Beach has its origins in two very popular areas of first-person shooter gaming: the original Omaha Beach map in Day of Defeat, and Team Fortress 2‘s progressive-attack maps like Gravel Pit where one team is on “attack and take control” and the other team is on “defend until time runs out.” And this is an understandable combination of two great flavours.
After all, the Omaha Beach map (“Charlie”) in Day of Defeat might not have been the most balanced or playable map for that game – that honor likely goes to the Caen map, still a masterpiece of team-FPS design – but it was a rush. That initial run into the onslaught of German snipers (and the map encouraged tons of snipers) simulated the actual Omaha Beach experience as well as a video game could at that time. You can draw a line from that map right through Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault and to the classic Call of Duty Stalingrad rush sequence.
So, with Team Fortress 2 the new gold standard for team first-person shooter play (yeah, screw you, Quake Wars), it seems only natural that somebody would recreate the Omaha Beach experience for TF2. And at first glance, the designers have done it expertly – the map offers great play for Pyro players especially (which, given the deadliness of flamethrowers in narrow trenches, is terribly appropriate), and defending Snipers will have a blast to say the least. (At one point, I heard a defending player wonder why their team had anything other than Engineers, Pyros and Snipers on it. I can’t disagree.) The third-stage tunnels are twisty and intricate and a lot of fun. Yes, at first glance, this is a great map.
The problem is the second glance, when you start to realize the myriad problems with the map. Firstly, this is the first TF2 custom map I’ve ever seen that allowed spawn camping (IE, being able to snipe players exactly as they respawn on the map). Spawn camping sucks. It is the opposite of fun – you die, you wait to respawn, and then before you even get to play you die again. In a highly participatory game like TF2, it’s simply the death knell of good play.
Worse is the fact that the defenders have infinite and extremely easy access to resupply: most of the healing powerups and ammo powerups are concentrated on the defender’s side of the board, making the first and especially the second control points almost impossible to capture. Worse, their resupply rooms – where the attackers can’t enter – have rapid access to the frontlines. I lost count of the number of times while, attacking the second control point, I dropped an opponent to about ten percent health and he’d just run into the resupply room, instantly regenerate to full health, and come back out for the kill (since I was down health after our fight).
And what’s really problematic is that Beach’s designers have been spotted playing on the map, and when asked about the imbalances, they say that this was on purpose, since “D-Day was hard.” Really, they said that. Completely missing the point that:
A) TF2 is meant to be a lighthearted, fun game rather than a military simulation,
B) in every other Omaha Beach map for any other game, the design has more or less equalled out both sides,
and C) the Allies won, not the Axis, remember?
As it stands, Beach is just about unplayable – once the novelty of the setting wears off, the tedious gameplay will drive you away. The sad thing is that this is easily fixed with some simple redesigns – orient the landing boats (the spawn points for the attackers) so that players can at least make a run up the beach before being killed, and remove the rapid-access healing for the defenders, and you’d have the makings of a very playable map. But right now, it’s very, very bad.