If you have an account with Valve's gaming platform Steam, you probably already have, or have at least heard of, Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer-focused, class-based first-person shooter developed by Valve. Originally released way back in 2007, the game became free-to-play last year and since then its popularity has skyrocketed, becoming perhaps the most-played game on Steam due to its financial ability, well-balanced gameplay and multitude of weird hats with which players can customise characters. For anyone who doesn't yet own the game, here's some information about the game, as well as why you should download it.
Team Fortress 2 is, surprisingly, a team-based multiplayer FPS. It's presented in a stylised, colourful style which belies its level of violence; characters explode bloodily upon contact with a speeding explosive and body parts litter area. There are a number of game modes, including perennial multiplayer mode Capture the Flag, Control Points, in which teams must fight for control of areas of a map, and King of the Hill, in which players must help their teams control a single point on the map for a certain amount of time, while preventing the opposing team from doing so with the same point. This may sound like a standard multiplayer first-person shooter at first, but one of the main things which sets Team Fortress 2 apart is its class system.
The game includes nine different classes which players can use in games. These include The Sniper, for long-range defending, The Pyro, useful mainly for setting enemy players on fire, The Heavy, the slow-moving, minigun-wielding juggernaut, and The Spy, a stealth-based class which allows players to become invisible or take the appearance of an enemy player, most useful for Capture the Flag games. Also playable are The Demoman, for blowing things up and setting traps using strategically-placed bombs, The Medic, who can heal teammates and speak German, the rocket launcher-wielding Soldier, the fast-running, double-jumping Scout, and The Engineer, who can build sentry turrets and other useful stuff to help out the
Each class not only has different weapons and abilities, but a unique personality. Classes brim with character, conveyed through dialogue, character-specific taunts, and appearance. It's possible to make characters talk throughout games, a simple interface allowing players to say things from useful tactical decisions, to funny lines of speech such as The Demoman's drunken rambling or The Heavy singing happily while gunning down crowds of enemies. Even subtle things like character accents and items of clothing help to make each class unique.
Rather than each class having one set of weapons, there are a multitude of weapons available to pick up, each usable by one, or in some cases, two classes. Weapons can be unlocked either every few hours of playing the game, through trading items with other players (though items can only be traded after spending an amount of money on in-game items or buying the game before it became free-to-play), or by purchasing them in-game. Most if not all weapons can be found in-game without having to spend money, so there's no need to shell out. Some weapons are good value, going for just pennies, whereas rarer weapons are more expensive. Items other than weapons are also available, most notably hats and other apparel with which to personalise characters. These are generally more expensive than weapons, and many can be considered rip-offs, considering they add nothing to the gameplay, unless you're interested in trading them with other players.
Team Fortress 2 is more than just a collect-a-thon, of course, and the gameplay is excellent. There could be a few more game modes, as the official modes, while fun, aren't particularly varied. However, each mode has a number of maps to keep things entertaining, and the team-based nature means that individual games may differ greatly, creating diversity even if you like to play on the same map often. Depending on which class you choose to play as, gameplay can change; playing as The Spy, stealthing around and using a knife to take out enemies undetected is a completely different experience to guarding a point using a sniper rifle or storming into the fort of the enemy team as The Heavy. There's so much scope for replaying Team Fortress 2. There are also a number of community-created modes to really vary the game - tired of Capture the Flag? Why not try surfing, as in another of Valve's PC first-person shooters, Counter-Strike, or racing the opposing team in a giant balloon?
Team Fortress 2 is extremely well-balanced. Each weapon has both positive and negative effects, and there's no equivalent of the Modern Warfare 2 grenade launcher here. Weapons can be switched out depending on what style of gameplay you want to use, but with the exception of some weak weapons, they're all approximately as useful as one another. The only real imbalance is when a Medic uses his ability to make a Heavy invulnerable, making it impossible to avoid being killed for about 20 seconds or so without retreating, but this doesn't unbalance the game too much.
If you like fist-person-shooters and have a Steam account, there's no obvious reason for not at least trying Team Fortress 2, barring a fear of fun. Admittedly, there's no real story to it, but it's arguably the most fun FPS available and is capable of providing dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours of entertainment. Plus, it's free. What more could you ask for?