Written by Jon Morris Sunday, 29 April 2012 16:29
Hi-Rez Studios recently released Tribes: Ascend, a multiplayer-only first person shooter that is currently exclusive to PC. The game can be downloaded at https://account.hirezstudios.com/tribesascend/ and several sites like Fileplanet. The game is free to play, with all weapons and gadgets potentially unlockable by earning XPs through gameplay. Players may purchase "Gold Points" or gain them through promotions, and the Gold Points can be used to unlock characters and weapons directly or purchase boosts which speed up the process of gaining XPs. The title retains several features familiar to fans of the Tribes series, most notably jetpacks and "skiing."
If you have never played a Tribes title before, imagine a very fast-paced FPS where players are literally flying around the maps at various speeds, airborne as a result of jetpacking, ski jumping by using the terrain, or a combination of the two. Most of the maps are absolutely gigantic, but the extreme mobility allowed by the jetpack and skiing mechanics makes the extreme map sizes both necessary and welcome. A few of the maps are remakes of classic Tribes maps, and the rest are new. There are four game modes: Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Capture and Hold (territory control) and Arena. Only CTF and Team Deathmatch are available to players below Rank 8.
Like all Tribes titles before it, Tribes: Ascend is very team-oriented, with nine different classes available. Of these nine, three are unlocked the moment you install the game and the other six are unlockable with XPs or Gold. The classes are divided into three armor levels: Light, Medium and Heavy. The lighter classes are the most mobile and correspondingly the most fragile. The heavier classes carry larger weapons, but every class is capable of killing every other class if played correctly. Mobility and acrobatic maneuvering can make a player very deadly in light armor, and a heavy class can deal huge damage to anyone that stands still too long. Every player can find a niche or two in this system. The base-oriented modes allow even the most immobile player to get in on the action because the teams must make forays into the opposing fortresses to perform the game-winning actions like flag capping or point capturing. Even Team Deathmatch employs a single, movable flag that benefits the team that possesses it. This is a subtle yet very effective way to break up stalemates, and it appears that the developers took care to avoid deadlocks in all facets of the game.
CTF and Capture and Hold modes also have vehicles and bases featuring turrets, radar and generators, all of which can be destroyed, repaired (through use of a repair gun that any player can acquire by swapping out their default weapon mid-match) or upgraded through in-game credits earned by accomplishing tasks during a match. A working generator allows all of these things to function, whereas a disabled generator means no juice for all of these base enhancements and consequently an easier invasion. The in-game credits allow players to spawn consumable vehicles and inventory stations, or call in tactical strikes and orbital strikes. The credits are instance-based and are completely separate from the XP and Gold system; in other words they cannot be purchased, they can only be earned and spent in a given match.
While it is true that the rate at which one acquires XP is rather slow unless one buys Gold or a Boost, this game is not pay-to-win. Nothing is unavailable to the free player willing to put in time. The later guns are options, not must-haves, and although many are XP-priced high enough to make spending money tantalizing at times, there are two main reasons this system is still fair: the fact that no gear is exclusive to paying players and the undeniable value for the money if one does choose to spend. Considering the amount charged for many current games, spending around ten dollars on Tribes: Ascend is a pittance that justly rewards the developers for their care in crafting a very fun and skill-based game. The massive sandboxes allow players to continuously refine their movement and combat techniques. Only in Tribes will one be able to blow by an enemy at 140 km/hr while whirling around to unleash a spinfusor disc. The area-of-effect weapons are for the most part nicely balanced with the bullet-based weapons, although one minor gripe is that the automatic weapons are incapable of firing while zoomed in. The crosshair for the automatic weapons is a small, simple dot. Some players find this aggravating, but when one is firing at a 10-pixel tall enemy half a mile away, a large crosshair could arguably be an impediment. The mortar-style weapons feature a distance-adjust ladder familiar to most FPS players. Vehicles are fun but not overpowered, and there are plenty of perks, offhands and secondary weapons to make every playstyle viable.
Tribes: Ascend is well-deserving of a look from any FPS player seeking something different than the modern military shooters flooding the market. No one can argue with the price, and it is possible to strike a decent balance between expenditure and reward if one does decide to speed up the kit and gear acquisition process through the discretionary application of real-world dollars. Although it does take a long time to unlock items when playing for free, the game is fun at all levels and there is enough diversity of classes and methods to ensure that all players will have something entertaining to do. The graphics and sounds, while not as detailed as a $60 AAA title, are more than good enough to entertain, and for a relatively small download and free price tag they are easily at or above the level one would expect. Fans of the old series will find plenty to reinvigorate them, and new players will quickly be drawn into the unique brand of gameplay the game offers. Tribes: Ascend is a recommended pickup for anyone that likes team-based shooters.