|As everyone has been saying ever since dedicated
Quake servers starting popping up everywhere, online gaming is the future of gaming. And
indeed, especially with the success of such online servers as battle.net and games like
Warbirds, multiplayer online gaming is moving more and more to the center of the gaming
community's consciousness. But with few exceptions (i.e., battlenet) online gaming is the
realm of the hardcore gamer; not many of your casual types spend much time looking for
Shogo servers on the web. But Tribes, the new online first-person shooter game from
Sierra and Dynamix, wants to change all of that. Tribes offers great graphics, fast
and furious gameplay, and gorgeous outdoor environments. But most importantly, it offers
the most painless out-of-the-box online server connection and setup that we've ever
seen--even better than battle.net's--up til now the gold standard.
At least initially, Tribes looks a lot like your standard 3D shooter--same perspective, same sort of weapons. But upon closer inspection, you begin to realize that this game actually has a good deal of innovation about it, and that many of its features are real originals. First and foremost, it's not limited to your typical first person shooter rooms-and-corridors environment. In Tribes, you'll fight the enemy (and a lot of 'em--servers support up to 32 players) in the great and vast outdoors. The feeling of spaciousness is quite enthralling after the claustrophobia of most multiplayer FPS's; it adds an entirely new dimension to gameplay.And Tribes looks good. Weather and sky effects--everything from snow to sunsets--are very well modeled, as are weapon effects. And while it's not a graphics showcase like Unreal, the game's graphics engine is still impressive, especially since it's actually made up of three seperate graphics engines--one each for indoor, outdoor, and terrain. Not that you'll notice it. The transition from indoor environments in your base to outdoor scenes is seamless.
The equipment that you'll be able to use is pretty nifty as well. Probably the most innovative is your jump pack, which allows all sorts of maneuvers, from assaulting into enemy bases to running away from angry bad guys. But these jet packs have limited energy, and must be used wisely. More than once we've needed the jump pack for survival, only to find it to be out of gas.
You'll also get to choose from a variety of equipment and weapons, though what type of armor you choose will limit your choices somewhat. The game offers light, medium and heavy armor, and as you'd expect, each has its strengths and weaknesses. Light armor is good for recon and spotting, and allows you to use the laser sniper rifle, but is of course very weak and doesn't allow you to carry much. Medium armor is just a good, solid tradeoff. Heavy armor limits your movement and flying abilities, but does allow you to use the devastating heavy mortar.And speaking of weapons, the variety is pretty good. You can choose from eight of 'em--your common basic blaster, the plasma gun, a chain gun, the disc launcher, a grenade launcher, a laser rifle, and the elf gun, a close-range weapon that steals energy. You can also team up with a buddy to make up a deadly two-man heavy mortar/targetting laser team, and mines and grenades are easily obtained. Another great innovation is the game's addition of vehicles to the mix. It's a kick to load up your teammates on a carrier and assault the enemy's headquarters, and the game's small but seviceable variety of vehicles--a Scout Flyer, Light Personnel Carrier and Heavy Personnel Carrier--are easy to use and very effective.
The game also includes handy equipment packs--some of them are deployable, including motion sensors, jammers, turrets, cameras, and remote inventory and ammo resupply stations. Permanent packs--usually used to augment your armor--include such items as shield and repair packs, as well as ammo reloads, energy sources, and jammers.Gameplay is fast and furious and a lot of fun, and the wide variety of equipment provides all manner of tactical options. Though you can play the following games--Capture the Flag, Defend and Destroy, Capture and Hold, Find and Retrieve, and Deathmatch--most of the servers will be focused on Capture the Flag and Defend and Destroy. It's a tribute to the game's depth that these rather predictable games rarely play out predictably. In most multiplayer FPS games, you learn the choke points and ambush locations pretty quickly, but in Tribes the environment is so large and the options so copious that there's always more than one way to beat a map.
So this is a pretty darn good game; it's easy to set up, looks good, and offers fine gameplay, with some exceptions that we'll address directly. But it does have some flaws.
First of all, while the servers are much faster and less laggy than almost any other online game, my crappy connection-which only gives me about 28.8 kps--also produces enough lag to keep me from being very competitive. Al, on the other hand, connects at about 53.3, and his games are very responsive and lag-free.
On the other hand, the game looks great on my Voodoo2; unfortunately for Al, his Riva TNT card (in an egregious oversight) is not supported by the game.And though Tribes is set in the Starsiege universe, and offers you the option of playing for one of four tribes--the Children of the Phoenix, StarWolf, Diamond Sword and Blood Eagle--other than looks, there's no difference between the tribes. They all use the same weapons and armor, they all have the same strengths and weaknesses. There's no narrative or sense of purpose to the game, so it ends up lacking personality.
There are some problematic gameplay issues as well. Command and communications between players is especially troublesome. While there are three possible modes for communciation--typed messages, canned messages and commands--none of them works very well. This is unfortunate, because though Sierra markets this game as one that rewards planning and teamwork, the lack of effective communications makes most games free-for-alls; it's very difficult to coordinate team movement. Tribes is a great candidate for voice communication using headsets, like Fireteam or some of the online flight combat games. Likewise, your PDA (personal digital assistant) has an overhead map that's great, but mostly just to orient yourself. In theory, you can use this to coordinate and launch a well-planned attack, but the lack of effective communciation and the game's speed almost makes it impossible to do so.
Another problem are the lines that inevitably form outside inventory stations. It's a pain to have to reoutfit yourself after every death, and it sucks to stand in line--you can see a lot of people bitching at each other while waiting to reequip. Though you can save up to five of your favorite kit combos for fast refitting, it would be nice if you respawned with your favorite gear in place after each death, rather than having to trek to the inventory station each time.
And a few more things--the eight training missions aren't nearly enough, and the manual is pretty weak, especially when it comes to how use packs like jammers and repair. And while you can switch to 3rd person view, while in it you can't tell enemies from friends, since the red and green triangles which differentiate them go away. And it's not very easy to access your stats. Finally, as in any online game, you'll run into the occasional immature jerks who kill their teammates in order to get weapons or just for the hell of it. There already seem to be some wierd hacks and cheats out there; however, you can check games for mods before you join, and you should.
But these complaints shouldn't (and don't) detract too much from most player's enjoyment of the game. Overall, Tribes is an excellent game; if this is the way online games are going, they are indeed the future of gaming--and it's a bright one.