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Team Fortress 2

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Shacknews - Steve Watts

Team Fortress 2 is ringing in the holidays in its own inimitable fashion: with robots and weaponry. The "Mecha Update" introduces a Mecha-Engineer to the Mann vs Machine mode, a new MvM map, and three new weapons.

The update includes a "Big Rock" map illustrates why the Mecha-Engie is such a deadly adversary. It's a big map that gives the robot horde a much larger area to cover, but enemy teleporters will get them to you much faster. New tools for the job include the Rescue Ranger (Engineer), Loose Cannon (Demoman), and Vaccinator (Medic). Finally, the holiday season brings back last year's "Naughty" and "Nice" crates, full of yule-tide weapons and winter-themed items, respectively. They'll be available until January 3.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Santa Tux has visited early this year, dragging an open beta version of Steam's Linux client behind his Gentoo-powered sleigh. Now, all who've embraced the free software revolution can try and test Valve's crack at making Linux a viable gaming platform. Now, stop me if you've heard this before, but next year will surely be The Year of the Linux Desktop.

The beta client installer is over here. It includes a Linux version of Team Fortress 2, but the Steam store already stocks a fair few games with Linux versions so you'll have plenty to play.

Gabe Newell has said that it's looking at releasing its own Linux PC hardware for living rooms once Steam Linux and the sofa-oriented Big Picture mode are in fit shape.

Hit up Valve's announcement for details on where to report bugs and all that jazz.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Valve has taken the next logical step for Team Fortress 2's bustling hat-based economy, by introducing actual money into the equation. The Steam "Community Market" entered beta today, a test bed that allows users to exchange Steam Wallet funds for items instead of simply trading.

The beta only works with TF2, and even then only with consumable items, but Valve promises it will be available with other titles next year. You can show off your items on the Community and sell or trade them to other Steam users. According to a FAQ, all sales are final. Steam keeps a 15% transaction fee during the beta period, which may increase in the future. During the beta, sales are restricted to 200 per calendar year, starting with January 1. Presumably you won't reach 200 before then.

"With over a half million trades made every week, the trading system has been very successful," said Valve's Tony Paloma. "Extending game economies beyond trades and giving players a way to turn gameplay into funds for new items and games is a key component for moving that success forward."

So to summarize: Team Fortress 2 started with clothing items, which led to barter and trade, and finally the advent of currency. Use this handy metaphor to teach your kids about the development of economics in western civilization, because it happened exactly the same way. That progression is almost definitely because of this guy.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Team Fortress 2's bustling hat-based economy is getting another rare addition, thanks to the launch of Scribblenauts Unlimited. Pre-ordering the game through Steam before it launches next week will get you a choice of Maxwell or Lily's rooster hats, which honestly aren't that much sillier than the other hat options in TF2.

Maxwell's comes in red and Lily's in pink. The hats will be available as soon as you pre-order Scribblenauts, so you don't have to wait for its November 20 release date to don your rooster cap. Scribblenauts Unlimited is also planned for the Wii U, but of course, you don't get to wear a ridiculous looking hat that way.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Steam, Valve's popular portal for PC games, is now available on Linux. The beta client is currently available for Ubuntu 12.04, with more OS variants to be supported in the future. Valve's Frank Crockett explained that "an overwhelming majority of beta applicants have reported they're running the Ubuntu distro of Linux," but Valve plans on supporting additional "popular distros," prioritized by user feedback.

The beta client will become available to "a widening group of users," but the first round is currently reserved for those that have already responded to participate. "Once the team has seen a solid level of stability and performance across a variety of systems, the Steam for Linux client will become available to all users of Steam."

To coincide with the launch of Steam for Linux, Valve has released Team Fortress 2 for the platform. Valve says that approximately two dozen other games are also available to play, but the list is currently inaccessible.

The Linux client also includes support for Big Picture mode. It's all part of Valve's larger bet on Linux as a platform, as the company openly criticized Microsoft's new Windows 8 OS.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Every year around this time, the light-hearted (albeit bloody) world of Team Fortress 2 gets a little bit darker. Past years have brought a horseless headless horseman and Demonman. The fourth annual "Scream Fortress" update brings a necromancer with a grudge and some magic potions in tow.

The update goes live today and lasts through November 8. As usual, it ties into a new comic that plays with the premise. The magician Merasmus will enter haunted King of the Hill maps to terrorize your crew, throwing bombs and booby-trapping the control points. Each time a point changes hands, a random effect will trigger some "horrible fate." Or possibly something good, but you know, more likely the horrible fate thing.

You'll also randomly find spells that you can cast on items in your backpack, giving them magical effects like ghost summoning or flaming footsteps, or more modest ones like repainting your items. One spell promises to make you an evil sorcerer.

The new "Wave 666" replaces your usual Machine co-op opponents with brain-hungry zombies, and you can score two new achievements -- one for beating Merasmus, and one for getting to Skull Island.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

When Team Fortress 2 launched its Mann vs Machine update, it finally added a co-op mode to the game. Not content to rest on its laurels, Valve had updated the game with several new tweaks and features.

A post on the TF2 Blog spills the details. For starters, the new update includes two more Tours of Duty to sate those who found the first one too easy or too hard. Operation Oil Spill should prove less of a challenge, and Operation Gear Grinder is for those who laugh in the face of danger.

You can also look forward to new Tour-specific loot, including rusty robot heads for Oil Spill, and 24-carat diamond heads for the Gear Grinder. The update also boasts improved match-making, which lets you select from multiple missions. Finally, after a mission is over, you'll be sent back to the matchmaking screen as a group.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

If you've been paying any amount of attention to Team Fortress 2, you've probably noticed that it's home to some of Valve's wackier ideas. The company says it may not have started as a test bed, but it's certainly become one as it's used to experiment with new strategies.

"In the end, TF2 has been ended up being one of the most useful tools we've ever built to reduce risk in our company's future," lead designer Robin Walker said.

"It's been really nice that it's also brought in significant revenue throughout that time, but ultimately, the importance we place on understanding our business and our customers has made it totally worthwhile." Walker told Gamasutra that without TF2, Valve's lack of experience in monetization would be "terrifying."

He says the hidden goal for TF2 was to explore ideas that "were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of the company." When the game first came out, it appeared that MMOs were going to take over the market, so Valve started building persistent items. When the free-to-play market rose, it used TF2 as a test bed for microtransactions. The gambles seem to be paying off, as the game continues to evolve and remain popular.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Ever keen to experiment with digital distribution, Steam is trying something unusual on XCOM: Enemy Unknown pre-orders with publisher 2K. Rather than offering fixed bonuses, Steam will unlock increasingly fancy goodies as more people pre-order, including extra character customisation options, Team Fortress 2 hats, and a free copy of Civilization V.

Everyone who pre-orders through Steam will help the "reward" drive, which seems to hope it'll inspire a little of that Kickstarter feeling. Customers are fast approaching the first unlock, a pack of cosmetic XCOM pretties including shiny new armour, paints for armour, and a recruit with the classic X-COM: UFO Defense flattop haircut.

The flattop also features, in the second tier, a pack of TF2 goods. This offers that good old flattop for the Soldier, a creepy sort of alien head for the Pyro, and a very swanky medal. Lastly, if loads and loads of people pre-order, everyone will also get a free copy of Civ V, or a gift copy if they already own it.

Of course, Steam's charging the full $50 for XCOM, so you might instead fancy buying it from somewhere that simply knocks a few dollars off the price instead. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is coming to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on October 9.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

After nearly five years of fighting over control points and briefcases of intelligence, the mercs of Team Fortress 2 have a new challenge before them--mechanical monstrosities looking to destroy any and all things bearing Mann Co.'s name. TF2's new Mann vs. Machine mode introduces co-op for the first time, bringing up to six players together to fight back the soulless automatons. To do my part in the fight, I jumped into Shacknews community member re-verse's server to fight alongside fellow Shackers against the robotic menace.

Team Fortress 2 veterans will notice the difference between traditional multiplayer and Mann vs. Machine almost immediately. Cohesive teamwork is emphasized here more than any TF2 game mode to date. Teams need to cover robot spawn points to stop machines in their tracks before they bring a bomb to the player base. Robots employ various tactics, including robot Scout rushes, multiple airblasting Pyros, and Demo grenade spam and teams must adapt to each enemy tactic in order to survive. New voice over lines from each character are a big help, as the characters will yell out if a teammate is down or if an enemy Sniper or Spy has entered the field. Once killed, players can respawn, but any time that passes can be costly given how quickly robots are able to move the bomb up.

While traditional multiplayer sees every class playing a pivotal role in the game, Mann vs. Machine places some weight on certain classes. In particular, success is almost impossible without a Medic and an Engineer. Medics need to be aware of their surroundings at all times and heal teammates quickly, while making sure to upgrade their Medigun or Kritzkrieg between rounds. Engineers' sentry guns can mow down waves upon waves of robots to the point that the robots eventually deploy a sentry buster (a large bomb with legs) to take them down. Dispensers also prove to be invaluable resources, since many players tend to run low on ammo amidst the fracas.

While all of TF2's weapons are balanced to a degree in the game's traditional multiplayer, a number of those weapons may see their usefulness diminished significantly. The Pyro's Backburner, for example, is great for ambushing opponents in multiplayer, but its advantages are reduced during an all-out robotic blitz. The Engineer's Pomsom 6000 ray gun has been called overpowered in the main multiplayer mode, but its buffs are far less useful against the machine menace. And Spies are at an intense disadvantage given the sheer number of targets he needs to cover in order to be effective.

One thing to note is that all weapons can be upgraded in between waves, with upgrades customized to suit each specific weapon. For example, the Soldier can either choose to increase the clip or damage dealt from his rocket launcher or opt to increase the Buff Banner's deployment time. Upgrades are purchased with money picked up from successfully taking out waves or from defeated enemies. In fact, teammates fighting over money drops may be the one instance where they'll fight amongst themselves.

Upgrades are pivotal, as later waves introduce more powerful robots. Larger bosses include a Giant Soldier that only shoots crit rockets, giant Heavies flanked by multiple Medic-bots, and oversized Scouts that bash your brains in with their baseball bat. Another wrinkle includes a colossal tank with an enormous HP bar. Even with Kritz and Buff Banner assistance, the tank can take a lot of punishment and will destroy the base if it makes it that far. Taking out the tank becomes more difficult, considering that the other robots will still be trying to escort the regular bomb to your base, as well.

Team Fortress 2 already has a loyal player base, but Mann vs. Machines has the potential to create an entirely new fanbase. It employs many of the familiar TF2 mechanics that veterans love, while emphasizing a new sense of camaraderie over competition. There are only three maps (Decoy, Coal Town, and Mannworks) for MvM so far, but given how much fun this game mode is to play, I expect that number to rise soon. In the meantime, grab your friends and prepare for the machine uprising.


Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review. This report is based on the Windows version of Team Fortress 2. The game is now available for PC and Mac.

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