the element of fun, that makes "serious" console-based multiplayer experiences like Gears of War 2, Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 seem so inferior in comparison, even though those games are fun, too. There's nothing quite like hearing the Cosby Anthem as you rip holes in an opposing scout or being able to queue up "Disco Inferno" as you go on a rampage as a Pyro. Try playing on the Pacman or Donkey Kong maps, getting the surreal feeling of playing a game within a game. Console gamers will never get to feel that fun, and it makes me a bit sad that I had been missing out on the sense of community and camaraderie for so damn long. But now, since I've had a taste of it, I don't ever plan on going back to being only a console gamer again.

The best part is that there's more to come. The PC version of TF2 is open to so much development that there are going to be plenty of great ideas coming down the pipe in the future, some of which are in development right now. Console gamers don't get that: they only get what Valve can get together for this first big update.

Team Fortress 2 has taught me something special: You can have your violence and your laughs at the same time. The multiplayer experience doesn't have to be the hellish depths of Xbox Live, and offline play isn't the only place to get a multiplayer experience that makes you feel like you're having a conversation, not just planning out strategy. More games, both those on consoles and those on PC, need to take a look at what Valve and the TF2 community have been able to do with this game and build off that for the future. That way, we can all have a good time for a long time playing multiplayer games, be it on a console or a PC.

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