Aug 18 2009
Tribes. Ah, Tribes. When I first played this game it seemed chaotic and shallow. A lack of close environments in which to battle, since most of the action takes place outdoors, seemed somehow not restrictive enough! But I persisted and played the training missions mainly because I had loved Terra Nova a few years earlier and couldn’t see how a multiplayer version of it could really fail.
It is the emphasis on teamwork that really sets Tribes apart from other 3D shooters. In fact it plays a little more like a Mechwarrior or Heavy Gear than a Quake game, despite having the movement of the latter. I finally played as a Commander during one heavy LAN session and I saw the potential of such a game. Rather than having teamplay modes like other 3D shooters, Tribes excels only when it is played as a team.
The Commander issues orders which appear on his subordinate’s compasses as a heading, distance and task. “Place Pulse Sensor”, “Attack Target”, “Build APC and fly it here”, etc. As the small dots on your overhead map scurry to do your bidding you can see your plans come together in real-time 2D!
Well practiced teams slide smoothly into action, all well aware of their initial tasks. Placing turrets around the base’s strategic ‘soft points’ (including the ‘blind’ Commander), placing Pulse sensors giving better radar coverage for the Commander, building attack vehicles and kitting themselves out with different types of armour and weapon configurations.
Then – WAR! An enemy APC, hugging the ground to keep below radar range, comes swooping down towards the base. “Our Base is under attack!” goes the shout. The Commander sees the red dot and assigns three nearby players to take it out. Three more red dots appear to the southwest and one of the pulse sensors fizzes out. Sending two more players to deal with the intruders, the Commander orders another player to grab a sensor and replace it. He also assigns another player to guard the laden tribesman. “Command acknowledged”
The enemy has been dispatched. Things are calm, all radar is back online. The Commander glances at his subordinate’s vital signs and orders two back to base for repairs. A proactive player has placed a camera on the hill above the enemy’s base. The Commander takes a peek. They are loading up a four man APC for an attack. Two Heavy Armours bristle with mortars. Trouble. Ordering a similar Strike squad into an APC he jumps back to the map. A brief flash of red to the north means that the enemy is on the way. As his Strike squad leave, he takes the controls of the automated defence systems. The heat-seeking rocket launcher takes a moment to power up, he swings it back and forth. Down the valley floor they come – nearly two miles away. Well out of range of the bases auto defences. He fires, they veer behind the hill. The rocket veers behind the hill. There is an explosion. The two unlucky Light armour guys are dead and the two Heavies are on foot miles from anywhere. He sends a mop-up crew to finish them off.
This is about ten minutes in a Tribes game. Very cool.
The huge scale of the outdoor environments doesn’t lend itself to deathmatch play, but with a Commander taking care of the overall strategy you really feel like you are a part of a team. Guarding another player as they set up a remote inventory station, only to be ambushed halfway there and then seeing three more of your Tribe arrive in an APC is so cool. This is what teamplay means.
Being designed from the ground up for multiplayer has really been to it’s advantage. With weapons, characters and craft designed with internet lag in mind, Tribes performs superbly.