This futuristic team-based shooter is being put through the paces in multiplayer beta-testing. Read on for our early impressions.
You could say that first-person shooters, which started out as simple arcade action games that let you run around and blast everything from a first-person perspective, have changed a great deal. You could also say that the Tribes shooter series, which features futuristic team-based combat, is one of the main reasons why. The previous two Tribes games featured team-based gameplay and high-speed action that let gamers play as space-age supersoldiers, equipped in light, medium, or heavy armor, with a futuristic arsenal and jetpacks. Those jetpacks let them fly through the air or gain enough momentum to "ski"--the ability to glide across the ground at incredible speeds. The next game, Tribes: Vengeance, is now being put through its paces in a multiplayer beta test, and we've got the details here. Note that the following report is based on the beta test version of an incomplete game, so the details are subject to change.
The very basics of Tribes' traditional gameplay seem alive and well in Vengeance. Like in the previous games, multiplayer consists of team-based matches in which you play as a teammate equipped with a handful of weapons and a jetpack (though the new game limits you to only three weapons), but this time you'll also have a small cache of throwing grenades. You'll start most matches in your home base and you can use equipment terminals to change your armor type and weapon loadout. You can also use deployable terminals to pick up deployable items, like gun turrets and medic kits--but if you can infiltrate your enemies' bases, you can actually destroy their terminals (at least in the current beta state).
Vengeance's multiplayer has plenty of different weapons and items already available for use at this point, including 10 different weapons and four different equipment packs. The new packs work similarly to how they did in Tribes 2; each imparts a special ability and you can carry only one of them at a time (though you can re-equip yourself with a different pack by using an equipment terminal or picking one up from a fallen enemy). Packs provide both a general bonus and a special ability that can be activated. The four packs currently in Tribes are: the energy pack, which generally increases your jetpack recharge rate and can also provide you with a speed boost when activated; the shield pack, which provides either a slight protective bonus or a significant bonus when activated; the repair pack, which either slowly regenerates its wielder's health or quickly repairs any nearby damaged terminals and injured teammates; and the speed pack, which either provides a slight bonus to your running speed or a significant bonus to your reload speed.
The weapons include the spinfusor, the classic Tribes weapon that launches a slow-moving explosive disc; the chaingun, which fires rapidly but jams if overused; the blaster, which acts like a shotgun; the grenade launcher, which drops explosive flechettes; the rocket pod, which fires a cluster of missiles; the burner, which fires a blob of explosive plasma; the buckler, a shield that can be used as a close-range weapon; and the grappler, a grappling hook that lets you swing from ledges and even lets you grab onto enemies as they fly past. The beta also includes two armor-specific weapons: the sniper rifle, a long-range particle cannon that shoots a very obvious-looking beam that should give away a sniper's location, usable only by light armors; and mortars, heavy-duty explosive cannons that can be used only by heavy armors.
While Tribes has never really had fixed character classes, mixing and matching between swift light armors, slow heavy armors, and moderately fast medium armors, as well as having different weapon loadouts and different equipment packs, still seem to afford some level of customization. One of the most obvious defensive loadouts is a slow-moving heavy armor that stays near the base and uses rocket pods to bring down enemy vehicles and repair packs to restore any damaged turrets or terminals at home (though the same heavy armor can make for an effective attacker by using mortars to bombard an enemy base).
The multiplayer maps we've had a chance to try are all huge and several of them contain vehicles that can seat either single players or multiple groups. These vehicles include the fighter, a pod-shaped flying ship with a slow-firing chaingun cannon; the assault ship, a three-man vehicle that seats a pilot and two side gunners; and the "jump tank," a small, one-man tank that can...jump (yes, it has got its own jumpjets). So far, the game's vehicles handle believably, but the controls generally seem very lenient. And unlike other vehicle-based games like the Battlefield series or Joint Operations, Vengeance's vehicles aren't as crucial for covering the huge maps because everyone can use their jetpacks to fly and everyone can also ski on the ground without a vehicle--so the vehicles are just as good for offense as they are for travel. For instance, in the Winterlake level, which takes place on floating rock formations in the middle of a huge glacial lake, you'll find flying vehicles to be extremely useful in covering all that waterlogged ground. However, in the Utopia map, which takes place in a bombed-out city full of fallen skyscrapers and debris, tanks don't seem quite as useful.
Tribes: Vengeance appears to be coming along quite well and its multiplayer gameplay is every bit as fast-paced as that of the previous games. Also like in the previous games, skill seems to be much more important than lucky shots or choosing the single most powerful combination of weapons and packs (there doesn't even seem to be one at this point). We'll have more details on the upcoming game as it nears its release date later this year, so stay tuned.