It's been five years since the Pixar-with-guns shooter Team Fortress 2 launched as part of The Orange Box from Valve, however if you compared the two games today you would hardly recognise them. Sure, the original release laid down the groundwork, introducing us to the basic game mechanics, the unforgettable characters and taught us how each class behaved in action. It quickly grew a fan base with team-orientated gameplay and inviting visuals that roped players in from all facets of gaming.
Rather than let the title enjoy a year or two life-cycle that most online shooters are often given, Valve was determined to keep the dream alive. That's when we started to see significant changes to the framework of TF2, making it bigger, bolder, brighter and far more engrossing.
First it was some innocent game modes, then it was a special Halloween event that has become tradition every October. Then Valve introduced hats, collectibles, crafting and weapons. This is by far the deepest mechanic in TF2, and it keeps fans coming back for more each and every day, seeking out the rarest and shiniest loot for their characters.
Then the game went free-to-play, dropping the barrier so anyone with a PC or Mac could simply jump into the action. Then Steamworks integration was opened up for users to create their own content; we're talking hats, collectibles, weapons and maps, and sell those on to other community members. It works! Members are actively adding to the game, and getting paid with real world money for doing so. Team Fortress 2 has truly opened gaming up to something completely different.
Five years later and so many changes have helped the game grow to the unstoppable giant that it is today. Yesterday the game evolved once again, introducing an entirely new game mode with a steady flow of new features.
Mann vs. Machine pits a team of six humans against unstoppable waves of enemy robots in what has quickly become one of the most popular games on the internet. Despite lengthy server connection times (we waited over two hours for our first taste!) once we arrived in the game it was truly something special to behold.
The very notion of co-op isn't exactly foreign to TF2; many of the standard game modes will often rely on tight team tactics for ultimate success. However seeing it in action and feeling part of a close unit provides some of the most memorable moments I've experienced in the game.
If you're running into this battle like a general game of TF2 then you're bound to die in a matter of moments. You need to communicate with your team mates as you setup a defensive perimeter, find a vantage point and hold the attackers at bay.
Our first round ended in less than two minutes as a swarm of Minor League Scouts grabbed the bomb and rushed it through to the drop zone. The second round wasn't much better as a group of Soldiers fired rockets until we gibbed all over the place, it was then we realised that we needed to work together.
Our Engineers setup a couple of dispensaries and turrets, along with teleporters to the front lines while our Sniper stayed in the wings picking off enemies one at a time. Our Demoman was sticking bombs at key choke points, and our Heavies were laying down fire like there was no tomorrow. We beat the first wave, but only just.
That sense of accomplishment that came over the entire team as we rushed to the spawn point to upgrade our gear and characters was unforgettable, the amount of cheering and trash talk was at an all time high.
The upgrade stations will take you a while to get your head around; there are simply so many options that you will want to try them all and discover which are your favourites for each class. General rule of thumb: +15% health with every kill is a very good thing!
The game mode also introduces Canteens which can be equipped into your action slot. These bad boys can be filled at the start of every wave with some special juice that will reap you devastating rewards, however they can only be used twice before they are empty. Instant use of my particular flavour ensured that my Heavy's ammo was refilled right away, which certainly came in handy as we faced down a group of Pyro's and an enemy tank.
By the time we finally made it through to the last wave I had seen so many different kinds of enemies I didn't know what to do with myself. We had faced off against a slew of giant robots, who move at half speed but can absorb a ludicrous amount of damage. Our Engies were battered and bruised from the Sentry Busters; essentially a giant bomb on legs who sniffs out turrets and busts them apart.
But our victory was unforgettable, and was honestly one of the best moments I will ever have with Team Fortress 2. We rushed back in for a second, third and fourth helping before we called it a day. I was back this morning, ready to go for what would be another tough battle. It's comforting to know I still have my favourite Payload and King of the Hill modes waiting for me in the wings, but for now I'm more than happy to dedicate my life to Mann vs. Machine.
By Stephen Heller