Forget Battlefield: Hardline, everyone should play Team Fortress 2 instead

Sorry, Battlefield: Hardline, it's nothing personal. Your cops and robbers CTF battles have the subtlety of a playground pile-on, but I've managed to extract a few moments of fun from the chaos. I like the violent, bass fart of your P-90, as I did in Battlefield 4, and Battlefield 3. And I like the way you use the Frostbite engine to fill the air with floaty bits of burning chaff even though I have no idea where it all comes from. The problem is the competition. There's just so much more laughter and joy to be had in a seven year old free game called Team Fortress 2.

In Team Fortress 2, you can play a man with a bow who throws jars of urine at people, and yet I care more about what happens at the end of a round than I do in a game of CoD, Battlefield 4, or Battlefield: Hardline. Perhaps I've been overexposed to the grey modern military aesthetic. Let's face it, Battlefield: Hardline, even though you have sweet uniforms and cop cars that go "wee-woo", I'm still playing a floating pair of arms holding the same weapons I've held in dozens of games in the last five years, opportunistically grabbing points to serve my personal leveling curve.

Team Fortress 2 lets me play as a giant Russian who punches men to death with mutant bread. That makes me laugh, but it's not why I care about Team Fortress 2. If you stripped away that timeless, characterful art and dissolved those levels back into their virgin white-boxed state, I'd still have fun. It's true, Battlefield: Hardline, the Source engine can't do wide open squares or collapsing cranes. I won't see a pale sun mirrored in the glass of a skyscraper in a TF2 map, but I will swear out loud as our team throws itself at the cart in Gold Rush, desperately trying to take that final 90 degree left turn.

I could write all day about that point in Gold Rush, but first Let's talk about snipers, Battlefield: Hardline. They're bastards. I rarely see them before it's too late. They're often perched on the edge of a skyscraper miles above the fight, untouchable. I hurl myself across open spaces and hope for the best. In Gold Rush, they're on a raised balcony some ten, twelve metres away. Even playing as TF2's slow, easily sniped Heavy class, I have the option to wait for a medic to buff me to invulnerability. If I want revenge I can become a Spy, and when that happens the map becomes a different place. Suddenly I'm looking for stealthy routes through the fight, and taking carefully designed flanking routes to get behind those snipers for an instant kill.

The design of Team Fortress 2's maps, and the careful restrictions on each class, pulls competing mobs into tactical arrangements that are easily understood and fun to fight. At close range spies and Pyros fight a private war for supremacy. At mid range Soldiers toss splash damage into condensed zones of conflict, charging forward when an invulnerable Heavy-Medic team rush past. You don't fight for the "100XP" pop-out that accompanies a kill in many shooters, you fight for territory at a range that makes the fight feel personal. Team Fortress 2 battles look insane, but they're beautifully designed.

Don't be sad, Battlefield: Hardline, I still like the bit when you're on the back of a bike driven by a convict loaded with a moulting sack of cash. You can't do that in TF2, it's true. You may well argue that comparing Battlefield and Team Fortress 2 is silly, but once you've peeled back the facade, you're both class-based team shooters in different robes. And consider the fact that players only have so much free time to spend in a game. You will probably be sixty dollars on launch, and—looking at Battlefields 3 and 4—there may well be a bunch of post-launch DLC that'll gradually fragment the community until the next Battlefield arrives. Team Fortress 2 is free, and just received the latest in a long series of free updates. It doesn't have a leveling curve that often incentivises selfish action over teamwork, it has a random drop system that rewards everyone with a free thing every hour or so.

Finally, think about how the experience of being a Battlefield: Hardline fan might compare to the experience of being a Team Fortress 2 fan. Your double XP weekends will be fun, I'm sure. If you choose to follow Battlefield 3's battlepack route, players can look forward to being tempted into spending more money on item packs. Thanks to its key-and-crate system, Team Fortress 2 is also guilty of this, but be careful that you don't turn every interaction with your service into raw advertising for the next expansion, the next battlepack deal, the next EA shooter.

There's a vast gulf in public perception that puts EA at the 'faceless corporate entity' end of the spectrum, and Valve on the 'can do no wrong' end. Valve teams are masters at talking to their communities, they have a knack for generating memes, and they're extremely funny. It might seem insane to spend so much time making comics and 15-minute movies , but every interaction with that material makes being part of Valve's world worthwhile. You get to join a big, fun club, complete with in-jokes and entertaining asides. That's what makes me care, not just about TF2, but about their entire ecosystem. Boot up Steam and get it downloaded, everyone. I'll see you on the final turn of Gold Rush.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.