Home > PC, Shooter > Tribes: Ascend [PREVIEW]

Tribes: Ascend [PREVIEW]

Tribes: Ascend: released April 12th, 2012
Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
Platforms: Windows

EDIT: This preview was written during the closed beta period, and while it’s still the same basic game, many things have surely changed. It is still free to play though, and totally open for anyone to download and enjoy, so head over HERE to check it out!

We’ve come a long way since the days when Quake and Unreal Tournament ruled the multiplayer roost. Back then games moved fast, and quick reflexes played a much larger role in the players’ overall strategies. Multiplayer shooters of today are a far cry from their comparatively nimble forefathers, with big names like Call of Duty and Battlefield trying to focus on the “realistic” aspects of modern warfare. Even sci-fi centric games such as Halo fail to capture that surreal sense of high speed action present in the shooters of yesteryear, in fact, console multiplayer shooters likely played a pretty sizable role in the decline of this style of gameplay. Speedy titles like Quake and Unreal Tournament didn’t really translate so well to controllers, so the overall market started leaning more towards the slower-paced frag-fests that we see today, so as to try and accommodate both crowds.

Regardless of how it came to be, the fact of the matter is that multiplayer shooters are noticeably slower these days, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve long been pining for a return to the time when games moved at a breakneck pace and reflexive crackshots ruled the arena. It’s been a long time coming, but it seems we’ve finally got a champion to ring in the return of fast-paced multiplayer shooting. Many of us have gotten used to the comparatively sluggish pace at which most modern shooters move, so I’ll warn you now that your first steps in Tribes: Ascend will catch you off guard. This game moves significantly quicker than almost any game in recent memory, so you’re going to need to relearn how to maneuver yourself.

A key factor in the super-charged shenanigans that take place in this game is your ability to “ski.” No, you won’t be strapping on a pair of ski boots in Tribes, but the concept is fairly similar. Essentially how it works is, you hold down the “Ski” button as you’re going down a hill, and you’ll gradually gain momentum as you begin to slide down, faster and faster, just as if you were skiing down a snowy mountain. No matter the terrain, going in to Ski mode will alter your movement to an entirely momentum based state. Being as this is a Tribes game, you also have access to a jetpack, which is instrumental in successfully skiing about the map. No matter how much speed you accumulated going down that hill, the moment you hit an incline, gravity is gonna knock you right back down. To combat this, you activate your jetpack and use it to continue your prior momentum all the way up the hill, then you can launch in to the air at full speed, and hopefully aim your trajectory so that you’ll land on another downward slope so as to carry on your rate of motion.

The skiing mechanic is really where Tribes: Ascend stands out from the pack. It is such a vital component to success in Tribes, and it completely changes how you maneuver around each of the levels. Games with naturally high move speeds are one thing, but skiing takes practice, skill, and finesse to really pull off properly. Smoothly moving in and out of the natural ramps and hills that litter each of the levels, then lining yourself up just perfectly to fly right through the enemies base and snatch their flag at seventy-gazillion miles per hour (give or take), is a thing of beauty. And that’s just the mobility in the game. You also have to think how this high speed form of transportation affects combat.

In most modern shooters it’s really no big deal to line up your crosshair and pull the trigger, but players in Tribes are moving so fast, you’re really gonna need to learn how to lead your shots. The ability to predict not only where your enemy is going to be, but also making sure your shot gets to that exact spot at exactly the right time, can be quite challenging. There are slow moving explosive weapons that blow up on impact, as well as more traditional weapon types such as Snipers and Machine guns. Regardless of this, actually training yourself to hit these targets, which are often times moving so fast they’re essentially flying, is equally challenging no matter your personal weapon preference. As I said before, if you’ve gotten terribly used to the weighty, average-speed movements that are so prominent in today’s shooters, Tribes is really gonna be a kick in the pants, and you will need to adjust. Never before have I found it so difficult to unload a few hundred rounds from a minigun in to one single target!

Content-wise, Tribes actually has a pretty decent package to present. One thing that this game does have in common with the shooters of today is that it makes use of loadouts, perks, and a class system. This system actually just went through a pretty big overhaul just a few days prior to my writing this. There’s now a total of nine classes to choose from, with three already unlocked right off the bat. As you play games you’ll earn experience, and you can then use that experience to unlock new classes, buy new weapons for your loadout, gain new perks, and even upgrade everything you’ve already unlocked, such as armor, grenades, perks, weapons, etc. Keep in mind that not just any class can use whatever weapon they like. A soldier will still be choosing between a machine gun and a spinfusor, and a mechanic will still be locked in with an SMG and a thumper, so while you’ve got the freedom to adjust your classes, you can’t go apeshit crazy and give whatever class you want, whatever weapon you want. They all retain their own tools of destruction, and as such they all retain their own unique feel and playstyles.

Of course, being a free to play game, this does bring up concerns of balance. As you may have guessed, in addition to being able to earn experience and unlock things by simply playing the game, you can also purchase in game Gold using your hard earned real world cash. This is the area of free to play gaming that often stirs up most of the debate, because a poorly implemented game economy can really make or break a game. Mostly this will happen in titles where the most powerful weapons and abilities are only available to paying customers, which in turn provides an unfair advantage to those fans with the deeper wallets. Thankfully, it seems that many developers of free to play games are taking note of the ire that this creates among fans, Hi-Rez Studios being among them. There is nothing you can purchase that cannot be earned normally by simply playing and enjoying the game. All upgrades, weapons, classes, etc that can be purchased are exactly the same as those that can be picked up using earned experience.

And no, there are none of those “timed purchases” in Tribes. Once you buy or unlock something, it’s permanent. That Thumper you unlocked doesn’t disappear after three days (or something equally ridiculous), and you aren’t going to have to repurchase your grenades after you use them. In my book, timed purchases are just as bad as offering power items exclusively to paying customers, maybe even worse, so I’m glad to see that Hi-Rez has kept their head on straight, and are offering a free to play experience that I am more than happy to support.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some time to mention the stellar visuals in Tribes. Indie gaming has seen some incredibly impressive looking titles released/announced recently (has anybody seen the footage of Hawken? Holy cow!), and Tribes is certainly eligible for such praise. The architecture in the game isn’t going to blow your mind, but that’s generally because there isn’t a whole lot of it. Levels are vast and open so as to support the high speed skiing, and a bunch of buildings and trees would just end up getting in the way, but what is there is gorgeous. Textures and shading are impressive, good art direction offers variation in the environments, and the attention to detail on the character models and their weapons is top notch. Tribes is undoubtedly easy on the eyes, so all you skeptics out there can put down your pitchforks, because this is an indie game that really delivers in this department.

Tribes: Ascend is a truly impressive package, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any fans of fast-paced action and competitive multiplayer shooters. The level of depth here is deceptive, with a variety of vehicles to operate, and a great variation in classes to assume, you could be zooming around the map as a Pathfinder, repairing turrets at the base as a technician, or sneaking in to destroy the enemy’s generator as an Infiltrator. The different classes you can assume all have their roles to play, so if you don’t want to be that guy who’s flying around the level at the speed of light, you don’t have to be. Maybe instead, you could be on defense, playing a Doombringer, which can be downright frightening if the player using it knows how to aim that chain gun. Honestly, it doesn’t matter your playstyle, because the roles available offer such variation, that no matter how you play, there’s bound to be something there for you to use.

There’s really nothing else like Tribes out there. Games this fast haven’t been made for quite some time, and looking at my experiences here, it’s really hard to justify why that is. Without a shadow of a doubt I can say that this game simply would not work on consoles. Ever. It’s just too fast and requires far too much precision to be adapted for controllers, but for all you PC gamers out there, you really need to keep an eye out for Tribes: Ascend. Beta keys aren’t nearly as hard to come across now as they used to be, and I really recommend you all give this one a shot. It’s unbelievably fast, deceptively deep, and is a ton of fun!

You can register for the closed beta HERE.

(Just kidding. That ended ages ago.)

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