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
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-Strike
and 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 Tribes
is 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, Tribes
adds 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
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
Unfortunately, there’s more. No players, no matter what graphical sacrifices
they make, will escape Tribes 2‘s despicable framerate. Tribes 2
isn’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
Another problem with the game is its lack of accessibility. Tribes 2
plays 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.]