This canít be right, Iím sat in front of my computer re-living my first foray into full blown PC multiplayer gaming, re-living some of the most memorable deathmatch and capture the flag
thrills for myself in the past decade, for free. There has to be a catch? After a week with that thought lingering at the back of my mind I have to say the Legion of Doom (of WWF/E fame) have the best way to describe strapping my jet pack on again. What a rush!
Tribes Ascend is a free to play multiplayer FPS for PC, from the franchise of late nineties / early naughties fame. Tribes Ascend effortlessly captures the true heart and soul of the Tribes experience, recreating the tight vertical based gameplay and class based approach which brought in so much variety with its original PC outings. As with most multiplayer only experiences it is centred around two warring factions looking to wipe each other out in the usual video game approach, be that smearing your foes giblets across the map in deathmatch, cheekily nabbing your opponentís war banner in capture the flag, or encouraged camping in the territory capture mode. Iím sure at this point those of you who are unfamiliar with Tribes are thinking to yourselves ĎSo what, Iíve played a bakerís dozen of these multiplayer only experiences in the past year, why is this so special?í Read on my good friends, read on.
Tribes Ascend is a rather modest game, no war drum has beaten in the run up to its release, no huge amount of hype has followed its development. What HI REZ Studios have done however is create a true homage to one of the PC communityís long lost gaming treasures.
The game is a major obstacle to the uninitiated for the first ten minutes, finding yourself dropped into a warzone with so much scope for mayhem it can be intimidating - stick with Tribes Ascend and it can be one of the most rewarding multiplayer games you will ever come across. As mentioned earlier Tribes Ascend and the Tribes franchise does not limit itself to running around shooting people in the usual deathmatch scenario. You are instead plonked into rather ornate looking jumpsuit of the Blood Eagle or Diamond Sword clans (or should I say tribes) to wreak aerial havoc on the opposing side with your jetpack and zero friction ski boots. The game is ever so expertly crafted around the jet pack play concept, with more depth than you can shake a stick at. The movement mechanics are the biggest joy of tribes and will give you the largest smiles, simple things like the first time you figure out the skiing mechanic and its huge impact on how you will move around the game map forever from that point. To the time you use all of the contour of the terrain, your jetpack and ski boots to launch yourself from what seems to be the 3 miles away on Tribes Ascendís huge playgrounds to take out a handful of enemies mid flight and nab their flag all in one jet boosted flying arc of glory.
Thatís not all, Tribes Ascend is a team based game after all and you have oodles of opportunity to use the strategic part of your brain. With three main character classes, of the (if you havenít already guessed it) light, medium and heavy variety you can pick and choose your character class dependent on your mood or perhaps the map. On top of that you do have the mandatory gameplay mechanic of the past five years and that is XP points which are used to add extra soldier load outs or added power upís and implements to your already quite hefty swiss army knife of strategic opportunity. The XP is earned through playing matches in the usual way fragging opponents or capturing the flag or strategic point being the mainstay of the more offensive minded among you. You can take a more defensive approach to your Tribes experience with heavies and techies protecting the base from attack or defend the ever useful assets which come with every tribeís abode. You will have a number of turrets and radar dishes spotted around your base to help you in your struggle to stop your foes but these are all vulnerable and all it takes it one sneaky bugger to take out your generator and everything goes down, with all the techies rushing to the centre of your base to repair the damage and give said sneaky bugger a damn good thrashing.
The game offers you a lot of depth from the start with the vast array of upgrades giving you something to strive for while getting yourself in the zone to become the flying angel of death is a very rewarding experience, the man to man aerial dog fights themselves giving you an adrenalin rush and heart attack at the same time. Dancing around the map trying to predict an opponentís flight path to expertly place a grenade or spinfuser disc (explosive frisbee based weapon) under his size twelves as he is about to touch terra firma is a jump out of your seat and high five your imaginary best friend moment. (A little undignified if you are not alone but a whole lot of fun.) These battles can last for minutes if you find someone who is equally matched and perhaps holds a grudge.
The maps become your best friend in Tribes Ascend you have to study every nook and cranny in the terrain, every dip and crevice in the hill sides; having this information in your noggin can mean the difference between life and death when utilising the tools at your disposal. Skiing needs another mention as it is pure genius when coupled with the Tribes gameplay, the idea behind the skiing mechanic is to use the lay of the land to give yourself a turbo boost of sorts by skiing down one side of a valley, using your moment to travel up the top of the other side and engage your jetpack right at the crest of the next hill giving you a huge boost in speed and distance as you take off. It is apparent when someone you are playing against is a skiing expert as they can be a speck on the horizon as you look down your scope, but within seconds you are looking up at them while they spray you and your team mates with bullets and grenades, leaving you as a red puddle on the ground. Get skiing wrong however and couple that with a misjudged hill side or catch a blip in the terrain as you land and you can become very unhappy bunny, stuck in no manís land without a hole to dive into. Vehicles are also available and are a welcome change of pace or high velocity weapon when the time calls for it.
HI REZ Studios arenít all millionaires and havenít just released Tribes Ascend as a hobby, there are some things you can spend real money on through micro transactions. Gold can be bought and is essential a more concentrated form of XP, you can also buy an XP power up which for a small fee increases your XP earnings quite dramatically over a set amount of time. This is a nice addition if the power-up you want is too far out of your reach. Some may raise concerns of an unfair advantage for those who wave their wallets around but I donít believe buying everything will make you an ultimate Tribes Ascend slaughtering machine, the game is very balanced with all the upgrades taken into account. I came across some expensive weaponry held by my opponents and I would say they handed my bum to me on plate at times but it was never frustrating or unfair. Also if you commit your time you can earn all those shiny weapons and upgrades without putting a dent in your wallet.
So where is that catch, does it look terrible? Certainly not HI REZ Studios have quite rightly used the ubiquitous and lovely Unreal Engine 3 which sparkles with Tribes Ascend. Does it run like a three legged dog? Sorry to disappoint, servers were very stable and no lag or slow down was observed when I played it after launch. It also ran like silk on my rig (Intel quad core Q6600, 4 Gig of ram and Nvidia 560 GFX card) as you would come to expect from Epicís baby and with some bells and whistles turned off it would run on a less powerful rig easily. Does it sound like an eighties synth pop album? It is lovely to hear tribes with the sound effects really being quite easy on the ear, the spinfuser gun being mine and probably everyone elseís favourite. So you get the picture, it is very hard to pick fault with Tribes Ascend. One minor gripe would be that it currently does not have voice chat, if you are a big clan gamer you may be outraged by this but it isnít the end of the world as you can find your place in your team quite easily without the need to confirm it with everyone verbally.
The big video game developers could learn a thing or two from HI REZ Studios, this is how to do multiplayer only gaming right. I salute HI REZ Studios as they have managed to capture everything that was great about the original Tribes games and distil it into this very concise package, giving you the best multiplayer experience with its heart racing chases for the flag or the elation you experience when the result of mid air duelling lands in your favour. Tribes Ascend gives you a unique multiplayer experience which is unavailable anywhere other than the Tribes universe. The joy it offers through its unique assets and gameplay mechanics cannot be compared and should be experienced by everyone (especially now that it is free). I have fallen in love with tribes again, and I believe everyone else who plays Tribes Ascend will too.