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Team Fortress 2 (for PC) - Review 2020


Valve’s free-to-play Team Fortress 2 (TF2) is now over a decade old, an eternity in terms of video game development, but TF2’s basic gameplay structure remains surprisingly relevant. Many modern PC games, and especially those of the team-based first-person shooter (FPS) genre, have since improved on TF2’s formula by streamlining gameplay and offering more impressive visuals, thus creating more compelling reasons to return match after match. Still, the shooter remains popular among those who can appreciate its retro charms.

TF2 is the famed multiplayer FPS first released by Valve in 2007. Its debut precedes that of Valve’s other, more-realistic multiplayer FPS, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), by five years. In addition to CS:GO, modern titles such as Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, and Valorant all owe at least some of their success to TF2. Team Fortress 2 still receives content updates and hosts new events, the latest being the Scream Fortress XII in-game event at the time of testing. This event introduced four new community maps, along with special cosmetic items and effects.

Team Fortress 2 Main Menu

Although there are both casual and competitive match servers, note that TF2 is not huge in the esports scene. Its ranking (81) is far below that of CS:GO (2), Fortnite (3), Overwatch (6), PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) (7), and Rocket League (13) according to Esports Earnings rankings page.

Getting Started With Team Fortress 2

As mentioned, TF2 is a free-to-play title. However, players have the option to upgrade to premium TF2 accounts by making any purchase in the game’s virtual shop. Premium users get 300 backpack slots for storing items (free accounts only get 50); access to all item types; and full crafting, trading, and gifting capabilities. Everything else is the same between the two account types. You can download the game via Steam for Windows, macOS, and Linux machines. As with many other Steam games, TF2 supports Steam Achievements and Steam Trading Cards.

The main menu’s icons use a blocky style that matches the game’s overall aesthetic, but the layout is a bit scattered. For example, the Find a Game option is all the way in the upper-right corner and doesn’t particularly stand out. The bottom bar is chock-full of generic icons, which just add to the clutter. It reminds me a bit of the CS:GO menu before it was streamlined.

Multiplayer Matches and Characters

Matches are mainly broken down into casual and competitive affairs, with additional options for Mann vs. Machine (a six-player, player versus environment match type), community servers, and training exercises. Core game modes include all the classics you might expect, such as Attack/Defense, Capture the Flag, Control Points, King of the Hill, and Payload. For this review, I spent most of my time in Control Points and Payload matches, in which you respectively fight to control several points on the map and try to advance a cart into enemy territory before time runs out.

You select a character after you join a match and can switch at any point during a respawn. TF2’s cast of nine playable characters breaks down into three classes: Offense, Defense, and Support. In matches, players are split into two teams: RED (Reliable Excavation & Demolition) and BLU (Builders League United).

For comparison, Overwatch‘s lineup includes 32 heroes that break down into three categories: Damage, Tank, and Support. Valorant groups 14 total playable agents into four categories: Controller, Duelist, Initiator, and Sentinel. As a result of this greater variation in character choice, effectively attacking and defending against enemies requires more strategy, thus making those other games more engaging. Different weapons let you better tune TF2’s characters to your specific play style, but this method is still not as accessible as Overwatch or Valorant’s characters who are more clearly designed with specific players in mind.

The character you choose should depend on your current objective. I spent most of my time in the game as a Scout (Offense) and Heavy (Defense). Scouts move quickly and utilize a shotgun as a main weapon. Of course, this player class does not do as much damage as heavier characters, but you can certainly take out a lone enemy at a capture point or keep enemies at bay if you stay mobile and accurate. The slow-moving Heavy class, by contrast, can both deliver and soak up tons of damage. The Heavy class is most useful for defending points or breaking through ranks of enemies. I had the most fun playing as the Pyro class and using the flamethrower. It may not be the most effective choice, but in casual modes, that’s not really important.

Team Fortress 2 multiplayer gameplay

Multiplayer Gameplay

In casual matches, teams are typically made up of 12 players each, which makes it difficult to coordinate and keep track of everyone else’s movements. There are no limits on the number of players who can play a given class in casual matches either, which can lead to team imbalance. The result is more chaotic gameplay than other titles. That said, in the matches I played, some basic strategies emerged. For example, medics and engineers tended to congregate around areas of high value, such as control points or the payload. Competitive modes feature smaller team sizes and class limits, however, which should encourage more teamwork.

If you prefer more balanced team compositions, then Overwatch’s Role Queue feature may be something you enjoy. Other players might hate not being able to swap out to a different class, say if your teammates with Damage-class characters can’t break through a map’s choke point.

Respawning after dying takes 15 seconds, which seems like an eternity in-game, but at least you have the option to change your character class while you wait. You can also switch through the perspectives of other players or check out the match scoreboard. This should all sound familiar to anyone who has played a multiplayer game in recent years. These elements show how many of TF2’s core elements live on in modern games.

TF2’s multiplayer community did get a bit on my nerves during gameplay. I muted voice channel audio almost immediately after joining, but even the text chat was filled with garbage commentary or just annoying players. This problem is common for most multiplayer games. Unless you are playing with friends or happen to find a cohesive team, it’s best to disable voice chat and ignore text chat.

Mechanics and Sound

I still have mixed impressions about TF2’s mechanics. Movements feel a bit floaty, for the lack of a better word. Apart from the difference in movement speeds between classes, I felt like I had less control over precise movements with lighter classes. This can be problematic when trying to avoid enemy gunfire.

I didn’t find anything particularly excellent or egregious about the TF2’s weapon mechanics during my time with the game. In any case, you do have to be accurate with your shots (as to be expected with any FPS game) and cognizant of the effective range of your class’s weapons. Of course, you will also gain an advantage over your enemy by getting the first few shots off in a confrontation. For whatever reason, CS:GO’s movement and weapon mechanics were easier for me to pick up, despite Valve developing both games.

The game’s sound design is fine, but not exceptional. Weapons generally sound clear and distinct and player chatter fills the environment. The music matches well with the game’s action and themes, too. Chat from other players sounds a bit garbled, but that’s likely a result of those players’ using poor quality microphones and headsets.

Progression and Microtransactions

Progression in TF2 is similar to that of other multiplayer games. You earn points for performing well in matches and your rank increases after you earn a certain number of points.

You can earn items (such as weapons and cosmetics) through random drops simply by playing the game or by completing achievements for each class. You can also earn rewards by fulfilling contracts (accessible from TF2’s main screen). These are similar to Battlefield V‘s Assignments mechanic.

Team Fortress 2 Class Customization

TF2 has a robust item and cosmetics shop. Purchasable items include weapons, cosmetics, bundles, map stamps (which support the creators of that map), and taunts (short animations you can use to annoy enemies). Most cosmetics are applicable to all character classes, but some weapons are only for specific groups. Cosmetics can vary wildly. For example, at one point I received a hat styled after the titular character in the Octodad indie game. The most expensive bundle I saw (a range of cosmetics and items for each class) cost a whopping $249.99.

I do not think microtransactions should have a part in any game, but the industry obviously disagrees with that opinion. That said, microtransactions are at least tolerable if they are purely cosmetic. Team Fortress 2 does let players buy weapons with different abilities than those available to players by default. Granted, these weapons may not entirely disrupt the flow of gameplay, but it still leads to concerns over weapon balance.

Additionally, there are other mechanics for breaking down and crafting items you collect and trade with other players. You don’t need to delve into these mechanics, but if you play long enough, you’ll likely collect enough items in your backpack to construct something useful.

Graphics and Effects

TF2’s characters and environment are marked by a blocky, cartoon aesthetic. Most map layouts feel distinctive, but the environments and character models generally lack detail. For example, I played several matches in desert locations and had a very difficult time distinguishing between them. Newer maps do look better than the older ones, however. For example, the Mercenary Camp and Moldergrove maps have a more modern presentation and aren’t as desolate-looking.

Part of the problem is the lack of interactivity and world-building details. For instance, there’s nothing like the chickens that run around a few of CS:GO’s maps, the endless supply of destructible objects and structures in Fortnite, or any of the narrative tie-ins that make Overwatch’s maps fun to explore. Without those effects and details, the maps feel a little stale.

Team Fortress 2 Mercenary Camp map

TF2’s character designs look monotonous compared with those standards set by more recent games. Overwatch’s and Valorant’s heroes, for example, are distinct, vivid, and visually compelling. Although TF2’s character customizations are comparable with those in Fortnite, the latter’s designs look more natural in terms of expressions and movement.

Comparing TF2 to Fortnite, Overwatch, and Valorant is not exactly fair, given the time gap between the releases of these titles, but the stark difference is indicative of how much progress has been made over the last decade or so of video games. The visual direction of TF2 is not bad, but rather underwhelming compared to modern standards. While this doesn’t affect the core gameplay, it does make the game somewhat less engrossing.

Can You PC Run Team Fortress 2?

Team Fortress 2 is not a taxing game, and you don’t need to buy a brand new gaming desktop for the best experience. Recommended specs only specify an Intel Pentium 4 3.40GHz or AMD Athlon 64 3400+ CPU, an AMD Radeon X800 GTO or NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GPU, 1GB of RAM, and 15GB of disk space. The Dell Inspiron 5675 gaming PC I used for testing houses a Radeon RX580 GPU, Ryzen 1700X CPU, and 32GB RAM. As of this writing, the game takes up 22GB on my hard drive.

As expected, I had no issues running the game smoothly at the highest detail levels. I measured in-game frame rates using FRAPS and found that my PC kept the action consistently around 100 frames per second (FPS). That said, the game stuttered (consistently about one to two times per match for a few seconds) and I occasionally experienced a glitch that seemed to break the refresh rate. The latter issue was solved by purposely dying and respawning. The match setup times are longer than I am used to for other modern multiplayer games, such as PUBG or Fortnite.

Tried and True

Team Fortress 2 is one of the defining titles in the team-based, FPS genre, but newer titles, including Overwatch and Valorant, are more accessible and feature more impressive visuals. Even Valve’s other multiplayer FPS, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, has remained more relevant, given its recent visual overhaul, transition to a free-to-play structure, and battle royale game mode. Still, TF2’s staying power can’t be ignored; if you’re looking for a laid-back, no-frills, team-based FPS, TF2 fits that definition possibly better than any other title.

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