Their dedication to the Team Fortress 2 community makes Valve's online shooter a blast.
Online shooters don't evolve. They land on your hard drive, and if there's a bug, or a new map, or a new gun, the developers or publishers might stick out an update. But they are as is, and they'll eventually tire me out.
This was how I expected it to be when Team Fortress 2 launched in October 2007. And back then, at first glance, it was just a brilliant shooter. A few maps, nine classes, lots of fun, and I'd be done with it in six months. Even as I was enjoying playing the Spy, the invisible weakling capable of terrorising teams only when their backs were turned, I was wondering what game was next.
As it turns out, “next” was TF2 . In January 2008, Valve showed me the new game mode, Payload, and the initial designs for the Medic update. As much as they'd perfected the game to the point where they were happy to release it, millions of people playing it had exposed weaknesses in their impeccable design.
This is why I still play Team Fortress 2. Valve's unhappiness with their finished game means I'm never more than a couple of months away from a new reason to play, an extra gun to gain, a different map to explore. The classes have evolved: The Spy is still a weakling, but a new watch allows me to stay invisible as long as I need to. A new knife steals the disguise of the player I just stabbed. A Fez makes me ultra dapper. Every class has a similar story: the Demoman can be a grenade spamming death machine, or a head-lopping front-line warrior. The Sniper's bow encourages him to wander the map, string drawn back, ready to one-hit-kill jerks.
The announcements of these updates are events in themselves. Everything Valve does has to be entertaining, including creating week-long reveals of what they've been working on. They've hid the Spy's update in the Sniper update, having him slowly uncloak on the webpage; they set the Demoman and Soldier to war with each other, battling for the highest kill count.
Valve have changed the game so much, introducing crafting and a microeconomy, that it's no longer just an online shooter: it's a place where they experiment with the community, taking the game to places that you could never have imagined when it launched. Every change brings new life, new challenges to overcome if they've updated a class you don't play. It's now full of gnarly little encounters: Snipers were given a shield that protects them from a Spy's backstab, so I got proficient with the Spy's powerful Ambassador for headshots. Demomen now have a speed boost that they can use to charge into battle with their giant sword, but a Pyro's airblast can frustrate the raging Scotsman by knocking him back the way he came from.
Which has resulted in my favourite game of the past three years, and nothing being able to topple it this year. I play mostly on the PC Gamer TF2 server. It's a pub, but with plenty of regulars. When we started, 2Fort was where we spent most of our time. Now it's the various payload maps that make up the most popular battlegrounds, Heavies can heal themselves; Scouts are hitting people with fish; people are trading weapons and hats. I've pushed that bomb cart countless miles, ridden on top of it pulling dramatic poses; I've dived in behind it as it was about to tip into a hole full of explosive barrels, stabbing everyone. I've flailed, missed my stabs, ran away from angry Pyros into a sentry gun's range, raging as the kill cam zooms in to show a dancing Engi behind his little nest.
I'm there after every update, and as long as Valve keep updating it, I think I'll keep coming back.