“Trade Hattress 2”: The world’s leading war-themed hat simulator

The TF2 team, from left to right: Pyro, engineer, spy, heavy, sniper, scout, soldier, demo man, and medic.

The TF2 team, from left to right: Pyro, engineer, spy, heavy, sniper, scout, soldier, demo man, and medic.

Aaron Gray, Staff Writer

Why does war have to be so serious? Why do video games about them always seem to focus on the gritty, somber fight for survival part of it? The market is full of games where you save the world from impending nuclear war, are forced into desperate situations where atrocious acts must be committed, or watch as a beloved character dies in your arms. I’ve infiltrated enough Russian compounds and stopped enough militaristic coups for a long time. Sometimes you’ve just gotta kick back, relax,  and take take yourself a bit less seriously. Ever want to beat someone to death with a fish? Set off explosions under yourself to stomp on some guy’s head like a suicidal Mario? Or maybe throw a jar of urine at an enemy and chase them down with a frying pan? Sure its silly, even borderline slapstick, but not only can you do it, you can do it while wearing anything from an octopus on your head to a blood-spattered pigeon on your shoulder, and everything in-between.

Sound insane? Congratulations, you’re already halfway there. Welcome to Team Fortress 2.

Another game produced by popular producer Valve Software, Team Fortress 2 was released in 2007 as part of the “orange box” collection eight years after the original debuted in 1999. Met with hundreds of thousands of players in it’s retail stage, a surprise update in 2011 rendered the game free-to-play, subsequently causing a massive explosion of players which has only recently begun to settle at a daily count of over 500,000 logging in.

The story is a convoluted (yet hilarious) mix of mayhem that includes an Australian santa clause being beaten to death, a wizard losing custody of his mansion due to invading raccoons, and a drunken explosives expert’s eye growing ten times its size and going on a murderous rampage, among other things; but suffice to say that, on a base level, you play as one of nine mercenaries working for a rich man fighting against one of nine other mercenaries under employment by said rich man’s brother on either the “Red” (Reliable Excavation Demolition) or “Blu” (Builder’s League United) teams around the 1960’s. The game is a team-based shooter that finds the players accomplishing various objectives on different maps, such as capturing a control point or stealing intelligence (think capture the flag). Though explaining the game in such dry terms hardly does justice to the game’s mix of humor that doesn’t quite cover up its surprisingly deep gameplay. Each class holds a different role in the team that players can switch between at any time:

Scout: a cocky teen that is the fastest moving mercenary of the nine, he is capable of double-jumping and can also capture objectives at twice the speed of other classes with the tradeoff of being the most fragile. Default weapon loadout is a shotgun, pistol, and baseball bat.

Soldier: A crazy American patriot that was denied joining the military. Despite this, he made his way to Germany and fought the Nazis until he heard about the end of the war…in 1949. Default weapon loadout is a rocket launcher, shotgun, and shovel.

Pyro: a pyromaniac (you don’t say?) wearing a full flame-retardant suit, masking his face (if it even is a he). Clinically insane, and under the impression that his extreme acts of violence are actually harmless and playful, as seen in his featured video where he sees flying babies (rival mercs) and proceeds to play (attack) them with rainbows and bubbles (fire) and a lollipop (axe) before putting them to bed (killing them). Default weapon loadout is a home-made flamethrower, a shotgun, and fire axe.

Demoman: A drunken black scotsman that lost his eye at a young age when playing with explosives, along with his parents. Default weapon loadout is a grenade launcher, a bottle of rum, and a sticky-bomb launcher that projects remote-detonated explosives.

Heavy: a large Russian juggernaut whose prodigious girth has as much to do with his name as his weapon of choice: a fully automatic mini gun. Default weapons are said mini gun, shotgun, and his fists (how manly!).

Engineer: a soft-spoken country boy that builds three different machines, each with three upgrade levels to make them more effective: sentry guns, which are static emplacements that fire on enemies in a certain radius; dispensers, that give ammo and health to nearby allies; and teleporters, which do just what you think they would. Default weapons are shotgun, pistol, a PDA for building his machines, a PDA for destroying them, and a wrench.

Medic: A sadistic german doctor that has invented a gun that heals allies, the Medic acts as the main support class in tf2. The previously mentioned “medi-gun” can also “over heal” allies for a temporary boost of max health, and healing in general boosts the “ubercharge” meter that can be activated to grant temporary invincibility for the medic and the current “patient.” Default weapons are a syringe gun, medi-gun, and bone saw.

Sniper: A self-described “polite, efficient, and professional” Australian hunter whose role is just what you think it is. Headshots with his rifle do automatic critical hits on the enemy. Default weapons include his sniper rifle, an SMG, and a kukri (a medium-sized blade).

Spy: a unique support class, the spy is a secretive french assassin that has the ability to render himself invisible for brief periods of time, disguise himself as a member of the enemy team, instantly kill enemies with a well timed knife attack to the back, and “sap” enemy engineer’s buildings with his “sapper” to render them temporarily inoperable and eventually destroy them if an engineer doesn’t destroy the sapper first. Default weapons are a revolver, a disguise kit, a cloaking device, the sapper, and a butterfly knife.

Each of these classes plays a distinct role in team composition, effectiveness, and necessary counters on the opposite team. Pyros can ignite cloaked spies, engineers defend key map points, demo men can lay traps for the team, and soldiers can fire their rocket launchers at their feet to propel themselves to a higher vantage point. The possibilities are mind boggling, and the ability for anyone to switch to any different class ensures a frantic match of attacks and counter attacks that each team must continually adapt to.

One of the largest points of the game, however, was actually unintentional. About a year after the initial release, Valve began to experiment with the game by adding unlockable weapons with different abilities for players that complete a certain number of achievements for each class. When this met with overwhelming approval, they tried something a bit riskier: adding hats.

At first, this sounds silly (and quite honestly it is): these hats are purely cosmetic, and offer no boosts to gameplay for wearing them. Odd, then, that this “Mann-conomy” (a self-titled economy based off of the in-game corporation “Mann-Co”) has been estimated to be worth over 50 million US dollars. Yes, million. With an M. What began with a simple, harmless joke update managed to evolve itself into a completely separate meta-game, with it’s very own comparative price system and items from a simple weapon worth about 11 cents to “unusual” hats with unique particle effects going for up to $500. As a matter of fact, some of the top-tier traders make over $500,000 per year. For a couple of extra pixels on a virtual character’s head, that’s quite the monetary gain, and there are entire servers and communities dedicated to the crafting part of the game alone, leading to joke names for he game from both the community and the developers alike (one of which used in the title).

To go on about the “mann-conomy” would take a completely separate article, but suffice to say that it is quite massive. Though free-to-play gamers don’t have access to the trade option, everything else is open to them; all the weapons, the hats, and much more. Each different weapon can give a new way to play a class, adding even more individuality and depth to the already quite unique game. Some examples include:

“Jarate” (pronounced “jar-rah-tee”): a jar of pee for the sniper that can be thrown at enemies to douse them in urine, making them take more damage from teammates. Can also be used to put out fires on yourself or other friendlies.

Eyelander: a huge broadsword for the demo man that decapitates enemies, with each head gained during a single life giving bonus health and move speed.

Dead Ringer: a replacement for the regular cloak for spy. When active, any damage the spy takes results in an immediate cloak for a small amount of time and a body to be spawned at the damage location, effectively faking your own death.

Sandvitch [sic]: a small sandwich for the heavy that recovers health as you eat at the cost of being unable to move for a short time.

Each of these weapons replaces a certain weapon from the class it goes to, and there’s a deep crafting system to the game that allows smelting of unwanted weapons to combine with other items for something new, such as a hat or other useable knick-knacks.

The tens of thousands of servers that players can join offer a multitude of different options, as well: aside from the many great maps already included in the game, many players have created mods for everything to game modes to maps to player models, creating such things as a mario-kart themed map complete with drive-able karts to game modes like “barrel hunt,” featuring sprawling, barrel-filled maps where the “human” team must avoid the “barrel” team, who are disguised as such and must stealthily make their way to the enemy before exploding in their face. It goes without saying that other popular mods found in other games can be found here, such as the classic “zombie infection” mod, and a recent update has even added a new “horde” game mode popularized by games such as Gears of War, where players must team up to defend objectives from increasingly bigger legions of robots to earn goodies.

As I’ve said, all of this is completely free, and the only thing really limiting new players is the lack of a trade option. There are no “pay to win” options, but there are admittedly some “pay only” features, such as “Mann Up” tickets that make the aforementioned horde mode drop better loot at the expense of much more difficult waves of enemies. These can all be traded, however, using in-game crafting materials, and free players looking for the added bonus can pay $5 for an “upgrade to premium” gift, allowing them full access to all the features of the game (which isn’t that bad of a deal, considering the original game sold for $20).

All said, Team Fortress 2 is a very unique multiplayer experience that offers the depth many players crave while having the fairly easy learning curve and humor that might appeal to others. If you’re getting tired of more serious shooters, or even just looking for a change of pace, Team Fortress 2 is worth a look. Just watch out for the flying urine.