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Team Fortress 2

CVG flies to Valve to play the near-final game

There aren't many games we can say we're still playing after years of prolonged lunchtime face-offs, but Team Fortress has passed the test of time.

Mario Kart gathers a crowd around the telly, there are plenty of Quake III vets on hand, but almost everyone in our messy tower of games mags and battered vending machines can vouch for some sort of TFC fanaticism - even the IT boys play it. Yes, we bloody love Team Fortress.

You can imagine our excitement then when Valve shipped us over to its Bellevue office to play the pretty much finished version of Team Fortress 2 - a game that's been delayed, redesigned and sneaked out the back door in a balaclava. Our fanboy meters we're definitely teetering into the red, and thankfully Valve's never been one to disappoint.

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The good news is that if you've pre-ordered The Orange Box on Steam you can play the sequel from today.

At first, like us, you'll probably glance deeply at the ultra-stylised and striking art style, searching for the shooter you know like the layout of your local Tesco. Eventually, with a few familiar sound effects and a map as familiar as an old friend, it's easy to figure out.

It's honed, refined and plenty of rough edges have been given the chop - but the winning elements are still in court and plenty more have been thrown on the pile. Time to get Steam on the work computers...

Manning the fort
The biggest and most welcome changes (besides the wonderful art still - it's like Pixar porn without the cars, fish and rats) are found within the game's nine character classes. If you're a fan of Team Fortress Classic, you'll know that the Medic and fire-dealing Pyro classes are pretty much useless and others (Scout, Spy) aren't as good as they could be.

Thankfully Valve hasn't overlooked the common and blatant favouritism in the last game's character classes, and taken some measure in making the least used roles a bit less... well, rubbish.

Everyone has their favourite class whether it be the demo man, engineer or soldier, but we were surprised when we had almost no particular allegiance to any of TF2's classes - we were hoping between them like Jodie Marsh at a footballer's wedding.

The Pyro - easily the most useless of TFC's line-up, has gone from a minor annoyance, spurting 2D flames that'll only get him rocketed in the face, to one of the most important members of the team. Flames now deal serious damage (and look fantastic to boot) - two full burns will finish almost anyone off.

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Because of this they've become a great class for running into a giant ruck and causing pandemonium for the opposing team (friendly fire is totally non-existent in TF2). Sticking close to the walls and jumping around corners seems to be the best strategy, and half the time we were racking up more kills than the Heavys on our team (not pansy Heavys either; rock hard Valve tester Heavys). The Pyro is well and truly back in the game.

Besides the Pyro, the Medic has seen the best changes from TFC's template. Replacing the primitive, incessantly beeping medpack is a Ghostbusters-style heal gun, which locks onto a target teammate with a stream of healing plus signs. As long as you're in range and holding the fire button, the healing stream will stay locked-on to your target, leaving you to hide around corners or behind cover.

Simply put, the Medic is now a massive part of the team. A common strategy in our games was to pair a Medic up with a Heavy, allowing the big guy to take on the frontline while the Medic healed from behind. Of course this makes the doc a massive target for spies who'll stream in from the rear with their new cloaking toy, knife drawn. This makes for a frantic see-saw act as the medic keeps the heavy topped up, while he scrambles to spot any imposters coming for his wingman.

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