Team Fortress 2 seems to have been under development for ever, and the entire game has been scrapped and started again from scratch at least once.
By the time TF2 finally appears some time next year it will be going head to head with titles like Tribes II, Unreal Tournament, and of course Command & Conquer : Renegade. Can it hold it's own against such heavyweight competition? The Great Escape
The good news is that TF2 is looking better than ever. The Half-Life engine has seen a major overhaul, adding a whole slew of new features.
TF2 player models are now much more detailed, with more polygons in a character's face than a model from Team Fortress Classic has in its entire body!
And the dynamic level of detail system means that as you get further away from a character, or as more characters appear on screen, less detailed models are used. This helps keep the frame rate up even when there are a dozen or more players on screen, when older games like Team Fortess Classic would grind to a halt with that many.
Valve have also added some neat volumetric effects. Smoke grenades are already using the new system (and looking great) but in the final game flames and explosions will also be volumetric. If you throw a grenade into a small room the explosion will fill the space available to it and then the blast will be funnelled out through the doors and windows instead of just filling out a spherical blast radius like in most games. All Quiet On The Western Front
On the network side of things Valve have added voice communication, allowing players to organise themselves and ask for help without having to bring down the console and start typing. The quality of the sound you hear will depend on your connection (don't expect miracles from a 28.8Kb modem!), but if you have the bandwidth to handle it you should be in for a treat.
TF2 even has some very basic lip synching - as you talk your character's mouth will move to let everyone know who is talking. It's hardly state of the art, but it does add to the sense of immersion in the game.
To help all of this work without grinding your connection to a halt, Valve have also completely reworked the game's network code. There are also plans to possibly roll back these changes into Half-Life as a patch when TF2 is done, which has to be a good thing.The Longest Day
Gameplay-wise, TF2 seems to have strayed into Hidden & Dangerous territory, and it all looks and feels very much like a World War II movie.
As the demonstrator pointed out, if you were to drop his father into a CTF map he wouldn't necessarily know what to do, but if you put him into a landing craft and drop the flap he knows exactly what's going on. As he explained this the landing craft came to a halt in the demo we were watching and the players charged out on to the beach to a hail of bullets from defensive bunkers along the ridge.
Another mission we saw involved one team dropping into the map on parachutes as the guards below desperately tried to shoot them all before they landed. While you're in the air you're totally helpless, but once you hit the ground the real action begins...
Unfortunately although one or both teams will often start a mission in vehicles of various kinds, the vehicles won't be controllable. Valve have decided to concentrate on infantry combat rather than trying to cover all bases. The Dirty Dozen
Valve are also concentrating on team play, and doing everything they can to encourage players to work together. It's a laudable goal, though it's hard to tell how well it will work for casual internet games.
For example, your team's engineer builds a sentry gun. As a marine you can take control of it and use it to defend your base, but if you have a medic nearby he can help you by feeding the gun more ammunition, increasing its firing rate. But just how many people will be willing to play medics or stand around feeding you ammunition instead of doing something more interesting remains to be seen...
The most obvious addition though is the new commander class, whose job it will be to coordinate a team. Viewing the game from a top down view more like a real time strategy game, the commander will be able to cut through the fog of war (and the volumetric fog) to see exactly what's happening on the battlefield and then guide his team mates accordingly.
Exactly how this is going to work isn't clear yet, but it's certainly an interesting idea. Conclusion
Team Fortress 2 is certainly looking good, but the question is .. will it be good enough?
For my money C&C : Renegade looks to be a more interesting game, and looking further forward Halo promises a real surplus of eye candy. Valve aren't exactly known for delivering games on time, and if TF2 is delayed much beyond Spring 2000 it's likely to be too little, too late by the time it does appear.
On the other hand TF2 is developing a strong World War II influence, and it's singular focus on infantry squad combat could prove to be more appealing than the more mixed game play of its competitors.
Let's keep our fingers crossed...