After spending a considerable amount of time in development, Tribes 2 emerges as an entertaining game that doesn't quite live up to its potential, at least not at the time of its release. This disappointment comes from a few technical issues that will be mentioned later in the review. First, let's look at the gameplay and how it has changed from the original.
Those expecting a stronger single-player element with the inclusion of bots will be surprised to learn that there are only five missions specifically designed for solo play, and they are all very short. While players can host their own offline game on multiplayer maps with bots, they will be going back online to get the true tribal experience.
Just like with the original game, the majority of servers run the Capture the Flag (CTF) mode. CTF has more variety than in the past as it features 17 maps. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to play all of them as many servers seem to repeat a select number of maps over and over. Flags are close on a few of the maps, most are an average distance apart, while some are very far apart from each other. A good mix overall, though it would have been nice to see more than one night CTF mission.
Other returning modes of play are Capture & Hold and Deathmatch. Both feature the same straightforward gameplay as before. Replacing Defend & Destroy is Siege, which is similar. The main difference is that instead of defending a base and attacking another at the same time, one team defends while another attacks, and then teams switch places. Defend & Destroy is preferable to Siege, as it is more exciting when you have to deal with both offensive and defensive teamwork at the same time.
New modes of play are Rabbit, Flag Hunters, and Bounty. Rabbit and Flag Hunters are based on mods that were created by fans for the original game. In Rabbit, one player gets a hold of the flag and runs for as long as he or she can while everyone else is in pursuit. When that person dies, another player grabs the flag and becomes the rabbit. Flag Hunters has players attempting to grab flags that are dropped when a player dies. Flags can be turned in for points; the more flags turned in at once, the more points awarded. Both Rabbit and Flag Hunters are fast-paced and intense modes of play for players who need a break from teamwork.
Bounty is most similar to Deathmatch and is another mode where players are not on a team. Each player is assigned one target at a time to eliminate with the ultimate goal of eliminating all of his or her targets first. At the same time you are attacking your target, someone might be attacking you and you won't know who it is. If players eliminate their target or their pursuer, they are awarded points. However, they must avoid killing players who are not their intended target or pursuer. This is an enjoyable mode that is original and keeps players guessing.
The size and variety of the CTF maps lead to the addition and usefulness of vehicles. In the air, players can fly a slow, bulky transport, a scout armed with twin heavy blasters, or a bomber that requires three players (pilot, bombardier, tailgunner) in order to be effective. Bombers are true teamwork vehicles that can be destructive when used properly. Staying put on the ground are a mobile base that isn't as mobile as it should be (has a tendency to blow up when moving over rough terrain), a speedy Grav Cycle that has no weapons but can easily turn any warrior into road kill, and a two-man tank armed with a machine gun and mortar turret.
Though players are still equipped with jetpacks, vehicles are now the quickest way of traveling. In the original game players developed a technique known as "skiing," a fast way of traversing the terrain by constantly jumping when going up and down steep slopes. Tribes 2 allows users to do this by including a ski key (simply hold down the space bar), although the landscape is much more diverse and many areas are more difficult to ski on. Players in heavy armor aren't as mobile either and aren't likely to be capping flags as they did in Tribes.
Other additions to the maps are water and lava. Stepping on lava is instant death, though it does not make many appearances. Water is much more abundant. Tanks and Grav Cycles hover above the water while air vehicles can go underwater. Warriors can also go underwater and do battle. Players will, of course, move slower when underwater, and some of the electrical based weapons won't work so you need to be properly equipped. That leads us to the weapons.
Even Tribes veterans may be overwhelmed at first when choosing their load outs. While only a couple of new weapons exist -- the missile launcher and the shocklance -- the oldies have received makeovers and are now needed in different situations. Laser blasters cut through shields as if they didn't exist and the laser blasts can bounce off of walls as well as the ground. Plasma moves slower and is more concentrated. The chaingun doesn't have the same range and is best at close range, as it should be.
Using the targeting laser is more useful now that mortars have a much longer range. Another weapon with an increased range is the electron flux gun, or elf, making it more useful than ever. Other returning weapons are the spinfusor, laser rifle, and grenade launcher; all of which are basically the same with some slower response times. None of the oldies, especially the laser rifle, are particularly effective against vehicles.
Both new weapons are welcome additions. A missile launcher is definitely needed since the new vehicles are fast and are used often. Players can counteract a missile lock by using the new flare grenades that draw a missile away. The shocklance is the other new weapon and is the complete opposite of the missile launcher. A shocklance is a melee weapon that won't fire unless a player is in its crosshairs. It shoots an electric pulse capable of killing a player who has a full health bar (if hit in the back).
Other items players will be carrying are backpacks and grenades. Selections for both of these are tough as well. Backpacks include energy, repair, cloak, sensor jammer, ammunition, and shield. Cloaking is one of the best packs; it allows users to sneak into bases unannounced if there are no motion sensors or sensor jammers nearby. However, when cloaked players are outside they will kick up dirt under their feet that can give them away.
Grenades come in many varieties too: explosive, whiteout, flare, and concussion. As mentioned earlier, flare grenades are needed for protection against missiles. Whiteout grenades are great as they can blind opponents (and teammates) for a few seconds. Concussion grenades won't harm anyone but they will push people away and can knock weapons out of their hands.
Each new addition to the game has created more teamwork opportunities, more balanced gameplay, more strategy elements, and, well, more of everything else over the first Tribes. Unfortunately, everything has not been pulled off smoothly. Tribes 2 is primarily meant for online play, so patches must be downloaded to continue playing. One month after the game's release, seven patches were available (and still counting). Some of them were only minor updates, but that is still too many for any game so soon after reaching the shelves.
Why so many patches in just under a month's time? The obvious answer is that the game is full of bugs straight out of the box. That is true, as well as the fact that some patches create new bugs and some new additions are being added to please gamers. On the plus side, the developers are working hard to fix everything and they listen to the gaming community.
One of the major additions to Tribes 2 over the original is an online community built into the game. Each copy of the game includes a CD key allowing the game to identify individual users. Users must register and create a unique warrior name for themselves before they can take the game online. When the game is started players login and can then view their personal page, their team's page (if they choose to join a team), forums, news, and e-mail. With this new community and login process came many hurdles.
Due to the overloading of servers and the instability of the game, most of the community was down for the first week and some of the features for much longer while Dynamix made some fixes. This isn't too big of a deal since it isn't gameplay related, but it did make things difficult for people trying to set up their own tribes and is another example of the game not being ready to hit the shelves. One problem that was a big deal for the first couple of days is that sometimes you couldn't even login. Error messages were abundant and it seemed to be pure luck if you were able to get online with the game or not. Some major connection issues during online gameplay were evident as well.
Users who were not fans of the original Tribes, and even some users who are, most likely would have questioned whether they wanted to continue to stick it out and hope for improvements. Improvements would eventually come, but about three weeks were needed before the community would be working properly. That was only the process of getting online and being able to play though. The system requirements and how the game actually runs are another story.
If you just meet the system requirements, or even the recommended requirements, the odds may still be against you as far as seeing the game run at its highest potential. However, playing the game at its highest potential isn't important to those simply trying to get the game to be playable. This game wasn't played at its minimum requirements (64MB RAM and a minimum PII 300MHz processor with the appropriate video card) when reviewed, but due to the number of polygons rendered and the amount of action that takes place onscreen, it would be recommeded to have the suggested 128MB RAM and a processor of 500MHz or better.
Playing the game on a Pentium III at 500MHz, 256MB RAM, and a Radeon 64DDR led to mixed results. The most frustrating thing encountered is frame rates that jump all over the place. Frame rates around 30 are understandable since the maps are enormous and there are a lot of players in a full game (you can play with up to 64). Yet it is the instability of the frame rate that ultimately detracts from the overall fun -- too much action onscreen at once can drop frames below 10 per second. Still, despite the flaws, the game manages to be more entertaining than most online action titles.
Tribes 2 more than stumbled out of the gate. After countless delays another delay might not have been such a bad idea. Most of the pieces are in place but they are rough around the edges -- even after seven patches. If, however, you are able to overcome the technical difficulties, a great game can be found.
Graphics: Every element, from warriors to landscapes, features numerous details. Weapon effects are explosive and explosions are impressive. The only downside here is if you don't have that high-end system you may be looking at a screen not incredibly better than the original game that is two years old.
Also, weather does not have as much of an impact on gameplay as many may have expected. It does snow and rain, there is thunder and lightning, and meteorites can be seen falling from the sky. However, much of the weather has little impact on gameplay, though lightning can strike a player.
Sound: The 3D background effects add quite a bit to the complete experience. Underwater you can hear yourself breathing not unlike Darth Vader. On a map with a dust storm the winds can be heard swirling all around. Walk by a deserted vehicle (not one a player abandons, but one that is part of the background) in the desert and flies might be heard buzzing. The music is a techno mix that fits the tribal combat but most players will probably keep it off so that they can hear the footsteps of approaching enemies and other important sounds.
One area of the sound department that is, for the most part, a failure is the in-game voice communication. It has rarely been seen used and when it is most people come across garbled. Most game teams will more than likely prefer to use a third-party voice communication system.
Enjoyment: Technical issues aside, the game is a blast when playing as a team. It might be difficult to truly enjoy everything when playing with strangers but if you are on a game team the experience is top-notch. Also, it helps if you prefer the Capture the Flag mode since that is what most users place their servers on.
Just as in the original Tribes, the single-player game is almost non-existent. Bots are okay but they stand around too much and don't provide the same satisfaction as doing battle online.
Replay Value: There are plenty of modes of play and maps to explore. However, as previously mentioned, most game servers do run CTF so it may be hard to find a good game of Bounty or Rabbit. Outside of the game there is a number of things to do too, such as reading and posting at the forums, sending e-mail to friends, and joining a chat room.
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