Playing Starsiege: Tribes

First sighted at E3, we finally got to sit down today, talk to the developers, and take the game for a spin.

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One of the more pleasant surprises at E3 had to be the announcement of Sierra/Dynamix's Starsiege: Tribes. After seeing it demo'd for us at E3 - in a crowded room with other games buzzing away - we finally got to sit down today, talk to the developers, and take the game for a spin.

For fans of the Starsiege universe (which began as Earthsiege), Tribes breaks away from its HERC history and is now a first-person action/shooter that is surprisingly fun to play. And there are numerous additions to the title that could gain the game a loyal following once it's released later this year.

Our first impression is that Tribes seamlessly uses indoor and outdoor areas to show off the power of the game's engine. Instead of waiting for the game to load a massive outdoor map, the game just moves along with out pause.

Also, rather than looking at the fog or pop-up of mountains in the distance, the game renders scenes with sharp backdrops for miles. Outdoor scenes show off hills, mountains, and gorges found in its HERC counterpart, and the engine can use weather events like rain and snow. While playing in multiplayer levels, gamers can bring up a top-down radar view of the area to quickly locate enemies and structures. Since many of the levels we saw were massive, this looks to be a great solution for finding an enemy with a minimal amount of wandering. In the spirit of many real-time strategy games, gamers can take out an enemy's radar, to darken a portion of the top-down radar view so they won't be detected.

Inside the catacombs of buildings, dynamic lighting and shadowing help give a very futuristic feel to the environment. There is a series of different looks to each of the different Tribes that give each a history and style all their own - from using natural stone, to floating bases, to the ultramodern.

One of the most interesting features is that many of the buildings hover above the land. Because of this, each player is equipped with a powerful jetpack that runs on an electrical charge. Jetpacks make it easy to leap over hills to take out opponents from above or to take out enemies as they hang in midair. To make sure you get the full effect of flying, players can change from a first-person to third-person mode quickly at any point in the game. And making sure that the game is balanced, the physics engine in the game will still kill you if you decide to go diving without enough thrust.

For weapons, you have a standard blaster and can move up to a grenade launcher, a powerful sniper laser, an exploding disk, a machine gun, and several others. The sniping laser is the most interesting because it gives players a chance to pick off others at extremely long distances - if you've played GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, the sniper mode is similar.

In the course of the two and a half years of its development, the Starsiege engine was built with a focus on multiplayer and building a new environment for players to battle in. Dynamix decided early on to make Tribes a non-Direct3D title, and this stirred a bit of controversy when the decision was announced. The Starsiege engine still runs well in software mode, but if you own a 3Dfx Voodoo or Voodoo2-powered accelerator, you'll have the option of running a native Glide version. And if you own another 3D accelerator that supports OpenGL, you'll get the option to play in full 3D as well. For sound, the game supports Aureal's A3D, so if you have an A3D-compatible audio card, you'll get deeper environmental effects with sound.

Tribes is easy to begin for seasoned Quake players or anyone new to first-person action titles. You choose a character, connect to a server, and you're off. There are some differences with Tribes from Quake though. The game is set up to be a team-building game so many of the levels are focused on team cooperation through capture-the-flag levels - and several of the levels will have specific goals for a team to complete. One of the modes gives a squad a limited amount of energy and funds. This adds a little bit of strategy with a touch of resource management that some gamers may like. The option also allows you to determine which squad member is using the most resources. The development team admits that you can still get into a straightforward deathmatch mode to take out opponents since this is the environment most gamers enjoy.

As the game matures, the development team will be adding a full featured WYSIWYG level editor and the ability to add new skins to players. Currently, there are no single-player levels in the game, but the team assured us that single-player levels are in the works. So stay tuned for GameSpot to give you more information about Tribes.

So do you have to wait until the end of the year to play? No way. Sierra will be releasing technology demos to the public beginning in August (much like the way Starsiege has been released in alpha and beta versions on the Web).

Once we have the demo in hand, we'll make sure you'll have the chance to look at it.

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