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The Long Night Of The Engineer

There’s a sixty second set up time before you start a map. Sixty seconds for the defending team to hustle, slapping down sentries at key locations, setting up sniper nests and anxiously sweating as they wait for that timer to trickle down to zero. It’s tense stuff, and it makes the coming chaos so much more powerful and brilliant.

But, as an attacker, you just wait. You hop up onto any scenery you can, just to have something to do. You spam taunts, pretend to shoot your friends, and look through the gates to see if you can form some sort of plan. That was a week ago. With the Engineer Update, Valve have changed everything. Again.

That’s getting wonderfully melodramatic about it all. Really, Valve have refined TF2 again, and in doing so have made the game that much more dynamic and fluid. You see, the biggest change to come with the latest update isn’t the new Engineer weapons, or the fact that every team is at the very least 50% engineer at the moment; it’s that now, Engineers can move what they build.

What this means is that suddenly they’re like militant roadies, spending those precious sixty seconds upgrading sentries, teleporters, and dispensers before they pick them up and haul them to the front lines. You set them up in a fraction of the time it takes to make a new one, and suddenly you’ve all but locked down the area. So those sixty seconds are spent with everyone switching to engineer and helping the real ones build up their stuff. From the other side of the gate, all you can hear is a desperate clanking as the starting zone turns into a hive of activity. What’s he building in there? (Sorry, I couldn't resist the reference - Jim)

It’s this sort of rolling offense that’s turned the game from intermittent stalemates to a much more fluid state. Of course, the fact that you now get four distinct new flavours of Engineer means that these battle lines are never stagnant for too long. I might have been bending my emphasis a bit when I said that the biggest changes weren’t to do with the weapons; they do change things, just not quite as much as being able to move your buildings around does. The Wrangler, specifically, makes the most noticable impact, suddenly extending the range of a sentry’s weapons exponentially. Suddenly, you can out-fire and out-range an opponent. Not to mention previous spots that were pointless to place a sentry on become hill forts, commanded by a homemade mix of a tv remote and a joystick.

The Gunslinger, too, allows you to play the Engineer far more offensively with your mini-turret. It builds four times faster than the original as well as starting with full health, which makes nipping around a corner and setting up an impromptu emplacement before the enemy can counterattack a much more viable option. Combined with the Wrangler, with its damage boost and shield, and the superficially weak mini-turret becomes ferocious.

The update comes with three new maps: Hightower, Thunderstorm and Upwards. The first two of which are Payload, and the last Payload Race. They’re seemingly designed with the new unlocks in mind, providing high sightlines and flankable positions to both allow Engineers to set themselves up with the Wrangler, and for the opposing team to get around behind them. Thanks to Valve’s insistence of diversity over replacement, the Wrangler comes with drawbacks. While an engineer is aiming with the device, he’s not spy checking, and he’s not repairing his sentry. If he gets too trigger happy, he’s going to overindulge on ammunition and have to spend a few moments restocking it before continuing his onslaught. On top of that, the instant he stops Wrangling, the sentry goes docile for a few seconds, meaning the danger of spies is that much greater.

And that’s what the new maps cater to; on top of being beautiful examples of TF2’s art style and aesthetic merits, they cater to the use, and abuse, of the new unlocks in such a way that people are less likely to decry them as overpowered. Of course, there’s some element of this in other, less specifically minded creations, but that’s to be expected.

Amazingly, we’ve managed to keep the groups within some semblance of normality on the brand shiny new (Official) RPS server, with only a slightly higher number of engineers than you’d normally see. Despite an influx of confused Steam users seeing the server announcement in the TF2 news feed, people have remained cordial, friendly, and (mostly) benevolent.

With the new server, we’re trying to provide a diverse mix of maps and gamemodes that caters to everyone’s taste. At the moment the rotation is a mix of Payload, Capture Point and King of the Hill, with nearly half the maps being community made. However, this is just a stop gap to get away from the doldrums of having just Gravelpit, Dustbowl and Granary on there, so if you’ve got something you’d like to play, let us know. And that applies to everything else; if you want mapvoting in, or outbursts of mods like Prop Hunt, then let us know. The server is for you, after all. Do you want some specific TF2 events? Should we organise skirmishes with opposing websites? Are we better than the others? These are things we must know.

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Phill Cameron