While Halo 3 might have been the big release of the last couple of weeks—and I've been enjoying just fine, especially in single-player and co-op—the real thunder in my gaming life has been the beta release of Team Fortress 2, available as a pre-order premium for buying the upcoming Orange Box package on digital download service Steam.
What a delight! TF2 manages to be simple where other multi-player shooters err towards complexity, limiting each of its nine character classes to just three weapons—a primary, class-defining main weapon; a secondary weapon of limited, but occasionally critical use; and a melee weapon—imbuing each of the classes with a specific role to be played in the overall game. While that's the typical structure of most online team shooters (a structure the original Team Fortress helped define), the willingness of the designs to limit the roles really makes the game shine when all the classes are thrown into a battle as a cohesive killing unit. Team Fortress 2 is the orchestra to most games' dissonant constabulary of one-man-bands.
Also, it's got style in spades. Remember, this is a multi-player game, with no story whatsoever, yet each of the character classes have distinct personalities and quirks. Valve has even programmed in triggers that cause the characters to interact with each other with no input on your part, so your engineer will bark out a "Thanks, Doc!" in Texan twang after another player, as the Bavarian doctor, gives you a heal.
In short, I paid a maddening $300 to replace a busted video card in order to play the Orange Box suite of games and I'm only just regretful about it. (I probably have paid more to play PC games in hardware costs than I have to play all my other games, hardware and software combined.)
If you'd like an introduction to Team Fortress 2's classes, one of my favorite new gaming blogs, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, has completed a nine-part "ultromegafeature" describing each of the characters, the best way to use them, and how they compare to their previous incarnations in the original Team Fortress.
(If you're on the Steam community—a.k.a. the "Putting Microsoft's Windows Live to Shame" platform—I'm "Joelev", should you want to add me.)
The Complete Go Team! [RockPaperShotgun.com]
Bonus Link: An interview with the two lead developers of TF2, dense with explanation of the thought process that goes into creating such a well-crafted experience. [RockPaperShotgun.com]