For fans of the original game there's an eerie sense of déjà vu when playing the 2Fort map in Team Fortress 2.
Even if you'd already been told it was a remade version of the popular Team Fortress Classic map, or realised simply by looking at the map's name, its layout already exists as a semi-familiar strategy map in the back of your mind. There's that central bridge across the moat, treacherous to cross and half-concealing the alternate entrance to the enemy base. There are the snipers perched along the barricades, the supplies outside the spawn room - strategically it remains almost completely unchanged. Especially the part with the snipers, as I've come to learn over and over again.
It was in this state of half already knowing what to do that I found myself sitting with the co-creator of Team Fortress, Robin Walker, as he explained the basics of capturing the flag and pointed earnestly at the HUD furniture displaying the direction of the objective. Feeling more confident than was appropriate, given the fact that I was playing with a flock of Valve employees in the next room, I chose the role of Scout and was promptly mown down by a Gatling gun. Well, I was still figuring out the buttons, wasn't I?
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
In fact, dying throws up the first of many beautiful touches in Team Fortress 2. The action freezes as the camera cuts to your killer, giving you his name as if to nudge you and say, "Oooh, don't you just hate this guy? He got you again." Conversely, a cheerful box in the corner of the screen pats you on the back, claiming: "On the bright side: You've caused more damage as a Scout in this round than ever before."
Of course, these achievements become less frequent the more you play, until the sight of one becomes cause for celebration, as Robin Walker points out. When somebody in the Valve office breaks their damage record, or kills more enemy players, or stays alive for longer than ever before, or indeed any number of stats the game keeps track of, everybody knows about it.
The Scout, meanwhile, was not the class for me. Walker assured me that in the right hands the Scout could nimbly avoid foes while making daring dashes to the enemy flag room. Personally, I found that his increased speed and ability to double-jump only helped me run into danger faster than with any of the other eight classes. A change of class to the Soldier, and a change of map to another old favourite, Dustbowl, and we were ready to go again.
While waiting for the gates between the opposing areas of the map to open, a congregation of Soldiers and Heavies had begun damaging themselves in a corner by firing rockets at their feet. A few patient Medics looked on. Noticing my puzzlement, Walker began to explain what was happening. Medics have the ability to heal team-mates to above their normal number of hit points, as well as regenerate their own health gradually. They heal using a beam that remains attached to the team-mate as long as they stay within range and sight of one another.
The Medic earns a charge by healing players, and when that charge reaches 100%, the Medic and his team-mate can become invulnerable for ten whole seconds.
What this means, besides the start of the round featuring the kind of self-harm usually reserved for the toilets at a My Chemical Romance concert, is that an experienced Medic can be the most effective player on the team if paired with an equally skilled Heavy. While the Heavy dishes out massive damage with his Gatling gun, the Medic stays close and provides temporary invincibility. For ten seconds, they're an unassailable target, and all anybody else can do is simply take cover and hopefully pick off the Medic when he becomes vulnerable.