There’s something uncanny yet admirable about how long Team Fortress 2 has managed to stick around. My first exposure to the game came from an interview in 2006 issue of PC Powerplay but my first hands-on experience with it came almost two years later in a since-destitute internet cafe. For years, me and my friends fought valiantly on the battlefields of Badwater Basin and Dustbowl. We sank hundreds of hours into the game with only a handful of hats (and the occasional name-tag) to show for it.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the recent ‘Gun Mettle Update’ has me seen me get back into playing TF2 pretty regularly again. Valve have really outdone themselves in terms of continuing to make bizarre-but-brilliant additions to the game (including most recently a Rocket League-style soccer mode and contagious dance emotes) but underneath all this still lies the same great multiplayer experience that drew my interest in the first place. Whether I’m in deep cover as a Spy or running headlong into battle as a broadsword-wielding Demoknight, Team Fortress 2 has held up against pretty much any recent multiplayer shooter since its launch almost eight years ago.
It looks, however, like there might finally be some competition on the horizon for Valve.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s first new IP in decades and is the first game to rise from the ashes of the infamous Project Titan – and from all indications, it looks be super fun. Like TF2, it sees two teams of skilled specialists fighting together to accomplish various objectives but unlike TF2, the roster of characters in Overwatch looks to be magnitudes bigger. Aesthetically, it’s actually not all that different from Valve’s game – although it leans a bit more towards the angular style of comic-books when it comes to character design. In any case, preliminary aspects of the game recently started to appear on the Battle.Net launcher so it might not be that long before we can determine whether it truly gives TF2 a run for its money.
Meanwhile, Bethesda is readying their own class-based multiplayer brawler in the form of BattleCry. Set in an alternate history where gunpowder is outlawed and steam-powered nationalist factions fight for fame and glory, BattleCry isn’t afraid to take a more serious tone. It’s got a nifty aesthetic that is worlds away from Valve’s cartoonish look, it’s closer to something like the world of Arkane’s Dishonored. While the game’s roster is smaller than both Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch’s offerings, it looks to be making up for it by getting the most out of its slick third-person melee combat. I spent a little bit of time with BattleCry at PAX Australia last year and came away quite impressed. Though I’m slightly concerned about the radio silence surrounding the game’s beta, originally-touted-for-early-2015.
Finally, announced at PAX Prime last month, comes LawBreakers – a futuristic arena shooter from the mind of Cliff Bleszinski (of Unreal and Gears of War fame). Set in a world where the moon has been blown to pieces, the game sees players take on the role of hi-tech criminals and law-enforcers who fight it out for presumably-legitimate-currently-unknown reasons. Even from the early snippets we’ve seen of the game thus far, it seems that, like Overwatch, each of the playable characters will bring new mechanics to the table. Vertical traversal also looks to be a big part of the game with lots of low-gravity platforming, grappling hooks and jetpacks shown off in early footage. Tonally, LawBreakers seems like pretty standard sci-fi fare but considering the pedigree behind it, it’d be foolish to write off that game’s chances just yet.
On the surface, all of these titles are bringing a fresh coat of paint to the class-based multiplayer that made Team Fortress 2 fun. However, if any of them really hope to compete with Valve, it’ll likely have less to do with building eSports-ready games (Sorry, Evolve) or offering a more diverse character roster. The biggest reason that Team Fortress 2 has stuck around is that Valve have put an almost unprecedented level of post-release support into the game and have done an incredible job growing the community around it – so only time will tell if any of the new entrants to this particular multiplayer space have the commitment to even begin to match that.