The Rise, Reign and Fall of Team Fortress 2
The year was 2007, and the Half-Life franchise had yet to become a running joke. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 had just hit the shelves as part of The Orange Box, which the vast majority of us bought just to play the next (final?) chapter of the Half-Life saga. Little did we know that Episode 2 would actually end up being the least influential game of the bundle.
The other two games included in The Orange Box were of course Portal, which managed to meme its way into the hearts of everyone on the internet (something something cake is a lie hur hur), and Team Fortress 2, which revolutionised the world of multiplayer shooters.
Before TF2, shooter developers had this obsession with gritty realism. It sort of started with Counter-Strike, but was solidified with Call of Duty 4 and Battlefield 2. Long gone were the wacky, mile-a-minute frag fests of Quake and Unreal Tournament, replaced instead with slow, tedious, “realistic” combat. Guns killed in one or two hits. The colour palette was brown, grey, and a slightly darker shade of grey. Characters moved slowly, regenerated health, and spent a lot of time lying prone in the grass.
TF2 blew all of that out of the water. I remember the first time I played it, and I was just completely blown away by how fun and different it was. Every class was like playing a new game, and the balance was just sublime. The bright colours and hilarious characters seemed like they were out of some super-violent alternate-universe Pixar movie. Health and ammo packs were back, and firefights lasted longer than 0.5 seconds, with rockets and grenades and bullets flying all around you in every direction at all times. It was mayhem, and it was glorious.
The game quickly became a LAN party favourite and something my friends and I would spend hours and hours playing. It was such a huge breath of fresh air in a genre that had become stale, and the influence it had on the industry is unquestionable. Just look at Overwatch for a quick case-in-point.
Unfortunately, at some point Team Fortress 2 did lose its way, at least in this writer’s opinion. One of the saddest moments of my life was when I booted up the game to write this feature, after a very lengthy hiatus. I discovered that Team Fortress 2 had become no more than a vehicle for cosmetic unlocks. The delicate balance the game maintained for years had been shattered by the addition of hundreds of new items, including a sword and shield for a class that traditionally used explosives as their main form of damage. Team Fortress 2 used to be a game that anyone would jump into and quickly understand, but now it’s just a huge confusing mess.
Do yourself a favor. If you loved Team Fortress 2 when it first came out, don’t go back and play it now. Remember it for the industry-changing game that it was, not the lifeless husk it is today.