So I finally get Team Fortress 2.
(By "get", I of course mean, "did best at".)
Let me be straight with you. While the FPS is right up there as a favourite genre, and while I play every single player FPS I can get my hands on, I've never really had any time for multiplayer. Clearly for reviewing purposes I'll play them, but for leisure? No interest. I'm not interested in being either beholden to anyone else, nor being let down by anyone else, and most of all, I'm not interested in sharing my hard work with anyone else. I'm a bastard that way.
With MMOs I find it's different. Playing City of Heroes alone can be a rather lonely experience. Team up, with a good balance of powers, and it's really rewarding. But it's a game about constant progression, moving forward as a result of your efforts. That sense of narrative progression, for a reason I can't quite pin down, excuses the game. This doesn't change the fact, however, that I'd still far rather be able to play it on my own, and just get on with it my way.
The change of heart will follow.
I'm as ludicrously excited about The Orange Box as any red-blooded gamer, and cannot wait to get hold of Episode 2 and Portal. TF2... it wasn't so much. I mean, wow, the screenshots looked amazing, and then of course, yes, the biog movies they've been releasing are fantastically funny. Both made me want to play it more than I'd expected. And when the beta finally went live, I was there that lunchtime to enjoy it.
But enjoy it I did not. I had a rubbish time. Whichever class I picked, whoever I shot at could apparently take 40 headshots without dropping, while I appeared to die of fear when they removed the safety. I couldn't get anywhere because of some tedious camped sniper. The messages were flashing up all around me about the evidence being captured, dropped, recovered, and I didn't have the faintest idea what the evidence was, let alone where it was. And the whole thing felt to me like playing the same minute-long section of an FPS, over and over and over, ad nauseam.
Experienced multiplayer FPS gamers must be wringing their own necks reading this. I imagine the other three here are sneaking up behind me as we speak with a spanner to collapse my skull. But I know I'm not alone in this sense of miserable bewilderment. And yet, today it clicked.
On my third go at the game, with the same group of people as the previous two occasions, it suddenly all fell into place. I stuck with my instincts of prefering the Scout (double jump, double jump), and learned to use him properly. After a brief moment of success with the Heavy yesterday, right at the end of the lunchtime session, I wondered if he might be the way forward. But no, that wasn't my style, and even totalling some kills didn't sell him to me. The Scout it was, and away I went.
The trick was, for the first go I was in there early with only about three on each side. I got in, took the evidence, and got it back to base with obvious ease. There was really no one around to stop me. But despite how simple it was, it gave me a rush. And that rush kept going as more people turned up. Soon the server was pretty much full, with ten or twelve a side, and there I was, still sneaking into the enemy's base, still stealing the evidence, and still getting it back. I had my route worked out, I learned the weakspots, the points where people hide, and the corners to spring around. And in this, at long last, my decent FPS abilities were married with multiplayer gaming, and I was making some excellent shots. I was head-shotting with my shotgun by instinct, rather than considered aim. I was taking down Heavies. I was in the lead!
Beaten overall by PCG's Tim Edwards on the other side, I still finished the hour of play second place to him, and with a decent lead in my own team. And no, it's not all about points scored. We were also the winning side 90% of the time, and for the first time, a big part thanks to me. (Clearly thanks to others too - I'm not claiming to have been important here - simply exclaiming my surprise that I wasn't bottom of the list, behind the person who signed in five minutes before I left).
I think the moment of realising I liked this game now was when I started screenshotting my deaths. Rather than yelling, "OH COME ON!" at the game in bemused frustration, I was grinning at how nicely someone had sprung a trap on me, or sighing contentedly at how close something had been. Or best of all, watching my opponent die from my last ditch shot.
Hello multiplayer FPS games. I'd like to come in now.