I almost heard the collective groans and sighs from TF2 fans all over the world when the update notes dropped. Another Beta gamemode?!
Not even a single map has been completed since the Beta started, yet Valve has apparently been busy at work creating yet another thing to be “tested”. What are they thinking? Well, simmer down there. Valve works in mysterious ways – At this point, are you still surprised at Valve making yet another mind-boggling, logic-defying decision?
But let’s move on to the topic at hand. What is PASS Time?
Think American football – with guns. There is a single ball which is dropped at the center of the map. This ball is named the “Jack”, for reasons which I’m sure are very witty. The underlying goal of the game is to score points by launching the ball into the goal at the end of the opponent’s side of the map, and the winner is the first team to reach 3 points scored.
Now the ball carriers will face some challenges while holding onto it, because they will be unable to fire any of their weapons, nor can they activate any of their abilities (e.g. shield charge, healing teammates, Übercharge). They are, in essence, a sitting duck for enemy fire. To compensate somewhat, the ball carrier will receive a few shortlived buffs after having grabbed the ball.
These buffs are:
- Health: Small health regeneration
- Invulnerability: 1 second of invulnerability when the ball is stolen or intercepted from enemies
- Speed: A small speed boost the first time grabbing the ball
- Vision: See the team icons of all players, both teammates and enemies, through walls
So while all these sound great, bum-rushing the goal on your own as the ball carrier rarely works out if the other team is working well together. That’s where Passing comes in.
Passing is done by holding down Attack while in control of the ball, and allows you to pick on teammates to “lock on”. If you successfully lock on to a teammate, releasing the Attack key will launch and home in the ball towards them, allowing them to continue living your dreams while you get mauled and beaten to death by the enemy team who has, by now, completely ganged up on you. The homing is not perfect – If there happens to be any obstacle between you and your teammate, the ball will bounce off the obstacle and turn neutral again. Enemies can also shoot down the ball as it’s travelling in the air with bullets or explosives, also causing it to turn neutral and fall.
And that’s the gist of the gamemode’s mechanics. In the relatively short time I’ve played, I have found it surprisingly fun. Games are often fast-paced, very rewarding of teamwork and hectic.
But perhaps most surprising is how I found it uncannily balanced – in more ways than one. Let’s talk players first.
We’ve all come across players who do nothing but go for kills while ignoring the objective. “DM Lords”, as I like to call them. Interestingly, they actually are an asset to the team in this gamemode. Teams benefit from having players dedicated to taking out, or at least distracting, the enemy team. If a player is especially strong at killing enemies, this can mean a significant advantage as enemies are constantly dying and unable to grab the ball. More importantly, they will have a harder time trying to attack and defend against the opposing team’s ball carrier. Even a derpy Gibus-toting Force-a-Nature Scout can be the difference between a win or loss when opponents are harassed or tossed around by the annoying bugger, regardless of how easy they may be to kill.
How about the famed Engineers who build all the way at the last point immediately as the game starts? Well, they may very well save you the game. Boring as it might seem to be waiting at your goal while the enemy has the ball, the tides in this gamemode can turn very, very fast. That means it can be a mere five seconds after failing an attempt at the opponent’s goal before they are on your front yard aiming for your own goal. An Engineer at the ready with his Sentry at the cap area, while perhaps not the most optimal use of a class slot at other times, can be a real round-saver in this case, more so than in other gamemodes.
Of course, players who are selfish, AFK, griefing or, very often, all of the above, cannot be helped, but I doubt there will be a gamemode that could really solve those players.
Now let’s talk classes.
The Scout perhaps needs no further explanation. Fast, mobile, and powerful 1v1 deathmatching. The go-to class against disorganized teams for his sheer suitability for this gamemode. Countered somewhat easily by Sentries at last, which is usually the only thing keeping these buggers in check.
Soldiers. Very mobile for hot pursuits, but somewhat weak as the ball carrier. Likely works best as the previously mentioned “striker DM Lord”, as well as a Sentry buster. An interesting strategy I’ve found is for a B.A.S.E. Jumper Soldier to hover towards the point, while a teammate passes the ball over. The increased height allows for significantly further goal attempts, as well as potentially buying enough time against Sentries and players on the ground.
Pyros are excellent goalies. Their ability to airblast the ball away from the capture makes them excellent for the role. Their synergy with Engineers works well, allowing them to assist in weeding out harassing Spies and knocking out Sappers at crucial moments.
Stock Demomen interestingly lose a lot of their power in this gamemode. With nary a hotly contested choke to be found and a constantly moving objective, they struggle to deal their usual famed damage output. That isn’t to say they are useless, however, as sticky traps could be used to block captures much like the Pyro’s airblast, and if the enemy team is playing full turtle with tons of Sentries then it’s time for the ol’ Übercharge to wipe them out.
Most interestingly, Demoknights earn an interesting niche owing to how melee hits allows players to straight up steal the ball from opponent’s hands. Being the de facto melee specialist, Demoknights can easily chase up to the weapon-less ball carriers with their charge, and proceed to steal the ball for their team. A somewhat intelligent strategy I’ve found is for Demoknights to throw the ball ahead, and charge straight into it for decreased travel time. Equipped with a Grenade Launcher, their ability to take out Sentries as well could allow them to perform both the role of ball-stealer and ball-carrier.
Heavies are also great goalies. With beefy health as well as his high fire rate Minigun, he could easily stop the ball in mid-air with bullets, or kill an enemy attempting to score the goal in less than a second. Or both.
Engineers are, of course, the “no-brainer” goalies. Death machines that never miss, constant health and ammo from Dispensers, and Teleporters to help teammates get back fast. With a Dispenser right in front of the cap, and the Engineer standing on top of it, scoring a goal can be practically impossible while he’s in the way.
Remember all those goalies I mentioned earlier? The last 3 classes are the best ways to deal with them.
Medics with a Quick Fix are excellent ball-carrier “escorts”. Constant healing, ability to match the ball carrier’s mobility, as well as an Übercharge just powerful enough to break or bypass most defenses, Medics are perhaps not as essential as they are in other game modes, but are still immensely useful. It’s perhaps somewhat refreshing to have a format where the game doesn’t revolve around the Medic and his Übercharge, just once.
Snipers have a key task in taking out the opponent’s defenses. With massive sightlines available at each portion of the map, they are able to take out the aforementioned Pyros, Heavies and Engineers with relative ease if the opposing team allows him access to their rooftop area. Of course, he is at their rooftop area…
Spies are perhaps the hardest to judge based on the as-of-now unformed meta. With their ability to fool the lock-on feature by disguising, disable Sentries and harass Engineers playing defensively, as well as staying at the opponent’s cap area undetected for extended periods of time with the Cloak and Dagger (remember, the lock-on has no range limit!), I am torn between the Spy being a staple “meta” choice or not, but I will err on the side of caution and say that he remains situational like in the main game, but perhaps less so.
As you can see, I do think the classes are interestingly balanced in this gamemode. If nothing else, it’s different, but who’s to say lessons learned from this gamemode can’t be applied to the main game?
To give a verdict on my experience playing this gamemode, I will not hesitate to say it’s fun. It could definitely use some polish – like the rest of the game. I don’t think being able to pass the ball successfully over 500 meters from one team’s goal to the other in a single throw should be a thing, at least not so easily.
Do I see potential in this gamemode? Competitively e-sports style, no. But as a fun, semi-competitive niche like Ultiduo or Bball, I could definitely see it gaining traction with both the casual and competitive communities, along with minor tournaments being held and a sizeable numbers of teams signing up. I do look forward to that.
Valve, please don’t abandon this one too.