Updated Tue, Apr 17, 2012 by Stow
Perhaps more than anything, I am thankful to Hi-Rez Studios for making a shooter that moves faster than diseased livestock. Every other damn first person shooter on PC feels like molasses, and I hate to break it to you but there is no cover system to save you from a Fusion Mortar landing in your lap. So before I even begin my review, thank you, Hi-Rez, for making a video game that restores the glory of skill and speed, and the amazing feeling of nailing someone going 200 kilometers per hour with a disc in the face.
Former Tribes players who read the above paragraph probably jumped for joy. It’s true; I can say as an avid player of both the first and second game (the others do not exist), this is a true sequel. It’s not without flaws, but the strengths of Tribes: Ascend are wonderful, and the weaknesses fairly minor. It’s not only a worthy successor, but a great game to screw around in with friends that are new to it as well.
Staying true to its roots, Tribes: Ascend goes in strong with a multitude of game modes -- team deathmatch and capture and hold are both present for those used to this console generation. Of course, the classic capture the flag gameplay of bases, vehicles, and 88 mile-per-hour juggernauts screaming by you is the most popular mode. There’s far more than just the flag to defend though, with your generator, radar, and turrets being secondary objectives that will hamper your team greatly if taken out.
As a passenger, you're still at the whim of the driver. On the Grav Bike... this can mean instant death in one solid hit you don't see coming since you're looking the other way. If the driver ejects, you should too!
Note that I did leave inventory stations and other classic deployables out from the previous games. Gone is the ability to completely customize your loadout to your liking. You’ll have to choose from 9 classes, most of which have weapons unique to them. Each one is suited to a particular role, such as flag defense, bombardment, sniping, and the like. Not all of the weapons and features of each class are enabled by default though.
You’ll start with only three classes unlocked to your account: one light, one medium, and one heavy. Note that you do have access to three of the most useful classes, so you will immediately be able to fulfill most roles for your team, and those that you can't are available for purchase with experience points. Experience is earned after each match, and there is a first win of the day bonus to help those of you who enjoy the game, but don’t want to spend meaningless hours grinding to unlock the core gameplay elements. For reference, a class costs between 7000 and 14,000 experience and your first win of the day will net you at least 2,000 experience. It’s not an unreasonable grind (for once!)
Sadly that goes by the wayside as you work towards unlocking alternate weapons, which can cost from 40,000 to 100,000. None of these weapons are absolutely essential to gameplay, however, and are often just a matter of personal preference or a means of presenting alternatives. For instance, the Juggernaut’s alternate Fusion Mortar is the MIRV Launcher, which is a less accurate but more chaotic artillery weapon--not a dealbreaker if you don’t have it. Hell, I prefer most primary weapons to their alternatives anyway!
Classes and weapons aside, the name of Tribes is speed. Those coming back to the series are all too familiar with skiing, the momentum-based flight that will have you moving at 10 times your walking speed with a minimal amount effort. Skiing in Tribes: Ascend is as simple as holding spacebar now, and proper use of your jetpack to not lose momentum going up hills/landing perfectly sliding down them. Weapons will inherit your movement’s momentum though, which will take a lot of getting used to but lead to all too satisfying explosive discs launched at seemingly 45 degree angles to your target, which find their way to the target's forehead.
This hyper speed is used for both offense and defense, as a flag capper may grab the flag at the speed of light and it’s up to someone to respond. The resulting flag chases look like large wavelengths of players rising and falling, skiing and shooting, and are often really exciting because being accurate isn’t easy at 150 km/h+ speed no matter how good you are at aiming. Prediction and splash damage become the name of the game, but bullet weapons do exist although most still have some required lead time. Direct hits are rewarded with +40% damage, and bonus in-game cash if the shot kills them mid-air.
Credits are now spent on two main things--upgrading static objects, and calling in support strikes. You no longer have to purchase your loadouts since you spawn in them. Upgrading a turret increases its potency all around, whereas upgrading your radar greatly increases its durability and detection range regardless of terrain or cover. Upgrading a generator makes it take far more punishment before going offline, at which point both all pre-placed and player-placed deployables will go offline. It’s a crippling blow and defending the generator on some maps is just as important as defending the flag, for how easy the flag can be grabbed when the forcefields are offline. Support strike include an inventory station on demand, and two kinds of artillery strikes from afar.
Bases that are floating battleships? Par for the course.
Many of the maps are taken directly from the old games with only slight modifications. Figuring out how to put up a decent defense, or build insane speed on a particular map can take some practice. Fortunately there’s a variety of practice modes including a sandbox mode where you are free to ski as you see fit and practice your routes. There’s a huge difference between grabbing a flag going 50 km/h and going 250!
All of this glory is marred by a few problems though--like some minor class imbalance. The jack of all trades classes in Soldier and Brute feel a little out of place--the Doombringer desperately needs a secondary weapon worth a damn, and the Technician goes from being unable to defend a generator to save his life or the gen, to being a monster at short/mid range when you unlock the Thumper to replace the default SMG. Some base layouts are a little strange as well. Fortunately, the flaws in gameplay are things you can get used to and not flaws that will permanently mar your playing experience.