(NOTE: This is NOT a review. I am spouting these impressions after a total of about 6 hours of gameplay. I feel that I am qualified to do so because I was once a hardcore QWTF clanner, and I’ve played TF in about 75% of it’s mod incarnations over the past decade.)

I didn’t think it was ever going to ship. I thought it was vaporware. I thought it was going to beat Duke Nukem Forever in its vaporware-ness. I thought Robin had his head up his ass. I taunted hundreds of the faithful, daily, saying “It’s NEVER EVER EVER gonna ship!” AND, I would point out, that it still hasn’t. I suppose that nitpicky argument holds less water with every day (and every CPU cycle my shiny new TF2 server burns). Even if some of the prepubescent dudes that used to be in our QWTF clan are now married, with children. But it’s not THAT long to wait for a sequel. A sequel that was announced in 1999.

Dammit, I have a right to be bitter. I was one of the few thousand, the proud, who participated in the original Quakeworld Teamfortress, and turned it into a bit of a sport. We had a clan, ran servers, held practices, played scrimmages with other clans, played in leagues, competed for the top 25, and lovingly handcrafted our own websites, full of match recaps, strategy, and player statistics. Me and several (all?) of my clanmates moved into a nearby community SPECIFICALLY because GTE/Americast was doing a beta cablemodem rollout. A clanful of LPBs, at that time, was something to ph33r.

For those of you kids that have been waiting for TF2 for a whole 3 years, get in line, because I’ve been waiting for damn near a decade.

So, when Valve and Teamfortress Software announced TF2 would be on the Half-Life engine for the first time in the very late 90s we all went out and purchased Half-Life. Boy, was this game going to be great. HL engine, new physics, more realism, it was going to be a “real life” wargame! If you want to see what we were so excited about, check out some of these videos from IGN. You’ll have to click through a few pages to get back to 2001, but the Internet Never Forgets. E3, 1999, Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood In Arms ring any bells? How about TF2:Invasion? Nope, I never heard of Invasion. I do know that TF2 has appeared in Wired’s vaporware list on several occasions.

(Our collective excitement peaked right around the release of TFC, which was basically QWTF redone for the Half-Life engine to appease the starving QWTF masses.)

You will see such cool things as, a dude’s mouth lipsyncing with a player’s voice automagically, a dude helping another dude with a machinegun, and a tank.

Where is the lipsyncing? Well, I saw it in Counter-Strike about 8 years ago. Where is the machinegun help? No idea, I can’t even find the damned machineguns. Where are the tanks? They’re stripped of their treads and up on blocks in front of Red’s 2fort chickencoop. You’ll know them when you see them because they’re half ‘bondo’ colored.

I am THANKFUL that TF2 did not go the way we originally expected. If there’s one thing the video game world does NOT need, it is another World War II shooter. Between DoD, DoD:S, BF1942, CODx, and MOH:x, I feel like I’ve seen more of World War II than many of those who were actually IN it.

This game is gorgeous. The comedy is omnipresent. The all-around tribute to 1960s superspy flicks is apparent everywhere you look and listen (reminiscent of Evil Genius). It’s chock-full of cute moments like the closeups of the dudes that killed you, or a random sign proclaiming “foot” or “pancreas” with an arrow pointing to a particularly artsy giblet. (Yes, giblets can be artsy!)

Which reminds me, GIBS ARE BACK, and BOY are they even funnier than I remembered!

There is some cool stuff in this game. Bloater, for example, was my nemesis the other night because he was stomping me. When I finally killed him, I got a revenge kill, which presumably gave me extra points or something.

The control point maps are fun, though I find it difficult to coordinate everyone. This will get tighter as the community matures. At least they’re simple and labelled A, B, or C. One team attacks, one team defends. This, to me, is more amusing than CTF.

Although, playing ctf_2forts took me right back to the late 90s. And you’re not capturing a FLAG, you’re stealing the enemy intelligence, which, according to SomethingAwful, is that they want to kill you.

Stats whores are going to love this game, since it tracks everything and displays it back to you on a regular basis. It will tell you, for example, that you scored more points this life with a scout than you ever had previously. Or that you shouldn’t feel bad about that particular death, because you just set a new lifespan record with that class. It even gives bar graphs when you first get in the game of how long and well you’ve played each class.

Sadly, for me, the game feels like a slightly-dumbed-down, artsy version of this game I used to play called Quakeworld Teamfortress. The physics are fun, and the gameplay is still arcadey and even cartoony, but the loss of the off-hand grenades really, really bothers me. It leaves what for me is a HUGE gaping hole in the duelling bit of the gameplay, and leaves us with some fairly pedestrian circle strafing fights and spamoffs.

In the original, and all the mod-spawn and TFC, every class had two grenades they could throw, to supplement the firepower you had with your small array of weapons. The grenades had a 3-second timer, and you could hold them in your hand to pre-prime them to varying degrees, based on situation. There was the standard high explosive grenade, which could be, simultaneously, a murder implement and a mobility device. But then there were the specialty grenades, which, imo, added a lot of gameplay ‘character’ to the classes.

If you played TF, or any of its spawn, think back to the utter chaos of a hallucinogen or nail grenade outside your spawn. Think of all the awesome mobility tricks scouts and medics would pull off using the conc grenades. Think of suicide engy-EMP on soldier rushes in a desparate bid to protect the flag. Think of napalm on the sniper deck, and mirvs in the flag room.

Think of how it changed up the duels, whether they were in square1 or on the actual field of battle! You couldn’t just circle-strafe, you had to change your distance constantly to mess up the enemy’s grenade timing. You had a duel-changing weapon at your disposal and you had to use it at exactly the right time. It made 1v1 soldier duelling an ART form, perfected by the likes of Rezdawg, Madboy, Tydeus, and Splooge, who would idle for hours on a little 1v1 square1 server. I never could even get a single frag off one of those guys, though they’d trust me to defend a flag with my trusty sentry gun. These guys would bounce you into the air with a well-placed grenade, hit you with their shotgun while you were airborne, and launch another rocket just in time to bounce you into the air again.

Clearly, the off-hand grenade was thought of as too overpowered, or too complex, or too distracting, or too spamalicious. I’d like to know where Valve found their playtesters–everyone I know really liked the off-hand grenades. I’ve seen my share of grenade spam in TF and it’s ilk, that’s for sure. But will I ever again get my personalized off-hand grenades again? Will the video game industry keep removing my favorite features in an effort to find a wider audience? Why not? It happened to movies…

I’m bothered by the loss of the class-based grenades, and a little disturbed that the scout is so effective in combat now, but I’ll adjust. I can’t be too set in my ways if I’ve managed to get competent at FPS console games (my thumbs are no longer COMPLETELY retarded), Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution. The bottom line is that I will probably have a lot of fun playing TF2, and it has a very high nostalgia factor that I can’t ignore.