As online, team-oriented first-person shooters become commonplace, and even single-player games are expected to offer at least some sort of online multiplayer mode, it may be easy to forget that the original Tribes was one of the very first action games to concentrate on online competition and multiplayer teamwork. This third game in the series aims to remind players, however, with it's updated presentation of the core, team-oriented gameplay that earned so many devoted fans of the first two releases. Tribes: Vengeance also reintroduces the futuristic Starsiege setting and story elements of the Tribes universe, through a new, single-player campaign.
Unprecedented in the series, the single-player campaign acquaints players with the intimate tribulations and far-flung turmoil of the Tribes universe, as they take the roles of three different characters in a story that spans two generations. The adventure explores themes of family and, of course, vengeance, in a way not possible through the online-only competitions of earlier versions. Tribes: Vengeance was developed by Irrational Games, a studio known for blending elements of first-person action and RPG-style story in previous releases, such as System Shock and its sequel.
In addition to their exclusively online nature, earlier Tribes games were distinguished by another feature: jet packs. As in Starsiege: Tribes and Tribes 2, Vengeance players will zip across sprawling outdoor mission maps using giant, jet-pack-aided leaps, and they'll learn to "ski" down steep mountainsides with speed and efficiency. Also as in earlier games, different armor selections offer different combinations of protection and agility, and not all weapons can be used by all types. For the first time in the Dynamix-created series, this version of Tribes runs on an enhanced version of the Unreal game engine.
Tribes has been reborn from the ashes. Not long after the release of Tribes 2 back in 2001, series creator Dynamix was shut down, and the future of the series was in doubt. Tribes has been resurrected at the hands of Irrational Games, who've deftly recaptured the basic feel of the first two Tribes games while streamlining the series' classic gameplay. Tribes: Vengeance may lack some of the complexity and depth that helped make Starsiege Tribes and Tribes 2 so good, but make no mistake, it's still an engaging team shooter. Tribes is also a solo shooter for the first time: Vengeance includes a full single-player campaign, and a very good one at that. Irrational has also taken Tribes to a whole new level visually and introduced new game modes, weapons, vehicles, and maps. Tribes: Vengeance isn't all that it could have been, but more often than not it's still an exciting game.
One thing that immediately sets Tribes: Vengeance apart from its predecessors is the inclusion of a full single-player campaign. It's filled with the characters, plot twists, cutscenes, and scripted events that you'd expect from any good single-player shooter, and it serves double-duty as an extended tutorial. The irony is that such help isn't as vital now as it was in the previous, more complex games.
The story follows the intertwined fates of a royal family and the proud outcast tribesmen who give the series its name. It's a tale of love and vengeance, closed minds and opened eyes. It may seem a bit clichéd and juvenile at times, but it stays interesting by letting you play as various main characters -- even a villain -- at different points in the timeline. It's also nice to see the Tribes universe used to good effect instead of being employed solely as empty window dressing, as in the first two games.
The single-player campaign offers tons of exciting action in varied settings. You'll fight indoors and out, man turrets, pilot vehicles, defend a base, confront a jumping puzzle or two, crawl through vents (well, we didn't need that), and more. Unfortunately, the missions are hurt by horribly long load times and some bugs and balance issues. The missions can seem a bit old-fashioned, too, but in the positive sense of relying on proven ideas and finely polishing them instead of trying to be novel for the sake of it.
Of course, Tribes has always been famed for its innovative multiplayer action. Tribes: Vengeance is a bit disappointing in that department since it lacks some of the complexity, epic scope, and pioneering spirit of the earlier games. Nevertheless, Vengeance's multiplayer is diverse and filled with pulse-pounding action, allowing 32 players to duke it out at once. (It's disappointing there are no bots, though.) You get Arena mode, which offers basic team deathmatch combat. It's nothing special but offers an opportunity to practice your dueling skills. Ball mode is the now-obligatory sports contest, where you try to grab a ball and toss it into the enemy's goal. Imagine a game of armed, airborne football with a bit of territorial domination thrown in for good measure. In Fuel mode, each team tries to grab fuel canisters to fill their depot with them while fighting off opponents. Rabbit is like a deadly game of keep-away, with flag carriers running for their lives. Capture the Flag is a simplified take on the time-honored Tribes classic with a more frantic, deathmatch-like feel. It still offers interesting tactical possibilities, with generators to defend, turrets to deploy, and more. Tribes: Vengeance also ships with an editor, and major mods are already in the works.
The basics of tribal combat hold true across most of the game's modes. You outfit your character with weapons and armor by walking up to inventory stations and selecting your gear piece by piece or with presets you can define. Essentially, you get to create your own character classes on the fly. Three available armor types balance protection against mobility, and each type determines the weapons you can carry. Only a character in light armor can carry a sniper rifle, for example. All armor classes can carry only three weapons now, though the amount of ammo varies by class, with "heavies" able to lug the most.
Every armor type gets a jetpack, and you can't overstate the fun factor of this one piece of equipment. It requires and rewards a set of skills you don't use in most shooters, and simply zipping around high above the battlefield is a blast in and of itself. Irrational has really nailed the classic feel of Tribes' jetpack-powered flight.
Tribes: Vengeance offers a variety of familiar weapons. The mortar, for example, lobs massive explosives into enemies' laps, while the Spinfusor (the trademark Tribes weapon) launches glowing, explosive discs. Sadly, some interesting and entertaining weapons from earlier Tribes games, like the Electron Flux Projector, haven't returned. The missile launcher has been replaced by a boring and not particularly effective rocket launcher. Also, there's now just one basic grenade, instead of four.
New gear helps make up for these losses. You get to wield a powered buckler that acts as a shield and the equivalent of a guided, electrified Frisbee when thrown. Then there's the brutal Burner, which launches balls of plasma that slowly burn in an area, igniting any poor sap who stumbles into them. Sadly, lag can make it hard to use effectively online. Most interesting of all is the grappling hook that lets you hang suspended indoors over your flag or swing around towers like a jet-powered gymnast. Players should have a lot of fun inventing new tactics with this device.
Along with armor and weapons, you can carry one of four packs. The energy pack boosts your energy capacity, letting you jetpack longer before recharging. It also offers a quick speed boost. The shield pack reduces the damage you receive. The repair pack lets you heal yourself, other warriors, and vital team assets. The speed pack lets you run faster and reload quicker.
Tribes veterans may be wondering what happened to items like the cloaking and sensor jammer packs. Sadly, they and the elaborate sensor networks of the earlier games are gone. Now, each base just gets one big sensor powered by a base generator. This sensor lets you spot enemies on your command map, which has also been simplified. Now it just shows major base structures, vehicles, soldiers, and the flag. Gone are the abilities to issue commands to specific allies, set waypoints, or use remote cameras. You can't remotely operate main base turrets anymore, either; they can only be operated directly. You can no longer switch out default base turret barrels to suit current needs. Fortunately, you can still deploy small remote turrets and mines to bolster base defenses, as well as automated repair units to keep equipment in good health. There's quite an art to placing these effectively.
Perhaps more than anything, the maps in Tribes: Vengeance highlight the way the old Tribes formula has been streamlined. They're diverse and colorful, letting you fight through a ruined city, a cave complex, an archipelago, a coliseum, and more. They're well balanced and fun to play, with one major proviso: they (and the team bases) are often much smaller than what Tribes fans are used to. Now it's often easy to hop right over to the enemy base in no time, even when wearing slow heavy armor. Players are in each other's face almost every moment, with precious little down time. It seems like bases are coming under major attack and flags are being stolen every other second. While this makes Vengeance feel like more of a "twitch" game, quick thinking and solid teamwork are still important for survival, let alone winning.
The smaller maps perhaps explain why there's no longer an air transport vehicle. Now there are just two air vehicles, a fighter pod and assault ship, and two ground vehicles, a rover and jump tank. The rover is fast two-man buggy that doubles as a remote inventory station/spawn point. Its physics need a lot of work: it bounces around like a plastic toy. The two-man, two-turret tank has the comical ability to jump. It seems more silly than imposing. The assault ship can carry up to three warriors: a pilot who drops the bombs, and two side-turret gunners. The only star in this cast of otherwise unimpressive vehicles is the one-man fighter pod, a superbly maneuverable open-framework aircraft that can hover and power-dive. It's a kick to fly. With the possible exception of the pod, the new vehicles often seem superfluous on the small maps. You can get around just as fast without them, and they just get in the way or contribute to wild spamming at least as often as they bolster gameplay.
Vengeance's visuals suffer from some oddities and weaknesses. Third-person running animations range from stilted to downright bad, and there are no first-person views when you're piloting vehicles. The weapon animations are fun to watch, but some make little sense. The sniper rifle, for example, ejects spent cartridges right back in the shooter's face instead of to the side like a real firearm. Overall, though, the visuals are a delight, with meticulously detailed armor, vehicles, and bases. Each tribe, for example, has a unique armor style, from sleek and spiky to bulky and intricate. It's also neat to see damaged vehicles progressively blacken and lose panels as they sustain damage. The fancy graphics come at the cost of potential slowdowns, but they're fully configurable, so you should be able to find a balance between speed and flash.
The audio has its share of problems, like drop-outs or speed-ups that cause characters sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. That can make it hard to follow the single-player story. Many voiceovers sound cartoony either way. The sound effects are impressive, though, with all kinds of detailed whirs, clicks, rumbles, and whooshes--and of course big booming thuds when things explode.
In the past, the Tribes series succeeded because of the way it merged thrilling action, huge scope, and a level of tactical depth rare in shooters. It made no bones about being geared towards hardcore gamers. Tribes: Vengeance takes a populist approach, simplifying the gameplay without dumbing it down. Vengeance is easy to pick up and play, but some long-time fans will lament the reduced tactical depth and smaller scale of the new game. Then again, the exciting online modes and engaging single-player campaign of Tribes: Vengeance make it hard to get too misty-eyed for the Tribes of the past. Above all, Irrational deserves kudos for recapturing the core "Tribes feel" that fans know and love: the high-flying, jetpack-powered combat is still as much a blast as it ever was.
People who downloaded Tribes: Vengeance have also downloaded:
Tribes 2, Turok: Evolution, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Starsiege: Tribes, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Unreal 2: The Awakening, True Crime: New York City, Unreal Tournament 2004
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