Tribes 2 isn't easy to master, and it won't play well on every gaming PC, but when you're up and running it's a tremendous amount of fun.
There are many roles you can fill during a game of Tribes 2: these include sniping, setting up defenses, and going on runs in the three-man bomber to destroy enemy structures and turrets. It's easy enough to switch roles to do whatever needs to be done to help the team, so casual matches without explicit team planning can still be quite enjoyable. The game's command map makes the chaos of the battlefield a little easier to understand. It shows the status of teammates, base facilities, and the team sensor network that ties into each player's HUD. While the command interface is cumbersome, it does give you a fairly effective system for suggesting what team tasks need to be accomplished.
While having vehicles in smaller games, those with fewer than 20 people, can dilute the action, overall they add an extra dimension to the combat in Tribes 2. There are three ground vehicles and three air vehicles, divided among scout, assault, and support craft. Half of these (the larger ones) let two or more players jump on board, which can require some coordination around a map's vehicle pad. However, the tank and bomber craft require such particular cooperation between the pilot and gunner that it can be very frustrating to pair up with someone who's less experienced. Additionally, the larger vehicles are sluggish and can be fairly difficult to control, and you may even find that the nose of the larger ground vehicles will occasionally pitch up or down unrealistically on rough but relatively level terrain, seemingly due to problems with the game's physics. It's also frustrating that a mere brush with a tree at low speeds can inflict inordinate damage to the most imposing hovertank.
To make it easier to talk to other players in between games and organize teams, Tribes 2 has a number of online community features built right into the game. The active Starsiege: Tribes community is a strong point in favor of Tribes 2, and right from the start there have been hundreds of game servers to choose from. In fact, high loads on the central authentication and community servers since the release of Tribes 2 have made it impossible for Dynamix to run all the community services, but the game finder, news, and chat functions are up and working. The other features, like pages for team and player information as well as integrated e-mail and Web browsing, were working in the beta tests but have been temporarily disabled until the servers can be upgraded.
Tribes 2 is primarily an online game, but it does include more solo options than its predecessor. It includes five tutorials to ease the learning curve and introduce new players to the game's unique movement, numerous items, and command options. Many of the maps can also be played against computer-controlled bot opponents, which can help you get used to the game before jumping online. The bots aren't really capable enough to make offline games very interesting, and though they do manage to carry out team functions, like setting up basic defenses and executing flag runs, they aren't particularly good at it. They also seem to stand in place more often than you'd expect.
The most obvious difference between Tribes and Tribes 2 is the new graphics engine in the sequel, which was completely reworked to take advantage of hardware acceleration and more powerful PCs. If you do have a high-end system, the game looks good. On the maps that aren't fogged in by design, the visible horizon is distant and sharp. The explosions are suitably impressive, and there are some nice effects like footsteps on snow maps and variable precipitation. A fractal system also produces smoothly varying terrain textures that have a surprising amount of detail up close. However, as a result of these effects and the game's large environments, many mainstream systems play the game sluggishly unless many of the effects are turned off and textures are turned down. At these lower levels of detail, the game doesn't look particularly good at all, even compared to the original Tribes. To play the game well, we'd recommend a system with at least a 600MHz Pentium III and a GeForce or Radeon graphics card. As ambitious shooters tend to, the Tribes 2 engine has room to grow as faster systems become more common. For example, one of the systems we tried the game on, a Pentium 4 1.5GHz with GeForce2 Ultra, had no trouble maintaining a very smooth frame rate at 1024x768 with maximum detail turned on.
A lot of effort obviously went into rounding out the game, but it still has some rough edges. The game's sound is quite polished, including many prerecorded voice taunts that you can use in-game by selecting them from a series of quick chat menus. Tribes 2 includes a custom soundtrack--an unsurprising mix of electronica and guitar that you'll probably turn down before long. But the game's biggest shortcoming is that it released with several significant technical problems, which Dynamix is progressively addressing in frequent patches. The game runs without problems on many systems, but some players have had difficulty getting it to work at all.
Tribes 2 is an ambitious follow-up to the game that single-handedly led the charge of multiplayer-only action games into retail. The deep teamplay that you can find in large matches is incredibly addicting and offers some interesting opportunities to cobble together team strategies. The game takes advantage of skills developed in twitch shooters like Quake, but its slower pacing requires a more deliberate and diverse range of tactics. In the end, this will help give Tribes 2 tremendous longevity, especially considering that the original Tribes still rivals both Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena as one of the most played multiplayer action games. Tribes 2 isn't easy to master, and it won't play well on every gaming PC, but when you're up and running it's a tremendous amount of fun.