Team Fortress 2: Badlands Preview

Last week, Shack lackeys Chris Faylor and Aaron Linde made the trek to esteemed developer Valve to check out the upcoming Badlands map for Team Fortress 2. As longtime FPS gamers will recall, Badlands was present in Team Fortress Classic--it is being developed for TF2 in a considerably reworked form.

Badlands, one of two new maps on the way for TF2, will follow some other notable changes to the game within the next two months, though some of those tweaks have not been detailed yet. It has not yet been confirmed whether the maps will hit the console versions of TF2.

To refresh your memory and add some color, we have embedded a few screenshots from the original TFC version of Badlands. We unfortunately do not have assets for the new map, as it has not yet been finalized. And so, let us create evocative pictures for you with our flowing prose.

Aaron Linde:

Take whatever ideas you might have of what Badlands would look like in Team Fortress 2 and toss 'em out the window; though structurally and thematically similar, the transition from straight CTF into control point-based play transforms the map into a whole new animal.

The most striking and immediately obvious difference is the lay of the land surrounding the red and blue bases, and the routes which make them accessible. The high cliffs and canyon routes of the original Badlands have been leveled off, and though rocky terrain still segments the three main areas off from one another, players will notice dramatically greater line-of-sight than in the TFC map. The result is skirmishes on a larger scale, engaged over longer stretches of terrain.

The placement of the control points definitely emphasizes this new element of play in Badlands. No longer restricted to simply hauling a flag back to your base via the tunnels and deeper routes of its original incarnation, the new map is much more fast-paced and grueling than its forebear. The bridge that separated the bases from one another is the locale of the new map's neutral control point, now situated among a series of rail cars.

From there it's a short sprint to the bases, where most of the carnage will likely unfold. One of the more brutal features of the new Badlands is the penultimate control point, situated atop a rocky spire on either side of the map, just in front of the bunker. A steep path encircling the spire will lead you to the top, where exposure on three fronts--one of which is directly facing the bunker's battlements--will be your greatest threat. This capture point was a great deal of trouble for both teams in our game, if only for the fact that there were so many directions from which the opposing team could hurl fiery death at would-be assailants.

The bunkers themselves have been reworked to streamline the architecture and centralize the action on the final control point. Though they still feature a two-tiered upper and lower floor structure for flanking and higher ground fire opportunities, you'll spend less time lurking around silos and tunnels and instead have quicker routes straight into the heart of the base. There are plenty of spots for strategic turret placement, and myriad sniping positions that make Badlands' bases much more apt for last stands.

Though still unfinished and perhaps in need of further balancing, Badlands is definitely an example of an updated classic map done right, carrying onward the best features of the original while eschewing those elements that would be a little mismatched among new standards of gameplay. If you're a little sick of Granary, take heart: Badlands might just be the next fan favorite.

Chris Faylor:

Before we started, Valve employee Robin Walker briefed us on what we were about to see. He was adamant that the map was still a work-in-progress and lacking that traditional Valve polish.

Based on his briefing, I was ready to see a level filled with single-color placeholder textures. Once it actually loaded though, nothing about the Badlands immediately stood out as unfinished or placeholder--at first, anyways.

"Don't tell that to the art team," Walker advised when I noted that it appeared ready for release.

But the more I played, the more I came to understand what Walker was talking about. Most of the hallways and buildings lacked the colored arrows and signs that help you easily identify your location.

In other words, until I learned the lay of the map, I was getting lost. A lot.

Fortunately, Walker was there to help me out, and showed me several of the map's nuances. For example, a small ledge near an open window on the side of each base is the perfect infiltration point for a Scout, provided you can correctly time the double-jump and crouch at the right moment.

Ramps near the two tall spires provide easy access to the spire tops and their control points for double-jumping Scouts, rocket-jumping Soldiers, and sticky bomb-jumping Demomen. The spires then make it super easy to double-jump or blast-jump your way into second floor of the opposing base. Other classes will need to run up the spiral stairway to the top, but will find health packs near the top to help them hold their position.

Walker also helped me navigate the map's various trenches, which provide an alternative to the heavily-trafficked hallways and sections between buildings. It turns out that the center control point is on a bridge, and the trench that runs underneath it is a great place for Demomen to lob sticky bombs from.

Another trick, the designer pointed out, is to avoid linear control point capture. While the two teams duke it out for the center point, it's often useful for a Scout to go on up ahead and capture one of the spires, diverting the defending team's attention. This can be a useful strategy if the opposing team has captured all the other points and is assaulting your base.

I will readily admit that I have not played enough Team Fortress 2, but I was entirely unprepared to face off against the people that made the game, especially in a new map.

I knew it would be bad, but after the first few minutes, when Walker sat down behind me and started coaching me in the subtleties of TF2 in general, I knew I was in trouble.

Still, at one point, I, as a Scout, scored a triple-kill while defending the center control point from a legion of veteran Valve employees. It will forever be one of my most treasured gaming memories.

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