The past week or so I managed to get myself sucked into a multiplayer game. Okay, sorry, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself yet again. I used to be heavy on multiplayer as a kid, often getting games simply because of the versus or co-op modes. Multiplayer was the most appealing part of any game, no matter what the game. Driver 2? Heck yeah, hours wasted playing tag in a glitchy, slow, badly controlled racing game. Timesplitters? We’re not going to stop playing until we forget what day it is. When I got started on online multiplayer through Graal Online, Unreal Tournament, and even worse, Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction, my life was forfeit.
Then I got tired of it. It started feeling pointless. I wanted something more. I wanted a story. I wanted to be able to reach an ending of some sort. I still enjoyed the occasional online game through things like Xbox Live, or banding together to play a set list or two in Rock Band with real life friends, but I didn’t indulge in multiplayer mayhem the way I used to. No more day-long binge gaming online. After some time, I rarely played anything online at all anymore. Instead I appreciated well put together single player experiences.
And then I played Team Fortress 2. I started playing it around Monday, which makes it 4 days ago since I started. I’ve already put more than 12 hours into it. How did that even happen? Where did all that time go? Why do I feel like gaining weight and running around with a minigun while yelling “Cry more!”?
I’m not sure how any of this got started. I’m still not considering myself to be a fan of multiplayer games. I will admit that there’s just something that pulls me towards Team Fortress 2. I’m confident enough to say that no, it’s not the unlockable hats.
I had a short fling with Team Fortress back when I got The Orange Box for the Xbox 360. Yes, I’m aware that it’s an inferior and incomplete product compared to the version on Steam. And no, there were no unlockable hats in this version. I don’t care. I enjoyed it. The only reason it didn’t last was because the player base was too small. After a couple of weeks of fun and games, the servers drained and it became hard to find games. The lack of updates certainly didn’t help. Unfortunate, considering Team Fortress 2 on XBox Live was one of the very few games where I experienced a friendly community. People were nice to each other. No cries of “faggot” or “noob” or anything of that kind. If you did something stupid, people would tell you why it didn’t work and what you should try next time. If there were too many people playing the same class, someone would kindly ask those players to switch to some other classes. An even bigger surprise: they’d actually listen and change classes. If you’ve ever played anything on XBox Live, you’ll know how rare it is for this kind of thing to happen. What’s baffling is that this wasn’t just one random match. This was every single time I played Team Fortress on Xbox Live.
So is it because of the nostalgic memories of an enjoyable series of games played online long ago that I’m enjoying it so much now? Well… No. It’s not just that either. Team Fortress 2 just has a level of charm and enjoyability at its very core that many a single player can’t even achieve. The different classes aren’t just different classes with their own abilities and weapons, they all come across as entirely different personalities. The part of me that really started to delve into crafted single player experiences digs the hell out of that. Is endlessly entertained just by that aspect of the game alone. I know I’m not alone in this either, considering how many fans have put together their own videos, screenshots, comics, pictures, memes, fanfics, and whatnot of the Team Fortress 2 cast. And they’re not alone in this, do we really need those “Meet The…” videos for an online multiplayer? No, we don’t. But they’re a perfect excuse to expand upon these characters. Even if they don’t add anything to the gameplay, they just add to the feeling of the game. The charm.
Okay, so there’s a bit of a lie there, those videos have actually ended up contributing to the gameplay itself. The updates have been adding items into the game that were originally introduced in the videos. Sometimes it’s something disturbing and major, like the Sniper and his “Jarate” bottles. Sometime it’s something slightly smaller, like a weapon named Force-A-Nature, after a quote from the Scout.
Maybe it’s the game balance? Players actually do have to work together to reach their goals in the game. Which does mean you’ll have to switch characters to make more optimal match ups. In theory this works perfectly. In practice, this means that there are enough character classes that simply don’t add anything to the game at all. Even worse, there’s enough character classes that are a massive credit to the team if played correctly, but that very rarely are played effectively. Spies? You’ll often have four of them walking around, and in most cases that’s four Spies too many. Scouts? They’re more than pieces of meat that fling themselves towards their deaths. Pyros? Well, if you don’t like winning, go for it.
There isn’t much of a balance within the game, but at least there’s enough difference between the various classes for it to be important enough to actually pay attention to the roll you’ll have to fulfill while playing them in a game.
This of course brings another problem to the game, although it’s one that I used to associate with MMORPGs:
“I’m not sure if I can fulfill that level of responsibility, so I’ll just play something more straightforward and simple.”– Everyone who actually thinks about their position in the game enough to be able to fulfill the responsibility of the less selfish classes.
Dedicated Medic players often just stick to one player, no matter how fully healed he is or how much of a beating all the team members around him are taking. Heavies stay behind for defence, instead of becoming the backbone of any real assault on the opponent’s base. Scouts rush on ahead without any real regard for what the rest of the team is doing.
Why the hell am I enjoying this so much? I think it’s because… Well… I’m good at it. And I’m not just good at it because I can singlehandedly bring down an entire team by bonking them to heck and back as a Scout. I’m good at it because I pay attention to what my team is doing and work together with them. I don’t just blindly rush forward, I try to work together with others, even if they’re not trying to work together with me. Most of my favorite moments have been while playing as a Medic, helping other players breach whatever defences the opposite team put up. Or even better, as a Scout, rushing past their defences, make them chase back and forget about the full frontal assault heading their way, or if they don’t forget about that, keep them busy by turning around and coming back for another attack.
That and all the silly shit that keeps happening. It’ll always be a silly online shooter. One that doesn’t want to be taken seriously.