The Greatest Games of All Time - Tribes

Our ongoing feature chronicles the greatest games you'll ever play.

Starsiege Tribes
Platform: PC | Genre: Action
Publisher: Sierra | Developer: Dynamix | Released: 1998

Team-based first-person shooters have become extremely common in today's video game market. But most of the people who play this popular genre today don't realize that many of the design concepts in these games are rooted in a niche PC shooter from the late '90s: Starsiege Tribes. Tribes was so revolutionary that it quite possibly limited its audience with its extreme depth and complexity. But the game's features read like a laundry list of what players expect at a bare minimum from today's shooters.

Vehicles such as this flying heavy APC were a big part of the Tribes experience.
Vehicles such as this flying heavy APC were a big part of the Tribes experience.

Tribes included 32-player online multiplayer matches at a time when most PC shooters shipped with support for 16 players. The maps were so large that they offered many times the area to explore as other shooters of the time, and they even included sprawling base structures. Most PC gaming engines at the time had trouble transitioning between indoor and outdoor areas within a level, but Tribes did this seamlessly. To let you explore these massive maps, Tribes included vehicles that served not only as attack craft, but also as transports for quickly ferrying squads of teammates around. Tribes was, in fact, the first FPS game to successfully integrate drivable vehicles into gameplay.

But the innovations didn't stop at large maps, bases, and vehicles. Tribes' bases had functional elements that needed to be defended. Generators provided power to many aspects of your base, such as defense turrets, vehicle stations, and the ever-important inventory stations that players needed to use to outfit themselves with specialized armor and weapons. Not only did you have to defend your base and your flag, but base defense and upkeep became an important part of Tribes. The best teams in the game had players who specialized in certain roles. Some players would try to capture and retrieve the enemy flag. Some would attack enemy base fixtures like the defense turrets and the ever-important generator. Other players would take strictly defensive roles, guarding specific areas of the base and repairing base structures. Many shooters of the day offered a capture-the-flag mode; they made a map, put a flag on each end, and called it a day. Tribes' multiplayer was much more than just plain old CTF.

Bases included sealed doors, radar arrays, and other important substructures.
Bases included sealed doors, radar arrays, and other important substructures.

Clearly there was a lot of strategy involved in Tribes, but that didn't take anything away from the intensity of actual combat with other players, which was just as enjoyable as in any other shooter at the time. The fact that every player in the game had a jetpack gave combat in Tribes a uniquely vertical aspect that to this day has not been matched by any other shooter franchise. Any hardcore Tribes player can regale you with stories about sniping flag runners out of midair with the laser rifle, smacking enemies out of the air with the disc launcher, and chasing down foes with the chaingun.

Massive maps. Dozens of players engaged in fierce online combat. Complex base structures with turrets, powered doors, and other strategic emplacements to defend. Vehicles flying all over the place. These are all features that sound like a part of a recently released game, or even a game that hasn't been released yet. But Starsiege Tribes had it all, and it offered it generations ago, as far as the video game industry is concerned. Tribes was years ahead of its time when it was released in late 1998, and its influence is still easily apparent today.

- Bob Colayco

Do you have memories of Tribes? Do you have stories about swift and daring flag runs, or impressive mid-air disc shots? Share them on our forum!

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