It seems like in recent years gaming companies have been content to rest on their laurels; churning out releases every year or two with little support or new content in between. Valve is not amongst these companies, especially when it comes to Team Fortress 2. The game was released five years ago, and still the content flows. The newest in this stream of updates is the Mann Vs. Machine game mode.
This mode teams up 6 players as they fight together to hold back wave after wave of robots, giants, tanks, and more. You must hold your ground in three different maps, with each map containing a few missions. As the machines drop, they leave behind piles of cash. This currency can be used to buy decreased respawn times, canteens that hold invincibility and other nice temporary benefits, and, most importantly, upgrades to your character and his weaponry. This adds another layer to the already deep metagame of choosing which weapons to bring to the battle. With upgrades such as increased power, decreased reload speeds, and increased ammunition, you can radically alter the stats of any weapon. You may increase the strengths of one weapon, or shore up the weaknesses of another. This makes weapons that weren’t viable in other game types viable again, and in some cases even better. Once you get into the later waves, you start to feel like a god among men. You become able to take down hordes in seconds, or laugh off damage that would kill five copies of the regular you. And I’ve got to say, the power trip feels amazing.
Since there are only six slots available to players and nine classes to choose from, team composition and teamwork are a necessity. This is something to be expected and applauded in a game with team right in the name. But player beware: once you pick a class it is a good idea to stick with it all the way through. Upgrades can not be transferred. While this promotes communication and strategic planning, it does limit the player in an annoying way and goes against their teachings of changing classes mid-game to deal with the current situation.
While this game is extremely enjoyable, there are some other problems that may suck out a bit of the fun. The first issue lies in finding a game to play. The new matchmaking system is horrendous. It will have you waiting for over an hour only to be greeted with an error message. Do yourself a favor and just search for a game the old fashioned way. The other gripe I have is with the player scaling: there is none. The game is hard enough to beat with a full cache of players, especially on the harder difficulties. With excellent teamwork you may be able to get by without one player, but any less and it becomes despairingly hard. This strikes me as odd since Valve has developed an artificial intelligence for this very purpose. Dubbed the Director A.I., this program spawns enemies and items based on what condition the players are in. Even a simplified version of this program would suffice, so why not implement it? Other than that there were some game breaking bugs that existed; but Valve was quick to fix these, and I’m sure they’ll fix any others that pop up.
Valve has really outdone itself with this new game mode. The game encourages teamwork; and will hopefully teach it to the more selfish players, thus making other modes more fun to play indirectly. The new content provided in this update is more than most developers provide in paid content, and it’s absolutely free! If you’d like you can still pay 99 cents per mission to Mann up, and earn some sweet loot along the way. It’s updates like these that breathe life into a game that is about half a decade old. While the initial concept of a horde mode is quite old, Mann vs Machine is the best iteration of it since Gears of War 3. The hype was strong with this one, and Valve certainly delivered. This game mode provides a great reason to bring in returning veterans and new players alike. Oh, and did I mention it was free? So join in and fight back the mechanical menace!