This re-review is of the PC and Mac version of Team Fortress 2, now available for free. The console versions, included in The Orange Box, have had comparatively few updates and remain closer to the version tested in our original Team Fortress 2 review from 2007.
There isn't one game called Team Fortress 2. There are hundreds. Its famously long development time used to see it compared to Duke Nukem Forever, but that doesn't hold water any more: Duke's finished. The development of TF2 goes on and on: new weapons, new levels, new gametypes, new accessories, new achievements, new features, new hats. All updates are free. And now, so is the game.
A Valve employee once wryly remarked that the company could put $20 in a box, sell it for $10, and people would still find something to criticise. The announcement of TF2's change to a free-to-play model bears that out: a vocal minority seem to think this is a great insult to TF2's previous purchasers, while an even smaller minority have set up servers dedicated to kicking out free players. Next to the size and beauty of Team Fortress 2, that is laughable behaviour.
Four years is a long time in videogames, but Team Fortress 2 is as fresh as its day of release. That time has seen other attempts to capture its class-based crown, the most recent example being Brink, but nothing has come close. What was an outstanding game at release has been bulked up and expanded so much that the sheer quantity of content is bewildering - how many other FPS games sell stamps that directly support their community creators?
Since release, there have been over 200 updates for the game, 29 new maps, and numerous new pieces of equipment across the nine classes. And that's just the stuff Valve has made. Covering it all would be a fool's errand, but there are focal points: the new weapons for each character, the accumulation of modes and levels, the trading system, and the 'Mannconomy' of in-game purchases.
The alternative weapons and kit for each class are the most substantive changes. Demoman, an alcoholic Scotsman, has always seemed the natural class for me - call it empathy. His standard set-up is a versatile mix of explosive grenades, tactical sticky bombs and a bottle of scrumpy in case anyone gets too close. His alternative setup lets you forego all of that cissy ranged nonsense and play as a full-on melee class - the Demo Knight.
Equipped with Ali Baba's Wee Booties, the Chargin' Targe shield and the Eyelander sword, we are doom. This set-up lets you charge into packs of enemies with a blood-curdling scream, dealing a crit to anyone in your path, and start swinging wildly; every time the Eyelander kills, it decapitates, and each head means more health and speed for you.
Hit a pack of enemies and it's mental. Do it with a medic in tow and things can just seem unfair. Lop off the head of your nemesis and an achievement will pop up: There Can Be Only One. Venture into the open, and kiss your wee booties goodbye. Giving with one hand, taking with another.
The Spy's got a new watch, the Dead Ringer - equip it and run at a group of enemies. When they shoot they'll see a fake corpse fall while you turn invisible and run behind their position with the Eternal Reward, a knife that transforms you into whomever you've just backstabbed. What happens next should be obvious, and lovely.