It feels like Team Fortress 2 has been around forever. I can remember first playing it on the Xbox 360 over 4 years ago and I continued to play it on PC until late 2011. Eventually I became exhausted by how radically different an experience it had become, but I acknowledge that the constant updates and additions are ultimately responsible for its longevity. Well, it’s that time again, and unlike many previous updates that only added new weapons or maps, Mann Vs Machine promises something completely new for TF2.
For those of you that don’t know, MvM is a new co-operative mode where you and your team must stop wave after wave of robotic mercenaries from carrying a bomb to a hole at the end of the map. Lose and the wave resets. The match grows steadily more challenging, with later waves consisting of a combination of huge groups of smaller enemies, incredibly durable giant mercenaries and specialist robots like the spy, sniper and the all-new sentry buster. Particularly tough waves also include the Tank, a massive, heavily armoured behemoth that trundles slowly towards the hole with a bomb of its own.
Surprisingly, MvM is a 6 player-only affair. While some gamers will be disappointed that all 9 classes can’t fight the good fight simultaneously, it does add a degree of strategy to the classes that you and your teammates choose. That said, it’s clear that there is an optimal mix of mercenaries that perform the best in MvM, and deviating from that mix tends to end in disaster. First up, the Heavy and Engineer are key in any match. They hold the line against the horde of smaller robots and can mow down the majority of them almost instantly. Since the Heavy is going to be attracting a lot of fire, a Medic is also vital. The Scout is another useful addition to the team as he can hoover up dropped cash and is the perfect class for picking off spys and stragglers. The last two slots are best used to add a Demoman and either a Soldier or Pyro to the team.
You may notice that two classes have not yet been mentioned. Sadly, the Spy and Sniper both suffer from a distinct lack of utility in MvM. They are stealthy single-target killers, with high damage per hit but low damage per second. Resultantly, even in their modified MvM form they cannot do enough damage quickly enough to really pull their weight in a middle of a battle.
Collecting cash dropped by dead robots is extremely important in MvM. Cash funds upgrades, which incrementally improve your weaponry and survivability. Failing to collect enough cash in the early waves often forces a restart of the whole match as your team becomes woefully outclassed. There’s plenty of choice in upgrades, but again I suspect that there is an optimal selection for each class that most players will learn quickly and adhere to for every subsequent match.
The final component of any successful game mode is the map pool. There are three maps available for MvM (MannWorks, Coal Town, and Decoy) and more will undoubtedly be coming soon. They are attractive and well designed, but they don’t really feel that diverse. Most games played on them follow the same basic pattern, with each wave’s initial defence happening near the front of the map where the bad guys spawn. If you are successful, your team may camp at the same spot for the entire wave, but if you are killed by a particularly nasty robot then the interdependence of the classes means that your death will probably result in many more. Respawn times makes it hard to push back out, so you generally fortify your base until enough robots are killed that you can re-establish your forward position. Tanks mix things up a bit as you often need the entire length of the map to take them down, but even this becomes fairly rote after you’ve done it a few times.
MvM has it’s own sub-mode called Mann Up. To play it you need to purchase a special ticket for 99 cents. Once you have completed a match the ticket is lost and you will need to buy another to play again. Mann Up is essentially the same as an MvM public game only it’s a lot, lot harder and completing it will unlock special loot if you win. In this mode, the sniper and spy become slightly more viable as they can deal quite effectively with some of the incredibly punishing giants that appear past the fourth wave. It’s a nice addition if you don’t mind paying for it.
Overall, MvM is an extremely fun addition to Team Fortress 2. I do wonder about MvM’s staying power, though. Even with Mann Up mode’s loot incentives to keep playing for, matches are starting to feel quite repetitive and I suspect that I may soon lose interest. Either way, MvM is an impressive update that has breathed new life into a title I thought I was done with. Unless you venture into Mann Up mode the entire experience is also completely free. Considering that many developers charge a lot more for a lot less, Valve should be applauded.