I have been playing shooters since Doom but I never indulged in online multiplayer fragging, until now. No Quake, no Unreal Tournament not even any Counterstrike for me. Apart from the fact that I am not particularly competitive I guess I have always been a bit intimidated by these games. I imagined that my middle aged noob ass would be an easy target for any frag happy teen.
Well I bought Valve's Orange Box two weeks ago. Portal was played and finished the day I got it. Half Life Episode 2 was completed last weekend. That left Team Fortress 2 to taunt me. Although TF2 is unashamedly multi-player the reviews I have read indicate that is a somewhat noob friendly game. So I gave it a go.
First impressions: For a game that is supposed to be new player friendly I was surprised at the lack of help to get started. There is no manual, no tutorial and not even a single player mode with bots to let new players hone their skills. I have been playing and reading about shooters for years so I managed to navigate the menus easily enough but even so some advice on choosing a server would have been helpful. I guess I expected more "get you started" help from a big name title.
With nothing else to go on I chose a server with low ping that had a free player slot. Once in the game proper I was much more impressed. A cartoon like video introduced the game being played and its objectives. Team and character selection couldn't be more straightforward. The game itself look beautiful and is great fun to play.
Despite the lack of help to get you into a game once in game you are offered regular hints and suggestions. My noob rocket launching soldier for example was advised to aim for ground under peoples feet in order to ensure a hit. I heeded that advice and it works but their next hint was to "try firing a rocket just in front of you and jumping on top of he blast for a really high jump". Rocket jumping may be an established technique for Quake die-hards but this noob values his ass too much to try and blow myself up with my own rockets.
Over the course of about 10 rounds and several hours of play I got a chance to try out all the classes. The aforementioned soldier was probably my favourite class. It is a very straight forward role. You are reasonably tough and you fire powerful rockets so you can play a useful role in offense or defense. The easiest role to play appears to be a medic. Just find a tough guy (preferably a chaingun carrying heavy) and lock onto them with your healing beam to share in the glory of any damage they inflict. I had less success with the other classes. I did manage to score a couple of back stabs as an assassin but all too often the enemy saw through my artful disguise and torched me. The engineer class is one I would love to get into (fun with turrets) but I found it hard to get the hang of and usually got killed before I managed to build anything useful.
I was most definitely incompetent. I spent my first encounter as a medic shooting deadly hypodermic syringes at my own team members thinking that this was actually a healing gun! Eventually I consulted gamefaqs to figure out what was what. Despite my general incompetence I had great fun though. I think the cartoon style of the game makes it seem less serious and less intimidating for new players like me.
If there is a logic to server allocation I don't understand it. I just signed up to a random server and chose a team. As each team was a random group of players standards varied widely and there was very little teamwork. Although the game has integrated voice chat there was very little evidence of any chat in the games I played. The game does seem to have some auto balancing feature however and every so often players were automatically shifted between teams "for game balance".
The very chaotic nature of these random fights gets tedious after a while and after a few hours I longed for something a bit more organised - with a team that actually pursued objectives in a co-ordinated fashion. I am sure there are severs with organised teams playing each other but in my noobness I have no idea how to find them . I am also sure that no team in their right mind would want a player as hopeless as me in their ranks.