A desert map (level) for the Half-Life modification Team Fortress Classic. The map pits two teams against each other with very different goals: one to evade defensive strongholds and the other to hinder offensive progress through the territory. It is a beautiful example of taking an old standby and freshening it up into something more exciting and daring.

Since its beginnings as a struggling offspring of the original Quake, Team Fortress has always stuck to the capture the flag routine in its maps. A team's goal was to infiltrate the enemy's defenses, snatch it's flag, and dash off in a puff of dust for home to cap it--all while preventing the enemy from doing the same. It proved to be a hit. Team Fortress soon became the second-most popular mod in the Quake universe, after Threewave's Capture the Flag.

With Valve Software's remake of TF--Team Fortress Classic--many of the old concepts stuck in the new rendition. TF classics like 2fort, Well, and Rock made the conversion into Half-Life compatible versions. While some attempts were made in broadening Team Fortress' capabilities beyond CTF-style maps (like with TF remakes Hunted and Canalzone), capture the flag maps remained the rage.

Later, Valve released some key patches to TFC. The first included the map Avanti which had a revolutionary concept: one team purely plays defense while the other plays only on offense with all the various classes available. The map takes place in a town with a church on the top of the hill which was to be invaded and captured. It was a huge hit.

Another patch came later and it included more new maps: including Dustbowl. It takes place in a series of desert canyons divided into three areas. In the front of each canyon, the offense (the Attackers) starts each round, while the defense (the Defenders) starts in the back. The Attackers's goal is to take a single flag through the canyon to the Defenders's starting point. The defense's job is to stop the offense.

In the beginning, the teams are separated by gates. Right when the round starts, the tensions build. The Attackers know they face tough odds in the face of sentries, MIRV grenades, and Heavy Weapon Guys. The Defenders know that any sign of weakness will be exploited and the round could end in mere seconds if they're not careful. So the sentries go up, grenades are collected, positions are set, and sweat begins to trickle. The alarm goes off. The gates open.

Immediately, frags go flying by in the upper-left corner of the screen. Clearly, the Defenders have the advantage. They've staked out the territory and they have the higher ground.

Does this mean the Attackers will cringe and sulk in defeat? Hardly. The Attackers keep pressing: harder and harder. With each few seconds, the Attackers seem to be making ground. A sentry goes down. An HWGuy is clipped. The Grenade Pack is getting closer and closer. All of a sudden, the frag count begins to even out. Now the Defenders have their backs against the wall! The capture point is ever more vulnerable.

No other TFC map has this kind of tension. None of them. The whole Capture the Flag thing was becoming a little too stale anyway. 2fort in TFC consists of maybe two or three people trying to get the flag while the rest are just trying to frag others for the sake of fragging. Dustbowl is definitely not the sniperwars type that most CTF maps are.

As for the technical merits of the map, the architecture is just fine. While the lighting is a bit overdone (it is in a desert), it's never distracting. Plus the chokepoints in the map aren't impossible to break through. The spam pits only add to the challenge. The great thing about Dustbowl is the fact that the two teams don't start evenly. It's a concept that took to long to finalize. Dustbowl gives a good taste of what we can expect in the oft-delayed Team Fortress 2 game. It's a great map that forces teamwork and planning. While it's an easy map to get frustrated at, patience pays off in the end as the point totals soar.