TF2: “Mann vs. Machine” Mode Released

A FEW DAYS AGO, Valve released a free “Mann vs. Machine” update for Team Fortress 2, offering a new riff on the co-op/survival gametype. In MVM, a team of up to 6 players defends against progressively tougher waves of robots, who are trying to carry a bomb to the map’s endpoint. Done in TF2‘s whimsical style, it’s a fun distraction, and allows Valve to experiment with new ways to separate gamers from their money. As we approach TF2‘s fifth anniversary, however, it’s not quite the upgrade the game sorely needs.  

The update includes three new maps created for MVM: “Coaltown,” “Mannworks” and “Decoy.” All are done in the traditional TF2 style, maybe with a little extra Old West flavor. All three are set outdoors, but aren’t that big, nor do they need to be: the bots cluster up and run along clearly outlined paths, so your team usually converges on the bomb and tries to keep the bots from moving it along. 

The bots themselves are modeled after the TF2 classes. There are demomen,  soldiers, scouts, heavies and pyros, even the occasional sniper and spy. There are also special bots, like ginormous demomen and soldiers who dish out extra damage, or armored tanks, which require the focused fire of an entire team to destroy before it reaches the endpoint.  One of the more amusing waves features a swarm of melee-only giant heavies, who exist as a distraction for a lone Scout to swoop in and sprint to the finish with the bomb.

The bots get tougher as you clear waves, so it becomes important to buy upgrades for your character between rounds (using cash dropped by defeated robots). As an example, I’ve been playing a lot of Heavy, and I tend to lean towards increased max ammo, increased rate of fire, and a few personal five-second ubers. The upgrades only last for the duration of the map, which opens the door for lots of experimentation.

Of course, like any new release, there are a few bumps in the road. The biggest headache is finding servers: the game steers you towards the in-game matchmaking system, but that just dumps you in a queue that never seems to work. And when you’re on a server and your team is short a person or two, you’ll go 10-15 minutes without it filling up. So the best option is just to search the browser for servers with “mvm” and less than 6 players and hope it works out.

You could also try playing on Valve’s official “Mann Co” servers, which try to lure you in with the promise of special loot, but with a catch: you’ll need to buy a ticket (currently $1) to play on those servers. When you complete a “tour,” you get a piece of unique loot and the ticket is consumed, so if you’ve just got to have more virtual hats, here’s a new way to get them.

The main problem with MVM is the same thing that’s plagued TF2 forever: it only takes one or two chumps to throw the whole thing off. When you’ve got one guy who won’t leave the upgrade station or just runs around the map aimlessly when he should be killing bots, things eventually go south. What TF2 has needed forever are player ratings and ranked servers, similar to what Blizzard has done with Starcraft. I recently uninstalled TF2 and only reinstalled it to check out this update, and without better matchmaking, MVM won’t be enough to keep me around.