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Go Team! Part One: The Heavy

Greetings, people who should be playing Team Fortress 2 but are for some reason reading websites instead. Below is the first instalment in a nine-part series of semi-reviews in which we critique (or at least babble enthusiastically about) the various classes of TF2. Don’t worry, they won’t all be by me – other members of RPS will be along to say something far cleverer than I very soon.

Currently, we’re arguing amongst ourselves about who gets to write-up what, but I managed to sneak my stand-out favourite out of the pack while the others were distracted by all the hair-pulling and face-scratching. I’m still pretty much stricken with the sheer joy of playing him, so the following is perhaps not the most objective discussion of him. Still, that’s love for you. Rearrange the words 'more' and 'read' into the correct order to continue.

I am Heavy Weapons Guy. And I’m in a bit of a bind. You see, there’s already no way I’m ever going to want to play as any other class. When I glance at the list of players on my side from now on, I worry I’m going to have the same sort of mentality I do if I pass a clipboard-wielding guy wearing a charity bib and a hopeful expression when I’m in a hurry. I have total sympathy, but I won’t break my stride because I’ve got other business.* Same when I look at my team’s Class roster. Boy, these guys could really use a Medic. Someone should probably be Scout if we want to successfully grab the enemy briefcase.

I’m not going to be the Medic. I’m not going to be the Scout. I’m going to be Heavy Weapons Guy. I don’t have time to stop and help other people, because I’m in something of a hurry. A hurry to kill.

The self-gratification of this is all the more shameful because the mega-murders I clock up with the Heavy and his stupidly big gun usually depend almost entirely on the Medic behind me. Even before the good doctor gets a full charge on and turns me invulnerable for a few seconds [an ability actually best spent on a frailer put pure-damage Class like the Pyro], my Heavy’s mountain of hitpoints is replenished faster than one or two enemies can whittle them away. Sheer bliss. Medic’s a bum rap in a great many games, but it’s much worse in TF2 because it’s so horribly apparent just how much fun the Heavy they’re pouring magic healing juice over is having. It’s like being the guy who presses the start and stop buttons on a roller-coaster.

But I don’t care how miserable my caddy is. When I’m a Heavy with a Medic at my back, I’m living the perfect wish-dream of First-Person Shooters. I’ve got the biggest gun in the game, and I’m essentially in god mode. Nothing’s gonna stop us now. It’s monstrous selfishness I know, but altruism be damned. Mercifully,the Heavy will often automatically bellow thanks to his surgeon in comically broken English, so I don't even need to think about making an effort to express gratitude.

The Heavy’s significantly slower movement speed, exacerbated hugely when the gun’s firing, is, practically speaking, a bit of a drawback, but it suits the nature of the character entirely. Moving forward at a ponderous, stone-footed plod, it is a fearsomely purposeful gait that states I AM BECOME DEATH. Interestingly, the gun isn’t actually that powerful – it takes a good few seconds to mow down even a frail class like the Scout. It’s a helluva deterrent though, and its speed and fire cone means it’s impossible to approach the Heavy head-on without his attacker losing most of their health.

The obvious response for anyone running into a Heavy-Medic combo is “shoot the doc, fathead.” It’s not that simple. 20 stone of cackling, chaingun-toting Slavic madman isn’t something you can’t easily ignore. He’s such an intimidating sight that self-preservation instinct kicks in hard and you have to gun for him, whatever the logical part of your brain is screaming at you. His glacial gait is a further psychological trick here – he’s moving slowly, therefore he can be picked off easily, right? Not true. Shoot the doc, fathead.

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I’m a 5’7, 10 stone weakling. Of course I’m going to play as the guy built like a tower of brick shithouses. I find every class less satisfying because they feel so frail by comparison – and because they feel so much like familiar videogame characters. The Heavy has a distinctive profile and a satisfyingly odd feel that’s a lot more uncommon in games, so I enjoy the novelty as much as the empowerment.

Of course, much of my celebration of the Heavy can also be a criticism. Paired with a Medic, it can seem like TF2’s balance is entirely skewed in their favour. I don’t think it is. Once the game’s bedded in, Shoot-The-Medic will be second nature, and the force won’t seem anywhere near as unstoppable as it does in these early hours of Team Fortress 2. It’s going to throw up some interesting teamplay strategies too. Treat the Heavy as a fixed gun emplacement, with the Medic out of sight around a corner. As well as forming a monstrously effective defensive setup, this would also reduce Heavy-envy, from hereon in to be known as Heanvy. If the Heavy’s a more stationary object and not this steamroller of forward progress, he won’t look quite as cool and the Medics shouldn’t feel so left out. He is, after all, grouped into the Defensive rather than Offensive classes, so I suspect that over time we’ll see him out on the frontlines less and less.

And now the moaning, or at least as much of it as I’m going to do about a videogame character I’m basically in love with. There’s a fair bit of debate in server-chat at the moment as to whether the Sniper can one-shot the Heavy or not. Well, I’ve suffered it enough to know it’s entirely possible when the Sniper’s at full charge-up, and frankly I don’t think it should be. It does take a while for The Heavy to get around, so to have to re-tread half a level because a single bullet took the big guy out seems a little unfair. Even if he spots the Sniper, he’s too slow to get out of the way, and his gun is too short-range to do them any damage, so he’s even more crippled against one than the other classes are.

I don’t want him to be the Hulk, but I think the nature of the class and the character is that it takes, or should take, a co-ordinated effort by a couple of opponents to take him down. By all means drop him with a Sniper headshot when he’s at 75% health, but just look at the size of the guy – if he’s at maximum, he really should be shrugging it off as just a fleshwound. I’m quite sure every Sniper will disagree with me here, but the Heavy is the one class I’m saying this should be the case for.

I save my final celebration for the Heavy’s right-click function. It spins up his gun, slowing down his movement further but meaning the ubercannon won’t take a couple of seconds before it lets loose the steel-jacketed dogs of war, as it would if I simply pressed fire. This works both tactically – approach a corner and spin-up before you go around it, just in case there’s a lurking foe – and thematically. It’s like cocking the hammer of a pistol – it just screams business. If you’re being followed by your pet Medic, performing this short floorshow makes you look absolutely in control of the situation. As an added benefit, it reminds me of the similarly impractical minigun in my all-time favourite FPS, Aliens Versus Predator.

I am Heavy Weapons Guy. Forever.

* Trite but necessary self-defence: I am not a heartless monster. Got a bunch of standing orders to a few good causes set up, some of my best friends are charities, etc.

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