website tracking
Foiled Again on Game and Player

Foiled Again

Michael Ubaldi  //  October 7, 2008

We try so hard to enjoy Team Fortress 2.


ime to reflect on Team Fortress 2, now that the anniversary for the release of Valve Corporation's second and definitive answer to the old Quake mod is in just three days. A majority of Game and Player's editors still like it: Valve's marriage of Monty Newman and comic book art to jigsaw-tight, role-type gameplay is irreproachable. But the multiplayer system of this multiplayer-only title is impenetrable. Team Fortress 2 is the best game we never play.

A friend of ours, Kevin, purchased The Orange Box for his Xbox 360 some weeks ago. Laboring through more than a dozen hours of Half-Life 2, Kevin dabbled with Portal a little, and then surprised me one evening when he appeared online from within a Team Fortress 2 territory match. I phoned Ed Kirchgessner and talked him into joining. Upon invitation, the two of us entered a crowded, 16-slot lobby hosted by Kevin's friend. The boop boop boop of three short pulses announced the start of the match — with Ed and I wearing red livery to Kevin's blue.

In our experience, complete teams aren't easy to assemble.The size of the group struck us as an encouraging surprise. One year ago, complete teams weren't easy to assemble — three or four of us would enter an eight-slot lobby and watch as transient players filled and vacated slots five and six. We wanted eight; entrants wanted to play. Seconds, then minutes would pass. Our guests limited signs of impatience to 1) abrupt exhaling through the game channel and then 2) disappearing from the screen. After five, maybe ten minutes we could muster even teams if one of us defected. Or we could use the time to explore maps and learn the game, since Team Fortress 2 welcomes solitary players by barring them at the main menu.

We would have explained all this to Kevin, but Kevin spent the next several minutes incommunicado, alternately bludgeoning, perforating or incinerating our characters. Halfway through his drubbing of us, Kevin sent me a short text message over Xbox Live: he was sorry (and it was quite okay) that his friend started the match before team assignment had been sorted out. During the next intermission, negotiations were held: You, go here; You, hey you, go there; everybody remain where he is; all right, start the game. Nobody stayed where he was. Right after that antecedent boop boop boop, a message notified us that teams had been balanced automatically. I pushed the button that brings up rosters: Kevin wasn't on our team.

I don't clearly recall whether Ed lost his temper at this point or several minutes into another collapse with Kevin's taciturn friend and six strangers. The one reason why Ed and I came online? Incidental, and not good enough for Team Fortress' default settings.

In Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, trained chimps or college students can play multiplayer uninterrupted the whole night.So the judgment stands that Team Fortress 2 is fun when we're permitted to play it. Having left that third of The Orange Box alone for months, Ed and I asked ourselves where the time went. What happened to Team Fortress? When we want to play a first-person shooter as a team, which do we choose? One of the bookend releases from late 2007: Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4. Both games require little more of players than to rendezvous in a lobby, select a party leader, then a game type — from there, trained chimps or college students can take the controllers and move from match to match for the rest of the night. If this was once a convenience, it is now an expectation. Acknowledging its kit-bashing origins, from a place where jumping onto and off of servers is simply quotidian, Team Fortress 2 is nevertheless a game whose painstaking play mechanics belie its antiquated, discouraging multiplayer system.

Profit surely to surpass competitive liability, why neither Bungie nor Microsoft have licensed Halo's Matchmaking as middleware is anyone's guess.

Articles by Michael Ubaldi

July 1, 2011

February 12, 2011

G&P Latest

July 1, 2011

June 28, 2011

About  //  Editors  //  Contributors  //  Terms of Use