Tribes 2 review — June 2001, US edition

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Every Sunday, Tyler publishes a classic PC Gamer review from the '90s or early 2000s, with his context and commentary followed by the full, original text from the archived issue. This week, Tribes 2 is reviewed in the June 2001 issue of PC Gamer US. More classic reviews here.

After the surprise announcement of Rainbow Six Siege, some more time with Evolve, and the sudden Battlefield Hardline closed beta, I've been thinking a lot about cooperative and competitive shooters since E3. A hell of a lot is owed to the Tribes series—from Battlefield, especially—so to pay respects to a classic in the genre, here's our original 2001 review of Tribes 2.

The only difference is that the original review didn't have embedded YouTube videos. YouTube didn't exist. Neither did this website. Spooky.

Tribes 2 review

The best online title of the year? Could be. Dynamix is back to lay out the multiplayer love...

Required: PII 300, 64MB RAM, 12MB 3D card
We recommend: PIII 600/Athlon, 128MB RAM, 32MB GeForce2, broadband

There’s a damn good reason why the original Tribes has a cult following: branching off from Sierra’s quasi-obscure Starsiege universe, Tribes offered the perfect blend of team-based gameplay and first-person-shooter thrills.

But the big kicker was the game environment. While other games locked you into stinky dungeons and claustrophobic nuclear-weapons facilities, Tribes took deathmatching outside, with its sprawling mountain ranges and miles of rocky terrain.

After two years of semi-underground status as a beloved online shooter, the game has finally stepped aside to welcome its long-awaited successor. After announcing that Tribes 2 would feature a single-player training mode designed specifically to make the Tribes universe accessible to newbies, Sierra’s delivery of the sequel may be the biggest “quiet” event of the gaming year.

At its core, Tribes is just Capture the Flag. With turrets. And power generators. And multiple armor classes. And mines and sniper rifles and long-range sensors. If you haven’t played the original Tribes before, there’s a good chance that Tribes 2 is going to kick you in the ass for a few weeks—at least until you grow accustomed to the ungodly number of strategies that drive the game.

While games like TeamFortress Classic and Counter-Strike can be played independently, with each player doing his or her own thing, Tribes 2 requires you to work as a team if you want to succeed, and indeed to get any real sense of purpose in the chaotic, sprawling environments. Capturing the flag is a Herculean accomplishment, requiring you to communicate with teammates in a combined effort to knock down turrets, disable enemy sensors, and escort flag-carriers.

Fortunately, giving orders and accepting computer-assigned tasks is pretty easy—the traditional Tribes voice chat menu is back in full effect, and you can bark out various phrases (and insults, such as the infamous “Shazbot!”) with a few simple keystrokes. A selection of character voices is included so you can vary the harshness. Tribes 2 also includes microphone support for broadband gamers, allowing you to strap on a headset and dole out the chatter. (Note to the bandwidth-impaired: turning off the mic feature can result in big-time lag reduction.)

So what’s new? Tribes 2 lets you cobble together your own loadout and combine armor types with special weapons and attacks. The game has a handful of preset “classes,” though it’s possible to edit together your own class for that personal touch of destruction. Each player is given a jetpack as well. If you’ve ever wanted to rocket through the skies while firing missiles at your target, your day has come.

But the coolest addition to Tribes 2 is vehicular combat. A large percentage of maps feature a Vehicle Base, where any player can “spawn” a limited number of armored personnel carriers, bombers, and grav-cycles. Just jetpack yourself into the driver’s seat and you’re in control. Best of all, your teammates can hop into the gunner’s seats to pick off incoming enemies with impunity.
There are few thrills like spawning a flying personnel carrier, inviting your team to hop onboard, and driving a fully loaded, six-man Havoc gunship into the heat of battle. Vehicle control is extremely wonky at first, and takes practice—but if you do crash, you can always check out the hellzapoppin’ explosion effects that send rubble flying everywhere.

We should also mention that Tribes 2 is a real looker. The outdoor environments are sugar-sweet, with rolling hills, craggy peaks, and reflective lakes. The characters are outfitted in slick, badass armor skins, and show off lovely motion-capture animation. The dynamic lighting is pretty slick, too—for example, if your generator gets knocked out, your base is eerily lit by auxiliary neon signs.

Still, you’ll only be basking in eye-candy if you have the right hardware. If you happen to have a GeForce card, you’re in luck—a smooth-playing game awaits you. However, if you’re stuck with a Voodoo card, you’re hosed: the sequel has dropped native Glide support, and consequently runs like a pig on 3dfx cards, and thus far Sierra’s tech folks have shown little enthusiasm for fixing this issue. Gee, thanks.

The only other downside to Tribes 2 is that it’s still a bit on the chaotic side, and few people—apart from close-knit clan members, anyway—pay any attention to the orders system. While every player can bring down an overhead RTS-style map and dish out orders to their team members, whether or not anyone follows your commands is another matter entirely.

And no matter what you do, you’ll always have snot-nosed bastard teammates giggling madly as they steal your vehicles or team-kill your buddies. For dealing with these unruly peons, Tribes 2 contains a handy-dandy user-initiated voting system, where you can choose to kick out a player or turn off team damage. Now that’s democratic gameplay for ya.

As might be expected, playing the game off-line isn’t nearly as much fun. There are a half-dozen training missions designed to get you up and running, but they barely scratch the surface of the game’s complexity. It’s easy to set up and run a game with 16 AI bots, but the resulting gameplay is pretty dry: you can’t use bots on any of the vehicle maps, which cuts out about half of them.

Niggles aside, this is one helluva game—and a significant evolutionary step up the ladder for online shooters. The team coordination demands a sophistication that few shooters have ever asked for. If you’ve grown weary of Counter-Strike and TeamFortress Classic, it may be time to set foot into the vast killing fields of Tribes 2. There’s no doubt that with the right hardware, Internet connection and teammates, you’ll get a truly unique, and amazing gameplay experience. But fall short on any one of those requirements, and you could be heading for a pit of frustration. Just remember to keep your Shazbot together. — Colin Williamson


Verdict

89

An addictive and challenging step forward for team-oriented shooters.