The Team Fortress 2 community has been getting itself all hot and bothered about a new comparison video which appears to confirm Team Fortress 2 PC looks worse now than it did in 2007. A decade has passed and TF2 has been updated innumerable times, yet visually, the game has gone backwards.
An extensive video from CrowbCat breaks down the changes which, while often small, nevertheless clearly indicate that Team Fortress 2 has had a minor visual downgrade in the 120 months since its launch. What’s even weirder is the 2007 footage is taken from the console version, Xbox 360 to be precise, and somehow PC is looking a little worse in 2017. The changes are pretty widespread too, from lower resolution textures to simplified geometry, massively simplified weapon models, worse lighting and downgraded water effects.
There could be all sorts of reasons for these changes. Firstly, Valve could be deadset on getting Team Fortress 2 running on just about any old potato. Running the game at a stable frame rate and respectable resolution is now very much possible with integrated graphics, and any downgrade, no matter how small, will always help on this front. Look at 1:52 and you can see a great example of something being greatly simplified, with the medic’s original revolving gun becoming a static chamber. If Valve did do this though, I’m curious why they wouldn’t just lower the visual quality at the lower graphics settings, rather than taking a hit on the max settings in TF2.
The shift to free-to-play no doubt contributed to graphical downgrade, with Team Fortress 2 now tagged as the game you can run on just about any hardware configuration.
Secondly, this could also be down to visual clarity. These changes may not amount to much on their own, but if these little tweaks allow you to more easily identify a character (one of Valve’s major design focuses in TF2 was that every character is recognisable via silhouette alone), or to not confuse objects in the environment, then it would make sense for Valve to tweak them. It’s a bit of a stretch but the paintwork at 1:25 could be mistaken for a tunnel or a doorway, and fading it eliminates this confusion.
Lastly, there’s the huge number of cosmetic items that have been added to Team Fortress 2 since launch. While seemingly inconsequential, there are now potentially thousands upon thousands of unique hats and animations, all of which could sap vital performance away from the core game. I always knew hats were a bad idea.
So what do you make of Team Fortress 2’s visual downgrade? Is Valve right to go a step backwards in order to accommodate more players, or should be treading the route Blizzard has opted for with WoW, providing small yet consistent visual improvements?