Tribes: Vengeance Review
Tribes: Vengeance effectively captures the spirit of the original game, and adds a surprisingly good single-player campaign to a deep and addictive multiplayer component.
The original Starsiege Tribes was a landmark game for the first-person shooter genre. Combining huge maps, deep team-based multiplayer mechanics, jetpacks, and drivable vehicles, Dynamix' imaginative game laid the groundwork for the design of many of today's most popular multiplayer shooters, including the Battlefield games and Unreal Tournament 2004. The sequel, Tribes 2, was hampered by serious bugs upon launch and it disappointed many players in the Tribes community. Although the game was patched later and modded to a great degree by third parties, the damage was already done, and Dynamix was disbanded shortly thereafter. The development of the next Tribes game on the PC was then handed over to Irrational Games, best known for developing another classic first-person game, System Shock 2. The good news for Tribes fans is that Irrational's stewardship over the Tribes license is a resounding success. Tribes: Vengeance effectively captures the spirit of the original game, and adds a surprisingly good single-player campaign to a deep and addictive multiplayer component.
The inclusion of a story-based, single-player campaign is new to the Tribes series. Though the documentation of the original games included a good deal of futuristic backstory describing the different factions, the games themselves were strictly multiplayer affairs, with no real story development occurring in-game. The story of Tribes: Vengeance centers on two generations of imperial princesses, Victoria and her daughter Julia. The game's missions are structured so that you are shifted back and forth through time, and you play the missions through the viewpoints of a number of different characters aside from the imperial royalty, including two brothers in the Phoenix tribe and a mysterious cybrid assassin. Along the way you'll learn about the conflict between the imperials and a couple of the tribes (the Blood Eagles also play a big role in the plot), uncover a vile conspiracy, and discover a dark secret harbored by Victoria. The plot twists end up being fairly predictable, but you'll still feel compelled to play through the campaign, thanks to some solid mission design.
Longtime first-person shooter fans won't find many design aspects in the campaign of Tribes: Vengeance that they haven't seen before. There are plenty of scripted sequences and multistage missions, for example. But the variety of environments and mission types should keep most players interested. There are, of course, massive outdoor landscapes, which you can explore easily using jetpacks, which are a hallmark of the Tribes games. The campaign also has plenty of indoor levels to explore, such as an imperial palace and a massive underground base. The variety in the campaign extends over to the mission design. One mission has you playing as an adolescent Julia, forced to defend yourself when the imperial palace is under attack by tribes. You'll have to evade at the outset, as little Julia can't carry weapons, but eventually you'll be able to climb into a fighter craft and turn the tables on the invaders. Another level has you playing as a cybrid assassin stalking a vast map dotted with Phoenix tribe installations. You'll knock these out as a one-man wrecking crew before infiltrating the underground areas of the base.
The interiors of many levels are designed to take special advantage of Tribes' nuances, specifically the jetpack. You'll find a lot of multitiered rooms, which will test your jetpacking proficiency, as well as rooms with rounded-off floors, which can be used for "skiing"--another Tribes convention where you can combine the momentum gained by gravity and the properties of your frictionless boots to launch yourself into the air with tremendous velocity. So while the overarching design of the missions isn't totally original, the special nuances that were worked into the level and mission design give the single-player aspect of the game a truly Tribes-like feel, and keep it from feeling generic. On the whole, Tribes: Vengeance's campaign is quite good, and it should keep most players busy for about 10 to 12 hours. Newcomers to the franchise will also find it a useful tutorial for multiplayer, as you're introduced to all the different weapons, armor types, and vehicles, as well as various game types throughout the campaign.
While the single-player campaign is more than competent, the multiplayer aspect of Tribes: Vengeance is still the primary selling point of the game. It features a good amount of content out of the box, as well as a refined implementation of the tried-and-true mechanics that made 1999's Tribes game a hit. Maps support up to 32 human players, though it's a bit unfortunate that there's no option to play with or against computer-controlled bots. The base game type of Tribes: Vengeance, as in previous Tribes games, is capture the flag. Each of two teams has control of a complex base. Bases include sensor arrays, stationary turrets, inventory stations (for respawned players to pick up different armor and weapons), vehicle-spawning stations, and generators to power all these items. Successful teams have to manage not only offense and defense with regard to the flags, but also make sure that all base equipment is in good working order. This turns out to be an intense and interesting endeavor in Tribes: Vengeance.