Friday 26 October 2007

Curiously Orange

It seems like the entire rest of the PC gaming world has been swept up by The Orange Box, and after a brief attempt (mostly during the installation process while trying to remember previous Steam login details) to be the cool hipster, swimming against the tide and not liking the popular thing, the current caught me and pried loose my tenuous grasp on an upturned tree-root of curmudgeonliness, dashing me against the jagged rocks of really-quite-goodness... erm... quick, someone throw a lifebelt to get me out of this increasingly strange aquatic metaphor...

Anyway. It says something about a software compilation when the least exciting bit of it turns out to be the multi-award-winning game-of-the-year/decade/century/millenium/aeon/last-five-minutes Half Life 2 and its two expansions. I've worked through a bit more of the original game, but it's vying with Red Steel for "FPS that I'll probably get around to again sometime, maybe, if there's nothing else really". Then there's Portal. I'm rationing myself, as the two things that everyone seems to agree on is that it's a sublime work of genius, and also short. Actually it's probably only the latter that *everyone* agrees on, so I'm not too far in yet (or possibly really near the end, depending on just how short it is). Reduced to component parts, it's a standard WASD first person game with hints of The Incredible Machine, some crazy gravity/physics like Prey, and the dropping-stuff-on-a-pressure-pad-to-keep-a-door-open-centric gameplay of Eye of the Beholder (and probably about a billion other places, but that's the one that sticks in the mind), but, like a shot of espresso, caramel syrup and a bunch of ice cubes, when blended together they become this new and exciting thing that surpasses the individual elements. Unless you're one of those coffee nuts who go crazy for perfect espresso, in which case you're watering down the good stuff and turning it into some undrinkable sludge, for heaven's sake, you probably didn't even hand-grind your own hand-roasted beans you hand-picked; if that's the case, you can hand-craft your own metaphor here. Finally (if not counting Peggle, which is... Peggle! Mental note: must try running City of Heroes and Peggle in adjacent windows, that could liven up trick-or-treating) there's Team Fortress 2. I never played the original Team Fortress, and TF2 didn't immediately seem to offer much over any number of other team-based online shooters, most recently Unreal Tournament 3 and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory which are both with Hellgate: London on my "rather enjoyed the demo but there's just too many darn games around to justify buying the full thing at moment" list. The cartoon graphics didn't really do much for me, but hey, it was in The Orange Box, and Melmoth was online and fired up about it (side note: Incredibles MMOG, top idea!), might as well give it a go...

Initial impressions weren't great. Picking a Heavy as a fairly simple-looking (in all senses) chap, death came frequently from all sides (snipers half a mile away, a spy right behind you, any number of other exploding and/or projectile based assaults), and nobody was obliging enough to stand still so I could shoot them back. Flipping around a few classes led to similar results, with varying levels of ineffectiveness in attack with whatever peashooter I'd been handed compared to the clearly superior lethal instruments everyone else had been issued with. Not a great start.

The first breakthrough was the Pyro. This class eschews nonsense like "aiming" in favour of getting really close to people and setting them on fire. Of course there can be a great amount of skill in playing a Pyro well, lurking in ambush points, carefully setting up short range attacks on unsuspecting opponents... or! You can exhibit a total lack of self-preservation, and hurl yourself towards the enemy screaming "Mmmmmmf mmmm mmmmmph mmmm mmmmmm mmmmmff!" (your mask slightly muffles your speech, see). You'll still die, but with a bit of luck you might set a few of them on fire in the process, possibly even fatally. Playing the Pyro for a while, I got a bit more into the swing of things, started figuring out what was going on a bit, learning the maps. I flipped through the classes some more; playing a Sniper had two possible outcomes. If the rest of my team were dominating, I could get set up somewhere, usually next to a couple of other snipers, and ruthlessly pick off the enemy as soon as they stuck their heads into the open. I got my all-time kill record that way, but felt terribly guilty about butchering poor unfortunates who barely had a chance to fight back. If the teams are balanced, snipers usually get into a cat-and-mouse, Enemy at the Gates-esque duel, where one of them gets a helmet on a stick and pokes it up out of their hiding place, and the other one calculates the angles involved and ricochets a bullet off the inside of the helmet to take them out, and in those circumstances I'm usually slightly slower on the trigger... I'll have them all but in my sights, finger poised, butPOW! Dead again. The Scout is fun, speeding around the place with a baseball bat; Soldiers and Demomen are OK. I must try the Engineer again now I have a bit more of an idea what's going on; as a Spy, when in diguise I seem to be carrying around a giant placard labelled "HELLO! I MAY APPEAR TO BE ON YOUR TEAM, BUT I'M NOT REALLY! SHOOT MEH!" Either that, or with no friendly fire, everyone shoots everyone... I suspect it's option B, actually. I know I do.

The one class I didn't play at all was the Medic. I've done my rants about support classes, blah blah blah, I want to shoot things, yada yada. Then, last night, after being counter-sniped for the umpteenth time on the 2Forts map, I was trying to decide what class to switch to, and thought... why not. Just to prove I'll hate it. Just the once, I'll play the medic. Finding a nearby Soldier I fired up the old healing beam, and off we went, storming up the map, pushing past a chokepoint in a hail of explosions. It wasn't too bad after all... After dying, I figured I'd give it another shot, latched on to a Heavy, lasted long enough to get the Ubercharge off for a few seconds of invincibility, and somewhere along the line our team grabbed the intelligence, I managed to heal the capturing scout a bit before he vanished. It's not as if there's any hanging around, carefully assessing team-mate's health and deciding which powers to use, it's slap on the healing gun and try and keep up with whatever nutter you're following, while maintaining situational awareness so you're not in the line of fire, and keeping an eye for bastard spies who are usually your nemesis. It's not all jam and sardines (even aside from the aforementioned spies); you need to find someone to be healing to start with, which can occasionally be tricky (until your team notice someone's playing the doc, at which point you'll hear nothing but "MEDIIIIC!" for the next month or so), and while your healing beam can turn a good player into an awesome dispenser of death, it turns rubbish players into rubbish players who survive ever so slightly longer before pointlessly dying (I'm more the latter than the former myself with a gun, but still). I'm not going to exclusively be a Medic in every TF2 game ever, but if nobody else is playing one (quite probable, judging from the random public servers I've been hopping around so far), I'll give it a lash.

The whole style of the game has really grown on me too, the cartoonish graphics, the magnificently over-the-top accents. It just lightens things up a little; most online shooters take themselves pretty seriously, even the latest incarnation of Unreal Tournament seems to have toned down it's bright shiny colours into drab dystopian-future industrial landscapes, everyone's terribly grim faced. They're a SERIOUS BUSINESS! Team Fortress 2 emphasises the fun, and is all the better for it.

No comments: