More than three years after its official release, Team Fortress 2 is going back into beta. You'll still be able to play the existing version of the game, but Valve is prone to tweak its baby, so it's launched a new beta program aimed at play-testing potential changes with a much larger audience. Anyone who currently owns TF2 will be able to get in on the beta, which is already available to download from my Steam games library. Plan ahead, though; the thing weighs in at a hefty 4.5GB.
What can you expect from the new Team Fortress 2 beta? At the moment, it looks like Valve is messing with weapon damage, a couple of map tweaks, and how players being healed are affected by certain weapons. Nothing major, then, but Valve has certainly set the stage to experiment with more sweeping changes to its wildly popular online shooter.
In the three years since its release, Team Fortress 2 has received a steady stream of official updates that bring new items, environments, and gameplay tweaks. It's the game that keeps giving, and one that shows no signs of dwindling. I can't help but wonder if Valve's generosity might stem from a twinge of guilt over taking so long to release TF2 in the first place. This follow-up to the Team Fortress mod for the original Quake was announced back in 1998, and development took so long that Valve released a Team Fortress Classic to keep gamers occupied in the interim.
In any case, Valve looks set to support Team Fortress 2 for the long haul. That'll surely please the roughly 16,000 players who are in the game at this very moment. According to the Steam stats, that's more people than are playing Left 4 Dead 2, a much newer release. Then again, not even Team Fortress 2 can hold a candle to the popularity of Counter-Strike. Right now, over 120,000 players are split between the two Counter-Strike variants on Steam. Thanks to Shacknews for the tip.