Shoot the Manns!
Team Fortress 2 has been one of the major flag-bearers for PC gaming. It’s Free-to-Play (check out our article on that here), it runs on a wide variety of machines and looks great, it has all of the Steam functionality available, and it’s immensely popular. Even people who I would never expect to have gamed have played TF2. A new update has been launched today which contains the horde-mode style ‘Mann vs Machine’.
‘Mann vs Machine’ sets you up with up to five other friends defending the Mann company against seven waves of robot drones, sent by the sinister Gray Mann (Thanks to Dinoman96 for correcting us on the plot). The robots take the form of either a tank, or one of the character classes, and have roughly the same abilities as the players do. So for instance a Spy robot can sabotage equipment and take the guise of a member of your team, while the Heavy tends to walk around punching things. There are also some special versions of the robots that are more powerful. You use many of the same abilities you used to in pvp multiplayer, so you set up turrets, ubercharge each other, and get to make use of all of those shiny hats. You can play with your friends for free but in order to play with full rewards, statistics etc you need to purchase a ‘Tour of Duty badge’. This will allow you to take part in a number of missions with all the benefits. For more information on that side of it look here. One interesting feature to note is that you only consume your ‘tickets’ if you succeed in a mission. This means that you can continue playing for free if you keep failing.
The robots are trying to move a bomb towards your base in each of the three maps, and any enemy except for the tank can pick it up. This causes havoc when a quick enemy (like the robot scout) manages to grab it and rushes past your front lines. Each enemy you kill drops some money, and you can use this between rounds in order to upgrade your character. The engineer can add a second (weaker) turret to his arsenal, and give the dispenser a greater range. Every player can add a number of resistances or increase their movement speed and jump height.
The move is also, thankfully, a lot of fun to play. So far I’ve been playing with people I know and with even a tiny bit of communication, you quickly get that feeling of camraderie against almost impossible odds. It’s a real challenge to survive all the way to the end, and there’ll always be moments where you have to pull it back from the brink of disaster. Things can get chaotic with rockets and grenades flying around but thanks to the certain paths the robots come down there’s always a sense of a ‘front line’. This gives the game some tension which I always felt was lost in TF2 when things were happening all over the map. When you die you simply respawn and while you’re heading back to the front line there’s a lot of anticipation and planning about how you’re going to defend your new position.
Thanks to the already-incredible balancing of the TF2 classes, there’s no set team that outperforms the others as of yet. I’m sure with the upgrade system theorycrafters will already be buzzing away trying to work out how to optimise your set-up, but for now you can play as whichever character you want and make a massive contribution to the team. Speaking as someone who’s never been great at TF2, it’s nice to be able to see kill streaks in the 50s as you plough through the early waves.
All of this goes to show how well thought-out this mode is. It’s definitely not an afterthought, and to get it for free is incredible. There’s a couple of pathing issues with the bots coming down cliffs but other than that the game shows a high degree of polish. There’s a lot of depth in the upgrade system and even with a full team strategy is key to standing against the waves of metal. Thankfully between each wave you’ve got a while to sort yourself out, and every play can press ‘ready’ to move on to the next one if they want. Features like this show that Valve understands what gamers want, and the whole experience comes across much smoother as a result.
Of course with the new content there is a huge number of new achievements and goals to aim for. You can still receive upgrades in these modes, and indeed use them, with some of the effects on items that were once hard to use or pointless suddenly coming into their own when used against waves of closely-packed bots.
Mann vs Machine is a fine addition to Team Fortress 2 and sets a high standard for other free-to-play shooters. Thanks to how free it is and how simple everything is to set up with Steam, there’s literally no reasons not go play it if you’ve got a gaming PC. Go have a look!