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Mann vs. Machine vs. You

August 24, 2012

A few days ago Valve released the “Mann vs. Machine” (MvM) update for Team Fortress 2 (TF2). When I first saw the video introducing the new mode I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was going to be Left 4 Dead within TF2 and was, as a result, wholly disappointed. Having had the concept explained to me, though, my disappointment turned to skeptisism. A wave-based, Horde mode, sort-of-Tower Defence-esque shooter within TF2 with upgrade trees and loot. Sounds like a whole cluster-fuck of things that are popular but often not very well executed. But who am I to doubt Valve, right?

Finally getting to play it warmed me up to it, at first. You and up to five other people can pick between any of the nine classes from TF2 and use any of the items you’ve gotten from playing TF2. You also get new items from MvM that you can use in both games. So, you pick your classes, you spend your initial capital on upgrades for your class or weapons and then run through the level to where the robots are going to spawn. The waves get progressively harder with anything from 30 Scouts swinging bats at your head to giant, minigun wielding Heavies with nine little Medics healing it trying to kill you. There are both melee and ranged versions of most of the robots and they come in regular and giant size. If someone’s playing an Engineer a “Sentry Buster” can also spawn which runs up to the sentry gun and kills it and anyone standing nearby. Their goal is to get to your headquarters to throw a bomb down a shaft and blow you all to hell. They can do this by either carrying a bomb all the way there or by sending a big tank to drop a bomb off. Killing robots or tanks makes them drop money that you have to pick up to have more funds for more upgrades to kill more robots to get more money to get more upgrades. You get the picture. Collecting all the money that’s dropped during a wave snags you a bonus because “greed is good”.
So, actually playing MvM can be a lot of fun. The keywords are “actually” and “can be”.
Let me clarify: If you somehow manage to get on a server after at least 20 minutes of waiting and don’t end up in a group of massive idiots that don’t pick useless classes and know their gun from their ass, MVM is fun.
It might sounds like I’m some elitist jerk that never gives a new player a chance to learn, but I’ll go through my problems with MvM point-by-point.

Spy Sapping My Servers!

MvM came with a new way of connecting to a server. When playing TF2 you’d go into the server browser, find a server that looked good and joined it. Sometimes you’d have trouble connecting, but for me that’s a rare issue. You can still do this if you want to find a server for playing MvM, but you can also let the game search for a joinable server for you. This is where I seem to spend most of my time. I realise I don’t have to do it this way, but it’s a new feature so I want to use it, right?

Well, if you do, be prepared to wait. Nearly every time I used this instead of just finding a server myself, I had to wait for at least 20 minutes. At one point I had to wait for 40 minutes with four failed attempts to join because “the server is out of date”. Don’t ever trust the time-to-join-count down because it’ll never tell you the truth, either.

Boom, Headshot… Or Not

So you finally make it into a game! You pick the Medic and upgrade your medigun. Your friend maybe picks the Engineer and upgrades his buildings. Oh, and your other teammates choose Sniper, Spy, Heavy, Heavy. I see people going for the Heavy a lot, which is good, but there’s often too many of them making us lose out on mobility and things the Heavy isn’t very good at. The person picking Spy doesn’t necessarily make a bad pick, because they can sap almost everything, stunning them for a few seconds, which is a huge help when you’re getting overwhelmed. But if the Spy isn’t good at anything else than sapping once in a while they’re a huge waste and a Soldier would be better.  The Sniper is always a bad choice, from my experience. Either they’re absolutly horrible and can’t hit anything or they’re better but doesn’t kill enough robots to make a difference. The one upside to the Sniper is that they can use their Jarate to slow enemies down, but that isn’t enough to make them useful. The Sniper should have been a Scout. Even though I find people complaining when you pick Scout, the Scout is actually one of the best classes in capable hands. They have amazing mobility and with a fully upgraded Scattergun they do high amounts of damage. It would make up for the two Heavies. Like I said, I don’t mind people trying things out and learning what fits them and what’s fun, but you also have to think about the team. Sure, you can play as a Sniper and have lots of fun, but usually you just end up making everything harder for your teammates that have to pick up your slack.

Price Stamp

Let me turn to Valve and express my disappointment. With TF2 being free-to-play, making you able to play TF2 and MvM for free forever, there’s a lot of game there for you to enjoy. But MvM feels like it’s empty, somehow. You can choose between Boot Camp and Mann up. Boot Camp is easier and you can choose between nine different maps. Mann up mode is harder, you have to pay $0.99 for a Tour of Duty ticket but it only has six maps. If you complete a map in Mann Up mode for the first time your Tour of Duty ticket will be consumed and you are guaranteed a random item. Though, if you’ve already completed the mission the ticket won’t be consumed. If you want an item from completing a mission you’ve already done you need to buy a Squad Surplus Voucher (for $1.99, twice the price of the ToD ticket). The SSV has an added bonus of giving an extra item to you and your entire team if you finish a map. That’s a possible six items for finishing a map you’ve already completed. My problem is that if you want to be guaranteed to get something out of playing a map you’ve already completed at least two times before (going by my own experience of playing the Boot Camp and and then moving onto Mann Up mode) you have to pay $1.99! I don’t know about you, but those maps aren’t a huge amount of fun to play multiple times. Especially if you get a bad group. It’s just stressful and infuriating having to redo the last wave ten times because your Sniper won’t switch to a more useful class.

Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but MvM just isn’t very fun because of all the waiting. You wait for a long time to get in a game, then you get a bad group and can’t finish the map and you have to start all over again. From my personal experience, that’s how it goes. That is what happens 80% of the time and it doesn’t make for a fun time at all. Maybe I’m being greedy not wanting to pay money for items if I want a proper challange with friends in Mann Up mode, but like the announces lady says; “greed is good”.

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