A sequel to the classic Half-Life mod Team Fortress Classic, itself based on Team Fortress (a popular mod for Quake), Team Fortress 2 has the kind of story a multiplayer-only shooter should have: interesting settings, awesome character classes that each have a distinct personality and can be easily recognized just by their silhouette, and an Excuse Plot that stays All There in the Manual. Said plot, in all of its glory, is "The other side is the enemy, and vice versa. You've been hired to mop the floor with their asses." For the average player, it really doesn't get any more complicated than that. Crack that manual open, though, and it's a different story...
Team Fortress 2 is about a group of nine average, everyday, working-class mercenaries. Some of them work for the demolition company Reliable Excavation & Demolition (RED), founded by Redmond Mann; some work for the Builders League United (BLU), a construction company founded by Redmond's twin brother, Blutarch. Both Mega-Corps are, in actuality, fronts for two opposing intelligence organizations, which each control one-half of the world's governments. Both organizations are given combat intel by the same Administrator, who supplies them with weapons provided by Mann Co. (a company which the twins' father left to the Australian Hale family), which is a subsidiary of The Administrator's own company, TF Industries. The Administrator is heavily implied to be masterminding the entire conflict, all in a Thanatos Gambit by the brothers' deceased father as punishment for their imbecility. Other developments include Australium, a strange element mined in Australia that turns those exposed to it into manly, ridiculously strong geniuses, and Gray Mann, the long-lost third brother who's actually not a moron.
It was released by Valve on October 10, 2007 as the multiplayer component of the Orange Box, which also includes Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal. It is now also available as a free-to-play (since June 23, 2011) download on Steam for Windows, OS X, and Linux. However, because it was first announced in 1998, it was regarded as Vapor Ware for the longest time.
Since multiplayer games have a tendency to devolve into slapstick and comedy regardless of their setting, the Team Fortress 2 developers decided to cut the middleman and make their game a living, breathing, playable comedy. The maps would fit right in a typical James Bond work, the music has a '60s spy movie feel to it, and the characters look like they stepped out of a very violent Pixar movie. Both RED and BLU teams use the same models, with only Palette Swapping to show team affiliation. The characters were intentionally designed to be distinctive as possible, even giving each class its own distinctive accent, making it easy to identify another player's class, weapon, and team affiliation in short order. Maps are likewise designed for easy navigation, with BLU incorporating concrete and steel, RED using wood, brick, and sheet metal, and each team's section being textured primarily in their respective colors.
When a character is killed, they respawn at a certain location on the map after a few seconds' delay. This happens frequently, as characters tend to get shot, stabbed, burned to a crisp, or blown to kingdom come time after time.
There are ten basic gameplay types so far:
- The Control Point gametype works on the premise of seizing territory to shift the focus of battle. Both teams compete for control points — large immovable metal pads — which must be captured by standing on them while no enemies are around. The team who forces their enemies into submission and captures all the points wins. In most control point maps, the points need to be captured in a linear fashion, but some allow a more open-ended approach.
- Variants include Territorial Control, where the map is divided into mini-maps with two control points each, and Attack/Defense, where RED owns all the control points from the start, and wins if time runs out before the other side captures all the control points. This isn't always as simple for RED as it sounds, because they can't retake control points that BLU has managed to capture, plus BLU gets time extensions for every point they capture.
- Medieval Mode is an alternative Attack/Defense Control Point map set in a castle in the distant past (the Soldier angered a magician). What makes this mode special is that, like in Terminator, guns (and other weapons too futuristic for the 10th century, except grenades) can't be brought back in time. Thus, all characters can only fight with melee weapons (with the exception of arrows and the like). Unlike Terminator, clothes can be brought back in time because Robin Walker wanted hats to be in the game mode. He wants hats everywhere. Currently, there is only one official map in this mode.
- In TF2's take on Capture the Flag, the flag is a large briefcase containing "enemy intelligence", which trails papers behind it when an opposing player carries it. Unlike many other games, one can score while their own team's intel is not in the base, and touching dropped friendly intel won't immediately send it home. Instead, it must be defended in place until a timer elapses, during which any opponent can pick it up again.
- Mannpower is a variant of Capture the Flag. Its most notable features include powerups and a grappling hook for all classes to use. The rules are slightly altered. Like many other games with Capture the Flag, the intel must be in one team's base before the other can capture, and touching a dropped friendly intel sends it back to the base. Random critical hits on non-melee weapons are disabled, melee weapons are 30% stronger and respawn times are much shorter (2 seconds). Capture limits are significantly higher, requiring seven captures to win compared to three for normal Capture the Flag.
- In Payload, a mine cart with a bomb on it sits on a track. Attacking players (again, virtually always BLU) crowd around the cart to push it along the track towards the enemy's base. The more players present, the faster they can push.note The cart must pass through several segments of the map for the attackers to reach the end point. If the attacking players fail to push the cart for 30 seconds, it will slowly move backwards or roll back down hills until it is pushed again or reaches the last checkpoint passed. The defenders win if they can manage to hold back the cart for a certain length of time, though unfortunately for them, the attacking team gets a time extension for every checkpoint reached, and the cart contains a level one dispenser. However, the defenders can halt the cart's progress by entering its push radius, even if attacking players are attempting to push it (though doing so is dangerous for obvious reasons).
- Payload Race is a variation of Payload, introduced in the Sniper/Spy update, that is Payload times two: Both teams have a bomb, and the first team to get their bomb to the other team's base wins. Things get crazy when you factor in the little fact that each team can interfere with the other's progress. This has a tendency to stall if the two carts end up adjacent, as the lines tend to criss-cross and meet at bottlenecks and tunnels. Furthermore, unlike in standard Payload, there are no checkpoints and carts only roll backwards if unattended on a hill or ramp, which sends them to the bottom.
- Arena puts the two teams in a much smaller map, with little-to-no health packs or water, and no respawns. Last team standing wins. After one minute, a single control point in the center of the map activates, and the round ends when it's capped if the other team hasn't been killed yet. Fast, frantic fun.
- King of the Hill is arguably a variant of Arena, using similar small maps built around a central control point, where the teams work their way up to the middle of a map to a point that is initially locked. After a short amount of time, it becomes available and the team that captures it has to defend the point for 3 minutes. If the enemy team recaptures the point, the other's timer freezes; it counts down again if once again recaptured from that time. Unlike Arena, players can respawn.
- Special Delivery is a mode that could be considered a combination of Capture the Flag and Payload. The objective of this game is to transport a suitcase full of volatile Australium to the space shuttle of Poopy Joe, the all-American monkeynaut. Naturally, the enemy team wants to deliver the Australium as well in order to "make history", and you have to ride an incredibly slow elevator to reach Joe's rocket. Good luck. There is currently only two official maps with this mode: Doomsday and its Halloween reskin, Carnival of Carnagenote .
- Mann vs. Machine is a 6-player co-op defense mode. Here, RED and BLU must team up and take down massive waves of robots (which drop money when defeated) in order to keep the robots from blowing up Mann Co.note The robot horde is armed with basic stock weaponry, but there are special robots with unique capabilities (mostly due to their loadout) and a giant robot every now and then. There are six* official Mann vs. Machine maps, each of which have a variety of missions.
- Player Destruction is a mode introduced in the Invasion update. In this mode, every time a player dies, they drop a map-specific pickup item* that can be picked up by any other player. If a player is killed while holding one or more pickups, they drop those in addition to the one standard pickup. The player on each team with the most pickups (the first to reach that number if tied) becomes "team leader" and acts as a dispenser, but has a number above their head (indicating the number of items they're carrying) that anyone can see, even through walls, making them a target for the enemy team. Every so often, a control point opens up, and the players have to deliver their pickups to the control point while blocking the other team from doing the same. The first team to a predetermined number of pickups delivered (depending on the number of people playing at the start of the round) wins.
- Robot Destruction is a unique mode currently still in beta, and is limited to one official map. Each team starts with three tiers of defenseless robots in their base, which must be destroyed for their collectable Power Cores until one team acquires enough. However, players also have the power to steal the enemy's points by holding the reactor core spawn area; holding the area for longer means more points will be stolen. This mode, along with its first map Asteroid, debuted as part of the Mann Co. Beta Maps program, an in-game beta test function.
- PASS Time is a unique mode. It is a blood sport compared to hockey, basketball, and soccer. Conflict takes place over a "jack," a ball-like spike-studded contraption. Carrying the jack replaces the holder's weapons and marks them for death (causing them to take more damage), but gives him several helpful boosts, such as health regeneration, brief invulnerability and speed boost, and the ability to see all players on the map. Jump and boost pads are included to help players reach the other team's goal.
- Versus Saxton Hale is an ascended mod that has been around for many years before the 2023 Summer Update, but was officially implemented in said update. It's a Arena-esque asymmetrical game mode where a team of up to 23 RED mercs face off against Saxton Hale himself (after Gray Mann has taken over Mann Co. and has ordered the mercs to kill him) without the ability to respawn, with each round swapping around players playing as Saxton. Saxton loses if he either dies, doesn't kill the mercs within 4 minutes, or if the mercs successfully capture the control point at the center of the map, while his objective is to either kill all the mercs or capture the control point himself. Saxton's standard melee does 195 damage (enough to kill every class at regular full health in one hit aside from the Soldier or Heavy, though he only does 77 damage to buildings), has multiple abilities that enable him to get around and fight the mercs, and has an insane health pool, while the mercs have some changes to their abilities to give them a fighting chance, and the ability to wall-climb and launch themselves into the air by hitting surfaces with their melee weapon. When there are three mercs left, they all deal mini-crits, and if there's only one merc left they will always deal critical hits. In general, the odds are stacked against the mercs, but winning is still achievable, if difficult.
- Zombie Infection is another community game mode that was introduced in the 2023 Scream Fortress Update and is only officially available during the Scream Fortress Events. The RED survivor mercs face off against BLU zombified mercs that only use melee attacks, unique powers and passive abilities for each individual class. The round begins with the RED mercs setting up defences before a certain number of players become BLU zombified mercs. The RED mercs must survive until time runs out whilst the BLU zombified mercs must eliminate all the RED mercs to win the round. Like in Versus Saxton Hale, when three RED mercs are left, they will all deal mini-crits and if only one RED merc is left, they will always deal critical hits.
All nine characters (In the following order: Heavy, Soldier, Engineer, Demoman, Scout, Sniper, Spy, Medic and Pyro) and one delicious food item (Sandvich, released between the Sniper and Spy videos) have also been introduced in supplementary "Meet the Team" videos.
Valve have regularly added major content updates for free, including achievements, bot support, custom weapons, maps, and balance changes. The Gold Rush (Medic) Update introduced the concept of weapons other than the default, which can now be randomly found after a period of time. They (generally) act as a situational sidegrade to whatever function the default weapon performs. The Sniper vs. Spy Update also introduced cosmetics, which drop the same way but at a much lower rate. They don't do anything but look cool, though players like to show off their wealth. With any new update, players can expect a massive Broken Base.
In addition to major updates, Valve regularly adds unannounced user-contributed cosmetics and weapons to the PC version. Ports didn't fare too well for console players: both Microsoft and Sony at the time viewed new content as DLC, and therefore wanted to charge players real money for updates that are free on the PC version. Nowadays, both console providers only charge the developers for updates and charging the player is optional, meaning the Xbox 360 version was last updated in July 2009. The game was withdrawn from sale on the Xbox 360 marketplace on February 7, 2023. PlayStation 3 trailed even further behind, with the last update in March 2008 and servers shut down on March 28, 2023. Active servers are hard to find on these versions, as there is much less content available than on desktop versions.
For manageability, this page has many separate pages for tropes that fit better under specific headers, all of which can be found at the top of this page.
Outside of those subcategories, Team Fortress 2 provides examples of the following tropes: