VIDEO GAME: ‘Tribes: Ascend’ a notable franchise release

While the Tribes franchise has been around since 1998, gamers haven't seen anything noteworthy come out of it in years. Then a free-to-play sequel was announced.
Mar 27, 2012

Title: Tribes: Ascend

Price: Free Platform: PC ESRB Rating: N/A Score: B   While the Tribes franchise has been around since 1998, gamers haven't seen anything noteworthy come out of it in years. A few well-intentioned but poorly executed sequels had many fans of the original wondering if the franchise was going to do anything but collect dust in a closet somewhere.   Then, after years of silence, a free-to-play sequel called "Tribes: Ascend" was announced. The developers seem dedicated to staying true to what made the originals so great and avoiding the mistakes of previous sequels. After spending some time with the beta I find myself look forward to the full game releasing next month.   Tribes games take the traditional first person shooter and add a healthy dose of adrenaline, giving players jetpacks and allowing you to ìskiî along the ground as you move. This might not sound like that big of a deal, but once you get the hang of following the hills and valleys in the terrain you can get up to some truly terrifying speeds, all on foot. This means that unlike other first person shooters where you're always battling it out in a hallway or a street somewhere, the action in Tribes is happening twenty feet off the ground at a hundred miles per hour. Combine that sense of maneuverability and speed with the giant outdoor spaces that the franchise is known for and it makes for some epic combat. No other game will give you the same rush as when you're chasing down the bad guy that just took your team's flag, trees and rocks whizzing past as you dance over hills and trade gunfire in midair.   Capture the flag is, in my opinion, the one and only way to play Tribes. There are other modes like Deathmatch or Arena, and while these surely have their following they simply can't be compared to the raw competitiveness found in good old capture the flag. Some of the most tense moments in my entire gaming history have come at the hands of a last second flag cap or amazing long distance shot in a Tribes match. CTF is the mode that separates the men from the boys, and that's just how it is.   "Tribes: Ascend" continues the tradition of big, sprawling bases for each team as well. Automated turrets and enemy-detecting sensors are strewn about, assisting with defense but vulnerable to enemies packing the right equipment to take them out. Protecting your team's generator is another important consideration, as everything from base defenses to inventory stations are unusable without power. Likewise, sneaking into the enemy base to knock out their equipment can, at the very least, cause enough of a distraction for someone else to grab their flag and get away.   Outfitting yourself isn't quite as easy as it used to be, thanks to the free-to-play business model that is being used with "Tribes: Ascend." While you'll start with some basic classes and equipment to choose from, unlocking everything beyond that point requires expenditure of either experience points (earned by playing matches, killing enemies, completing objectives, etc) or spending real money to buy in-game gold that can be used instead. These unlocks cover everything from weapons and abilities to cosmetic items like skins or decals. The good news is that the system is entirely voluntary, meaning that anything that's purchasable with real cash can also be gotten with experience points if you feel like putting in the time. If, however, you've got a few extra bucks and would rather have that shiny new rocket launcher right now, the option is available to you.   Gearing up involves picking either light, medium or heavy armor, then fine tuning your weapon selections. There's not much to choose from when you're first starting out, though I find the base weapons to be the ones I used the most often anyway. Choices are restricted to a primary and secondary weapon, a choice of grenades or mines and a pack. Packs can do anything from making your jetpack recharge faster to turning you invisible, healing you faster or providing you with defensive bonuses. The utility of these packs are largely what you make of them, with creative and clever players being rewarded for their guile.   So, "Tribes: Ascend" does admittedly hold much closer to the original Tribes formula than any of the later sequels. However, there are still some key things missing that have, I feel, changed the game's base strategy for the worse. The lack of collision detection between players is a fine detail that perhaps only an old pro like myself might pick out, but not being able to physically block a doorway to keep an enemy from swooping through is a major loss of functionality. Mortar blast damage seems severely reduced, making it annoyingly ineffective against enemy turrets and seemingly doing no damage at times even when a shot lands directly next to a foe. Vehicles are another complaint, as they're present (which is good) but still just as forgettable and worthless as before. Aside from heavier firepower they offer no real increase in mobility when you're able to do such incredible speeds on foot already, and they stick out like a big red bullseye on enemy sensors.   It's great that Tribes is making a comeback, and playing some matches brought back a lot of the same excitement that I felt playing those first matches so many years ago. If you're someone who thinks you're special because you've prestiged five times in Call of Duty, try strapping on a jetpack and doing the same thing while you're skimming along the ground at what feels like half the speed of sound. It's an entirely different beast, and it's one that you can't really find anywhere else. Play it for free here.