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.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Team Fortress 2's business model has been fairly simple since it went free-to-play--sell lots of virtual hats and guns--but Valve's trying something slightly different with the new 'Mann vs. Machine' co-op PvE mode, which launched last night. While it's free to play, if you fancy extra special loot, you can pay 99 cents for a ticket which offers the chance to earn unique prizes the likes of which ye have never seen.

The 99-cent single-use Tour of Duty Tickets let you into Mann Up Mode, which is a fancy way of saying it's played on Valve's official Mann Co. servers and you can score snazzy robot parts to wear. You're given a wearable Tour of Duty Badge to track your progress through the three MvM missions, which levels up once you've finished them all. The first time you finish a mission on each badge level, you get a piece of robot-loot, then another piece once you've finished the entire tour.

It's not cheap, though. Tour of Duty Tickets are used up when you complete any mission not already finished on your badge level (but not if you fail or have finished it before on this level). Tickets are still ultimately a hat delivery mechanism, but a bit different to straight selling them. Look, it's complicated, so check Valve's FAQ for the nitty-gritty.

You can also cough up $1.99 for a Squad Surplus Voucher, which will ensure everyone on your Mann Up Mode team will get an item if you beat the mission.

Of course, you don't need to pay a penny to play Mann vs. Machine if you don't want to; player-run servers simply don't drop the special robot-loot. The items are tradeable too, so you can swap your spares for shiny newness if you don't mind being thoroughly fleeced by unscrupulous traders.

Team Fortress 2 is a little overwhelmed by the flood of people trying to smash robots and wear their metallic skulls as trophies, mind, so it may be a while before you can play.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

As many Team Fortress 2 fans have already puzzled together, a new co-op mode is coming to Valve's free-to-play online shooter. Called "Mann vs Machine," this new mode has six human players waging "a desperate battle to stop a lethal horde of robots from deploying a bomb in one of Mann Co.'s many strongholds." Essentially, it is a horde mode. With robots. And in typical horde fashion, you'll be able to upgrade your abilities and weapons in between waves. Surviving will let you earn "incredible loot." The new mode will also be accommodated by brand new maps as well.

The mode will unlock on August 15th. To get yourself hyped, here's yet another comic and a brand new trailer:

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Valve's up to something again. Team Fortress 2 is, as we all know, an epic tale about the rivalry between two siblings, but now a third brother has appeared on the scene to shake things up. A new TF2 comic and several sneaky in-game secrets hint that something big, shiny and metallic is coming, possibly the long-speculated PvE mode nicknamed 'Mann vs. Machine' by fans.

As one fan's video details, Valve has been dropping hints about robots for some time, from comics and trailers to files casually added to TF2--which Valve knows fans pore over for hints. The most damning of these has been the heads of robot versions of every TF2 class.

After a little code-breaking by fans, Valve released a splendid new comic on Sunday showing a long-lost third Mann brother returning to slay his siblings--the heads of the warring Red and Blu teams--and set a dastardly plan in motion. Huge tanks appeared in the background of several maps over the weekend, so it seems an invasion is coming.

What does it all mean? The popular theory is Valve's releasing a new co-operative mode named Mann vs. Machine, where players fight robotic versions of the TF2 gang. TF2 files do reference something named 'MVM' and robots clearly are coming in some form, but it's mostly speculation for now. After several years of teasing, it seems we'll soon be finding out just what's afoot. If you want in on all the gossip and guessing, the Reddit community's gasbagging up a storm.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Orcs Must Die! developer Robot Entertainment is bringing its iOS hit Hero Academy to PC via Steam, complete with a team of Team Fortress 2 characters. The asynchronous multiplayer tactics 'em up will support cross-platform play with the iOS edition, too.

Hero Academy's about turn-based grid-set tactical combat between two teams with various units and abilities. The PC edition will come with a team based upon Valve's lovable mercenaries as well as the Council side. Following the iOS model, you'll have to pay for extra teams, but any unlocked are shared across both platforms. Yes, including the TF2 team. As a bonus, each team you buy unlocks a cosmetic item to wear in TF2.

Hero Academy is due on Steam on August 8. Hit the announcement for more information.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Team Fortress 2 has concluded its Pyromania update, with new weapons and items to go along with the new mode revealed on Monday. The Scout, Sniper, and Soldier are all getting new weapons, but the Pyro's new item has to win points for creativity.

All users playing through July 5 will get a pair of Pyrovision Goggles, Valve has announced. These let you see the world through the eyes of the Pyro, as revealed in the Meet the Pyro video. After July 5, you'll have to dominate someone wearing a pair to get your own.

Other additions include a new pistol and scattergun for the Scout, carbine SMG and sniper rifle for the Sniper, bazooka for the Soldier, and a new flare gun for the Pyro. This is all in addition to the previously reported Doomsday game mode and, for some reason, an Adult Swim hat. You can see all of the update changes detailed here.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

"I wonder what kind of hats this collaboration will bring about..." - howlthorne

It looks like the Shacknews community hit the nail on the head. Adult Swim and Valve's collaboration has been revealed... and it is a hat. No, not a hat you can wear in real life, silly. It's a free "limited-edition" Robot Chicken hat for use in Team Fortress 2.

The hat is being distributed to subscribers of the Adult Swim newsletter. "If you signed up and confirmed your account by midnight 6/27/12, you will receive your code on 6/28/12. If you signed up after midnight, you will receive your code 7/5/12," the official FAQ reveals.

While this may not be the Team Fortress cartoon we all wanted, Adult Swim is continuing the dangle the Valve carrot in front of friends. "This ain't the last you'll hear from Adult Swim and Valve. Stay tuned," the promo site teases. Oh, so we can get even more hats? We won't fall for that--oh wait. Look at this curious part of the Q&A, as discovered by Joystiq:

Q. Are you making a Team Fortress cartoon?

A. Go ask your mother.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Now that you've had a chance to Meet the Pyro, do you want to make your own Source-powered machinima creations? Well, now you can! Valve is releasing the Source Filmmaker (SFM), the movie-making tool Valve uses to make movies inside the Source game engine. SFM has been used in quite a number of Valve trailers.

SFM is currently available in beta. To apply, simply visit the official website with a computer that already has Steam installed on it. "Initially, we are limiting the number of beta users, but soon we will release the SFM to all users on Steam for free," Valve's FAQ explains.

At launch, SFM will only work within Team Fortress 2, meaning fan-made Half-Life movies using SFM won't be possible for a while. However, Valve notes that "users familiar with modding with the Source engine will be able to mod the SFM build of TF2 to create new worlds."

If you're interested, here's what you'll need for Filmmaker:

  • OS: Windows 7 / Vista (Windows 7 64 bit suggested)
  • Processor: 3.0 GHz P4, Dual Core 2.0 (or higher) or AMD64X2 (or higher)
  • Memory: 2GB (4 GB suggested)
  • Hard Disk Space: At least 15 GB of Space
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce 200 series card or better, or AMD Radeon 3000 series or better (NVIDIA GeForce 400 series or AMD Radeon 5000 series preferred)
  • Monitor: 1366 x 768 (1920 x 1080 suggested)
  • Audio: DirectX 9.0c compatible
  • USB headset with mic (suggested)

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Team Fortress 2 is finally going to let you "Meet the Pyro" this Wednesday. But not content to just push out a zany video, the team at Valve has also planned a large update to the game, appropriately titled "Pyromania." It adds a new map and game mode, along with other reveals still to come.

The TF2 Blog teased the Meet the Pyro video and its associated update, with three days of news bits leading to the update on Wednesday. This first day details the new Doomsday game mode, in which the teams race to get rocket fuel up a slow-moving elevator, so they can launch monkeynaut Poopy Joe into space. You know, that old cliche.

Given the name and the focus on the Pyro, we assume this update will pack some new tools of burning as well. It's unclear yet how this ties into Valve's Adult Swim tease from last week, but that particular mystery will probably become clear soon enough.

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