The original Tribes games were something of a cult hit in the early Noughties, their mixture of frenetically fast paced combat, explosive action and a visual style reminiscent of Halo and Unreal Tournament placing them firmly in the hearts of PC gamers everywhere. Something unusual happened though, around the time the original Halo was released. Before then hardcore shooters were the exclusive realm of computer gaming, with their far superior online capabilities and more accurate control system making them the far preferred gaming system for First Person Shooter aficionados. Halo, unlike Tribes or Unreal Tournament, was released for consoles, most importantly as the flagship title of the Xbox, the first time an FPS was the flagship title of any console release. This firmly brought FPS games to the console gamer, and with the release of Halo 2 in 2004, with its superb online gaming, consoles became the premier way to play FPS games.
This was not good news for the Tribes franchise who, after a Playstation 2 venture that failed to have any real commercial success, eventually faded completely. A generation of gamers were left with fond memories of a game franchise that seemed to have died in 2004. However, Hi-Rez Studios, the studio behind the supremely underrated Global Agenda, surprisingly announced that they would be developing a new Tribes game, Tribes: Ascend, 8 years after the franchise seemingly disappeared. Most importantly they announced it would be completely free to play and PC exclusive. PC gamers everywhere rejoiced, though many critics feared that the game would not live up to its predecessors because it was being developed by a new studio in a free to play capacity.
It was with a great sense of trepidation that I downloaded the relatively small 2GB game from the Tribes: Ascend website and booted up the game. After making my account and going through the surprisingly brief tutorial, I jumped into the online multiplayer, joining a game of Team Deathmatch. What met me when I got into the server was carnage, glorious carnage. Explosions dotted the huge map, a map whose gargantuan size dwarfed the usually cramped environments of shooters like Modern Warfare 3. Players flitted about the map, almost too fast to see. After my initial confusion I leapt into action, and found myself having the most fun I’ve had so far this year with a game.
To understand what makes the Tribes franchise so unique, and what makes it so fondly remembered, you have to first understand the two underlying mechanics that influence gameplay: Skiing and Jetpacks. Players come equipped with a jetpack that allows them to leap across the battlefield at ludicrous speeds, though they do have a limited fuel capacity, often leaving players haplessly falling from the sky. This alone would be an interesting feature, but it is the addition of skiing that truly changes the game. Skiing, as the game mentions in the tutorial ‘removes the element of friction’, which means that as long as you press down the spacebar and are going downhill your character will glide at an ever increasing pace, a speed that will only decrease when going uphill, leaving players to carefully juggle skiing and using their jetpack in order to maintain a optimum speed. What this means in terms of a shooting game is that players chase each other across the landscape, trying to maintain their speed while lead far ahead enough of their enemy to hit them. It also lends a greater importance to explosive weapons, as players will try to predict where and when their opponents will land in order to hit them with a weapon with a large radius of damage.
This makes it a breath of fresh air in the now almost completely stale FPS industry, providing a radically different paced game to Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3, and in many ways a far more entertaining game with an almost entirely different set of skills coming to the fore. No more is the sniper a dominant force on the battlefield, and players will no longer find themselves desperately running between pieces of cover. With a robust class system all playstyles find themselves catered to, from the dive in action player to the tactical stealth player, and it really encourages players to experiment with the way they play. The maps are huge open fields of rolling hills and slopes, providing little cover and making constant movement a necessity, which may be daunting to new players, but it doesn’t take long to become acclimated to it. Players will soon find themselves gleefully speeding across the landscape blasting the opposition apart.
Not everything is perfect with this game. The graphics, while good for a free to play game, aren’t quite as good as the most recent FPS games, though they aren’t massively detrimental to the experience. The main problem gamers will run into is the cash shop, where you exchange money for in-game currency and which is essentially needed to unlock new classes and weapons. You can buy them with experience points earned in game, but this will take an inordinately long time, and to enjoy everything the game has to offer you may have to shell out a few pounds. However, the game offers more than enough for free, and the small price you may eventually pay is well worth it. I haven’t yet spent a penny and I am still more than able to be a competitive player, which is a good sign.
All in all, if you have even a remotely good PC, I urge you to download this game. It is the change the FPS industry, which is essentially now just Modern Warfare, Battlefield and Halo, desperately needs, and it would be a crime if this game isn’t successful considering how well designed, well polished and just simply how amazingly fun it is. And anyway, who doesn’t like a free game?