A Tribe Called Sierra.
My Uncle Ned used to tell me, "Joe boy, if ya only eats sticks of butter, you'll forget how good tastin' those squirrels is." There was obviously some sort of strange, backwoods wisdom swimming under the surface of his Arkie drawl, but it always eluded me. Besides, I liked sticks of butter.
Lately, with the deluge of Half-Life mods and all sorts of other corridor-based first-person shooters floating around, it's been easy to forget that games can exist outside the conventional jump-strafe-around-the-corner, blow-up-guy's-head-with-shotgun routine.
And then I played Tribes 2, and Uncle Ned's wisdom hit me like a brahma bull hopped up on extra strength caffeine tablets. As much as I like Counter-Strikeand sticks of butter, it's too easy to forget that they're not the entire world, and that there are some things in this world, like Tribes 2 and squirrel, that will totally shock your senses into a new perception of video-reality. Well, maybe not squirrel. [Dear reader, I have no idea what he's talking about, either, but I liked Uncle Ned's words of wisdom. - Ed.]
Before I delve into the complex ins and outs that make Tribes 2 the weirdly addictive game it is, you should know that the original Tribesis a squad-based first-person shooter from Sierra. The main lure of the game is the online play, even though Tribes 2 comes with a tutorial, campaign editor, and single player mode.
However, the original delivered almost the same cool package about 2 years ago, and things really haven't improved very much since.
First of all, there's the control and general play mechanics. Outside of the original, nothing plays remotely like Tribes 2 with the exception of certain levels in Unreal Tournament (but that game had a little of everything in it).
While you've got all the basic modes of movement at your command, Tribesadds a whole new dimension to its game via the jump pack. Not only can you jump incredibly high, you can also skip across the terrain with it and then launch yourself ski-jump style off small hills and mountain feet. Watch out though, because if you run out of juice in the wrong place, you'll plummet out of the sky and smash yourself against the rocks. And then everyone will laugh at you.
Such airborne options put an entirely different twist on the combat, making fights all about staying in the air and blasting fast-moving opponents with grenade splash, as opposed to peppering them head on with a storm of speeding lead.
There're also a few cool vehicles that you can add to your arsenal. The vehicles are either airborne or ground-based, and go from light and fast to slow and damaging. While some of the vehicles are a bit dubious, nothing beats running people over or strafing helpless ground troops with twin blaster cannons.
Combat in Tribes 2 is almost always outdoors, and usually involves canyons or small bizarre valleys where hordes of super jumping spacemen rain explosive death down on one another. Meanwhile, in the surrounding mountains snipers pick off the combatants and each other with stark, red laser beams.
However, such scenic vistas of death and violence are marred by Tribes 2's insane system requirements. To view the game in its full splendor with fluid gameplay intact, you need a monster machine. And, as your computer gets further and further from monster-dom, the graphics will get blockier and the backgrounds murkier. Expect flat textures, no visible bump-mapping and all-around graphical disappointment.
Unfortunately, there's more. No players, no matter what graphical sacrifices they make, will escape Tribes 2's despicable framerate. Tribes 2isn't half as smooth as its two year old predecessor; the occasionaly horrible framerate screws up sniping and can generally breaks up your involvement in the game. For most players, the graphics won't be much of an improvement over the first Tribes, and in some cases, they may look even more washed and dated.
Another problem with the game is its lack of accessibility. Tribes 2plays by complex rules and mechanics that are completely its own. No amount of time spent with any other game (except Tribes) will prepare you for the weird aero-madness to come. While there is a tutorial to help out newbies (which I highly recommend if you've never played before), Tribes 2 is almost completely online, making the competition very stiff and unforgiving. And I guarantee that most of the people you'll be up against have played a lot more than just the tutorial. Consider yourself warned.
Having said that, the game still remains incredibly fun. Some of the weapons make being a newbie a little easier. As a scout-sniper you can grab a sniper rifle and wail on anyone stupid enough to be caught standing still, or, if you're good enough, moving targets can be added to your kill list as well.
Tribes 2 is based on three classes - Heavy, Medium, and Light (also called Juggernaut, Assault and Scout), each of which is divided up into three other classes, leading to combinations like Scout-Sniper or Juggernaut Offense. Your weapons depend on which class you select. You also have the freedom to change classes mid-game. Just find an inventory station and go nuts. But for the most part, combat involves jumping around and blasting people, no matter what class you choose.
There are also various little extras like grenades and stealth packs you can outfit your player with depending on what sort of role you want to play on your team. Grab a mobile inventory station pack, wade into enemy territory and set it down closer to enemy territory for a nifty little pit stop.
While there are several different scenarios that affect the shape of your conflict, most servers run Capture the Flag. If you really want to go out and capture the flag, you need mad jumping and running skills, mixed with some evil people killin' powers. On the other hand, it's always fun just to find the biggest fray and jump right into the middle of it, since you respawn as soon as you die. Whatever you decide, there are a multitude of ways to play this game.
Even though it's not entirely revolutionary and the graphics are a rough spot,Tribes 2 delivers a unique and exciting brand of aerial, online mayhem. If you liked the original, then this game is without a doubt a surefire purchase, if only because it's what all the old Tribes players are going to be playing. And if you've never played Tribes before, well, heed my advice - "There ain't no butter like butter that's washed down with a healthy helping of squirrel." [Again, no idea. - Ed.]