It’s rare for me to lose track of time playing a game. I have only one real memory of unintentionally staying up late playing a video game. Over a Decade ago. That night I slept terribly. With visions of the game dominating my dreams and when I awoke the next morning I had terrible eye strain and a splitting headache. Kind of a ‘Gamers Hangover’, only I was 12.
Nowadays, while playing late at night, I normally have the radio on so when the late-late guy comes on I know I should be thinking about packing it in, and at about 1am my internal clock kicks me into ‘go to bed’ mode regardless and can only be shut up by a caffine injection. Add to that the fact most MMO’s (the usual cause of “Shit, where did the time go syndrome”) normally have some kind of clock visible which I remain acutely aware of. So if I stay up it’s of my own volition.
Then, on Friday, I found something new. Something, well, inherently childish. Hide and Seek. With Pyros. And walking trees. And no clock in sight.
Prop Hunt slows the pace of the game immensely, a 3 minute game appears to take forever as you hide yourself, disguised as one of the many props in the level, and hope one of those pyros doesn’t lick you with their flamethrower. Unlike Arena, who’s game mechanics is borrows and tweeks, each round will take close to the full three minutes, unless the hiders are particularly obvious, so you really only get four or five goes of the map before it changes. So you only get a few tries to learn peoples hiding places.
The game mode, while simplistic in its rules, has a surprising depth of strategy, for both the hiders and the seekers.
For the Hiders, finding a good starting position is everything. You are disguised as one of the props in the map (like a chair, or a computer, or a rock). Find a place where you won’t be spotted, or you don’t look too out of place. Sometimes you’re just screwed though, when you’re forced to be a huge prop, like a concrete block, or a tree. The worst thing to be is probably the control point plate, which does have a bonus of being nigh on invisible from below, but is kind of pointless if you’re on a flat map, or one where the highest point is easy to reach, meaning you’ll be spotted as soon as someone goes up there.
For Seekers you have a couple of things to keep an eye on. One is your HP, which goes down every time you fire your weapon. The Pyro is the most diverse class at Prop Hunt. Flamethrowers, flares and various other pyro weapons set enemies alight, alerting your team mates to their position, and using the flamethrower and jumping makes you jetpack up into the air, letting you get a birds eye view and get to hard to reach places. Other than pyro, probably the engineer is quite useful (although only one is needed), since dispensers can heal team mates (although, once per minute you can run onto the capture point to fully regen, a dispenser helps extend that between times). They can’t build sentries or teleporters, but their shotgun can help finish off wounded hiders and the dispenser can block the entrance to the control point (hiders also get the HP regen from it).
The mod opens up some unique memorable moments and emergent gameplay, which is refreshing in a four year old game. There’s one point in the above video where I’m disguised as a pumpkin sitting next to the control point. A Pyro, checking things, shoots me with a shotgun and walks off, only to come back in, stare at me, then wanders off when I don’t move. Other times just watching seekers running right past someone repeatedly is hilarious, and using the voice commands to taunt useless seekers is just plain funny.
It’s not without it’s faults though, and primarilly the fact that the arena maps weren’t really built for this kind of gameplay. There are some maps built for prop hunt that are quite well done, but most of the maps I played on were just arena maps. This led to places where you could completely hide yourself (due to hollow geometry in places where you normally wouldn’t be able to go), and thanks to the super-jumping abilities, places that it looked like you should be able to go but you can’t. There’s also the jerky motion of your character when in third-person (due to the fact the server is updating your props position to your position and there will always be a lag so long as it remains server side) but it’s fine moving to first person. The seemingly random selection of weapons allowed is another bugbear. Soldiers get pretty much their whole arsenal, whereas Demomen are relegated to melee. Snipers can use the huntsman, but not their other rifles. It’s a bit like medieval mode, but with bizzare exceptions. I admit I’ve not got all the weapons (who has) nor tried all the ones I do have, but there doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive list of what you can and can’t wield.
Despite the bugs and problems, I found myself playing this for hours, unaware of exactly how long I’ve been playing. For the first time since Team Fortress Classic, I checked the clock and was suitably shocked at the time. Luckily, this time, I slept soundly, and the next morning I played it some more.