Posted on April 20, 2012, Ron Whitaker Tribes: Ascend Review
The name Tribes evokes a certain reaction from nearly any gamer. For older gamers like me who cut their teeth on the original, it’s a wistful sigh as I remember all the fun Dynamix delivered. After the debacle that was Tribes: Vengeance, many of us lamented the fact that Tribes seemed to be doomed to obscurity; relegated to that dark closet of used-up IP in the back of some super-publisher’s evil volcano lair. At least, it seemed that way until 18 months ago.
In late October of 2010, Hi-Rez Studios, developers of the free-to-play shooter Global Agenda, announced that they had acquired the Tribes IP and that they would use it to create a new MMOFPS title Tribes: Universe. Shortly thereafter, they announced that a match-based shooter called Tribes: Ascend would precede any MMO. Last week, Tribes: Ascend hit the market for million of Tribes fans to play for free.
Tribes: Ascend: PC
Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
Publisher: Hi-Rez Studios
Released: April 12, 2012
The most important thing for any Tribes game to get right is the feeling of speed. Ascend does this well. Speed is literally life, and anyone caught walking around will quickly be dispatched from a multitude of angles. If you haven’t played Tribes, there is a major mechanic called skiing. Basically, skiing removes all friction, allowing you slide downhill. Luckily, Hi-Rez has simplied the skiing mechanic into one button press: Simply hold spacebar to ski, then right-click to jetpack. It’s simple and elegant to learn, but much more difficult to master.
In fact, a lot of Tribes: Ascend is like that. It’s a game of nuances, and mastering them has a major effect on how successful you’ll be. Even as a long-time Tribes player, it took a few rounds to get the hang of landing just right to avoid losing speed. The handy speedometer that appears when the ski key is depressed gives you instant feedback on how well you’re navigating the battlefield. Learning the angles of descent to yield the fastest speeds is rewarding in and of itself.
Once you get the hang of moving around, you’ve still got another hurdle to overcome: How the hell do you shoot anything when you’re moving that fast? Again, it’s a matter of a little practice and experience. Once you get the hang of shooting at targets that are literally never still, you’ll be amazed at how much fun (and frustration) can be found in this one aspect of the game. There’s a learning curve here, and while I barely noticed it as a longtime fan of the series, someone picking the game up for the first time could definitely be turned off by it.
The moment where Tribes: Ascend really shines for me is when you find yourself dueling against one or more enemies in mid-air. As you frantically try to keep yourself airborne, you’re constantly guessing which way your opponent will go. The trails left by the various weapons have your brain racing through trajectory and geometry equations, while you worry constantly about which strategy your enemy will employ. It’s this experience that makes Tribes so successful for me, and it’s one that has rarely been duplicated by any game outside this franchise.
Besides the classic Capture the Flag mode, Tribes: Ascend incorporates two other modes: a five on five Team Deathmatch arena game and a Capture and Hold point control mode. Neither of these was as interesting to me as the CTF mode. In the case of the TDM arena, I disliked the maps. Rather than incorporate the rolling terrain of the CTF maps, they consist mostly of flat planes and platforms, slowing the game down interminably. Capture and Hold is interesting, but it makes Tribes a much more static game, and that was a turnoff as well.
Tribes: Ascend is the first game in the series’ history to incorporate a class system. It’s not a hindrance to any gameplay. In fact, it’s incorporated well and likely makes it easier for players new to Tribes to grasp their role on the battlefield. Whether you want to be a sniper, a flag-runner, or a base defender, it’s easy to get suited up and figure out your place. Each class has a slew of unlocks available, so it’s easy to personalize your loadout to your playstyle over time. Each player starts with access to the Pathfinder, Soldier, and Juggernaut classes. The remaing six classes cost between 160 and 280 gold each, with the total for the lot coming to 1,360 gold. That’s about $13.