In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil sings the praises of KOTH_Harvest in TF2.
Team Fortress 2 has some great battlegrounds, and—unlike pre-Global Offensive era CounterStrike—its community never settled for just a handful of favourites. Some, such as ctf_2fort, cp_dustbowl or pl_goldrush, are more easily found than others. Its seemingly endless server list always contains a few packed-out servers for just about every map. Even Hydro.
My favourite is Harvest, a community-made map taken on by Valve as an official part of the game. It’s a King of the Hill map, a mode introduced two years into TF2’s now almost decade-long life. King of the Hill was based on the philosophy of small, compact environments, first introduced in Arena mode. It doesn’t have Arena’s restrictions, though, meaning there’s no single life or limited player count. King of the Hill maps work just like any other TF2 map, only they’re condensed around a single capture point. Your team’s job is to capture that point and hold it for three minutes—with the time remaining for both teams ever present as part of the interface.
Naturally, for this to work with TF2’s standard compliment of 24 players, the map design has to be really good. Largely, it is. King of the Hill maps are a patchwork of tight, balanced sections that naturally favour certain classes, but that always gives the player a possible counter to prevent any one class from dominating. Often these are heightened with the unpredictability of environmental elements. Sawmill has twin saw blades around its capture points, a sadistic boon for a Pyro or a Scout with a Force-A-Nature. Nucleus has a network of precarious catworks that hang over a deadly drop.
Harvest has no such gimmick—at least not in its regular variant, that is. It’s a symmetrical map with a dilapidated shed housing its central control point, and two large farmhouses situated opposite each team’s spawn. This is all it needs to house each of TF2’s nine classes. It’s a beautifully intricate space, giving each class a location to shine and each opponent a way to counter or circumnavigate that threat.
Snipers, for instance, can take residence at the back of the map—towards the side of either farmhouse, or even standing on either of the small side-sheds. As always, it’s a perilous position. The sight lines are long, but narrow. Snipers are vulnerable to enemy players using cover for a sneak attack, or to long-range classes firing down the spawn trench. Pyros, meanwhile, can revel in the ambush potential afforded by the enclosed control point, but are at the mercy of Soldiers and Demomen who, with a simple rocket-jump, can fire through the exposed roof.
Seemingly innocuous details provide potential windows of situational safety. Players might not think twice about the small section of fence that extends out next to the spawn point. For a seasoned Spy, though, it’s the perfect decloaking point to rejoin your ‘team’ in a natural looking way—at least until a Pyro gets wise to the tactic. Each farmhouse, too, is its own minibattleground, simultaneously used for alternate routes to the central area, a potential respite from danger, and a direct means of reaching the Soldier who’s inevitably camped on its roof.
In motion, the interplay between classes across these conflict hotspots paints a picture of beautiful carnage. The lack of space gives King of the Hill maps a sense of chaos and immediacy. After rounding the corner of Harvest’s farmhouse, you’re forced to make a series of snap decisions as to where you’ll be the biggest credit to your team. It’s guaranteed that at least three miniature battles will be occurring at once, and all could be potentially crucial in capturing—or holding—the objective. It’s a great map to spectate, purely in terms of violence per square foot.
How much do I love Harvest? I paid real money for a Map Stamp to reward its creator, Sean ‘Heyo’ Cutino. I’d barely be prepared to do that for most Valve-made maps. Especially Hydro.