Hands-onTribes Aerial Assault

We play Sierra's online squad-based shooter for the PlayStation 2.

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Sierra stopped by the GameSpot offices today to demonstrate Tribes Aerial Assault, its online, squad-based first-person shooter for the PlayStation 2. The game has been altered to appeal to the console audience, even though it still manages to incorporate many of the elements that make its PC iterations so addictively fun to play.

For those who aren't familiar with Tribes, the franchise began on the PC as an online-only game that pitted teams of up to 32 players against each other in a variety of multiplayer modes, including capture-the-flag and other favorites, like deathmatch. What sets Tribes apart from other shooters is that players can take flight using jetpacks, as well as use vehicles to fly or drive to the enemy's base. The PC versions of Tribes are incredibly deep, with multiple armor classes, turrets, sensors, and just about anything else you can imagine to make squad-based combat both realistic and fun.

The PlayStation 2 version of Tribes has managed to incorporate the essence of the franchise while simplifying the game so that you can play it with a controller. You can play games of Tribes Aerial Assault with up to 16 players total, with eight players on each team. In addition to being able to play the game online, there's a two-player split-screen mode for those who don't plan to play online, and you can fill in any missing players with bots that have 12 different difficulty settings. We were able to play both capture-the-flag and a flag-gathering mode called hunters during our time with Sierra, and both worked exactly like said modes in the PC versions of the franchise. Other gameplay modes include capture and hold, deathmatch, and team deathmatch.

Playing Tribes Aerial Assault is remarkably intuitive. Instead of having to jump before engaging your jetpack to get maximum height like in the PC version, you simply press the R1 button to fire up your pack and get the same results. Firing weapons is accomplished with the L2 button, while switching weapons is accomplished with the X button. Running, aiming, and shooting is very similar to the system found in Halo for the Xbox in that the left analog stick causes your character to strafe as well as move forward and backward, while the right analog stick controls where you're looking. The game also includes aiming assistance, which makes it much easier to target enemies. The aiming reticle even shows you where to place your shot to lead moving targets. The auto-aim makes it much easier to hit airborne targets and get into the game than the PC version does, but it also has problems deciding which enemy to target when two are near each other. Hopefully, this is something that will be adjusted before the game's release. Zooming in with weapons is accomplished with the R2 button, and you can zoom in even further with the directional pad.

Jumping is mapped to the L1 button, and holding it down while going downhill causes your character to "ski" down the hill at a brisk pace. The maps for the game are altered versions of the maps from Tribes 2. They have been made smaller because fewer people will be playing on them at any given time, and the water has been removed from them. However, four other vehicles remain to aid in transporting team members to the enemy base or for going on scouting missions. You can use packs to repair destroyed generators or turrets, to give you more ammo, increase your boost, and much more. Some packs, like the ammunition and energy packs, work automatically. But the repair pack must be manually triggered with the circle button. You can swap your current pack with one lying on the ground by standing over it and pressing the select button.

All the weapons from previous Tribes games have been included, and the same rules apply--which means that certain armor classes can carry only predetermined weapon types. As in Tribes 2, restocking with ammunition or health is as simple as stepping on the proper pad, and you can preset more than a dozen different combat setups so that you're prepared for just about any situation. You can also use portable ammunition stations to restock while out in the field, and turrets can be placed in strategic locations to catch the enemy off guard.

From a graphical perspective, Tribes Aerial Assault features the same sprawling terrain found in the PC versions of the franchise, but the fogging is much more intense. At times when you're flying especially high, all you can see is gray fog in every direction. The low-resolution texturing in the game also leaves a bit to be desired, though the weapon effects are adequate and the game plays at a brisk pace with no noticeable frame rate issues. Character models have been noticeably toned down, compared with those of the PC version of the game, and the same holds true for the vehicles. In all, the game isn't one of the more visually impressive PlayStation 2 games, but the visuals are serviceable, and they allow the game to run smoothly, which is paramount in online shooters.

We played Tribes Aerial Assault on an internal LAN network and found the game to be predominantly lag-free. Occasional teleportation occurred at times, with characters disappearing and reappearing somewhere else, but there was no noticeable lag in gameplay. Players will be able to play Tribes Aerial Assault on either 56k or broadband connections and will be able to set up their own games with their preferred specifications.

Sierra has already done an excellent job in bringing an extremely complex PC game to the PlayStation 2 with minimal sacrifices. While just 16 players can play at a time, the smaller maps help facilitate combat, and the automatic aiming function will help newcomers to the franchise learn the intricacies of playing while keeping frustration to a minimum. Tribes Aerial Assault is currently scheduled for release in October. We'll have much more on the game as its online beta trial continues.

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