When it comes to video game companies, no company has higher expectations set for them than Valve. Everything Valve has put out is phenomenal, but their biggest problem is how infrequently they do that. Valve’s last full-length game was made three years ago, “Half-Life: Alyx,” which became known as one of the greatest VR games of all time.
Today, there are other things that require attention. Valve is focused on perfecting the Steam Deck, “Half-Life 3” is still non-existent, and more recently, “Team Fortress 2,” while still active, was left in a questionable state. The last major update was in 2017 with the Jungle Inferno Update, and the bot issue was irritating.
On July 13, 2023, fans of “Team Fortress 2” and gamers everywhere were shocked upon hearing that the game had received a new update after six years. Thus, Valve hasn’t abandoned it after all. Enter the Summer 2023 Update.
The Summer 2023 Update did several things, but the most notable accomplishment was that it helped “Team Fortress 2” reach its all-time peak of 253,225 players in July. This warrants celebration, but everyone should know that it’s the community that requires thanking more than Valve.
For the past few years, the most recently added maps to “Team Fortress 2” were green-lighted maps from mapmakers and fans. This update is no exception, but these maps are still fun. All the maps are colorful and carry the classic “Team Fortress 2” feel to them. Venice creates a loveable Payload map through Italian streets, Sharkbay surrounds the central control point with shark-infested waters, and Sulfur decorates the battlefield with Japanese flair and lots of cherry blossoms.
The most notable part of the update is “Vs. Saxton Hale,” a popular custom gamemode on community servers that has been officially implemented into “Team Fortress 2.” In the “TF2” comics, Saxton Hale is the overpowered Australian CEO of the company that controls the nine playable classes. He’s ridiculously overkill: He punched the last living yeti into pieces, his desk is a flat-top grill, and his chest hair is shaped like Australia. In the gamemode, one player controls Saxton Hale and has to kill every other player before they kill him. This is difficult due to Hale’s high strength, speed, and health, making it a clash between gladiators and a titan. All of this has been transferred to casual matchmaking, and the developers added a few extra abilities for Hale, such as charging up a punch doubling as fast traversal.
Initially, the launch was disastrous. Vs. Saxton Hale was immediately pulled from casual matchmaking for repairs, taking its included maps with it, and a weird glitch crashed your game if you opened your achievements—the latter of which I figured out the hard way during a match that my team was winning after ten minutes. These are fixed today, but there’s one issue that isn’t.
In the last issue of The Stallion from April 27, I discussed the bot issue in “Team Fortress 2.” To summarize: Bots would join random servers, play as Sniper, and instantly kill anyone in a direct line of sight. Nowadays, bots are fewer, but there are a few cheaters that are squeaking by, even if they can easily be kicked. This shouldn’t even have to happen, though, as the Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system is said to be in effect every time you load up. That being said, that’s one more thing Valve needs to fix.
Another aspect that bothered fans is the inclusion of new voice-lines. Every class has new dialogue for Vs. Saxton Hale, but the jarring part is how it was all done by one person. The lines seem more like impressions—you can tell a difference between the original lines and these new ones by James McGuinn. Hearing him voice nine classes of different nationalities and also Saxton Hale feels odd and doesn’t capture the same charisma as the original voice actors. Every voice actor for “Team Fortress 2” is still active and would’ve been more than willing to work their magic. The only character that could use a stand-in is Soldier, as his voice actor, Rick May, passed away in 2020 due to COVID-19.
However, none of these stopped me from playing it over and over again. “Team Fortress 2” still functions as a fun team-based multiplayer powerhouse that funnily caused the population of its rival, “Overwatch,” to decline. New skins and hats are ready to be unboxed, maps are ready for bullets to fly across them, and Saxton Hale’s fists are itching to be thrown. With “Team Fortress 2” being free to play, what better time is there to jump in than now?