Reviewed: June 03, 2001
Released: March 30, 2001
With so many FPS (first person shooter) games on the market these days its hard to get excited when another one releases, even when it's the sequel to an awesome original. The original Tribes was without a doubt one of the best multiplayer online action/strategy games released, offering even more depth and gameplay than the "big two"; Quake Arena and Unreal Tournament. With such a huge fan base, expectations were high and Dynamix had their work cut out for them when it came time to make the sequel.
Tribes 2 has been out for just over two months now and while I normally like to review games when they launch, apparently this time the delay may have been to my benefit and yours. While I cannot comment first hand on the release version, there were abundant rumors of major bugs, graphical glitches, and several incompatibilities with various hardware setups. I was fortunate enough to be able to download the latest 22755 patch the day I received my copy and am happy to report I haven't experienced a single glitch, crash, or bug in over 40 hours of solo and online play.
There were also rumors of Tribes 2 being a "system resource hog". The CPU requirements on the box are directly related to the video card you have - something I have never seen before, but it makes sense. My P3-700 w/ 384mb RAM and a GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32mb had no trouble running Tribes 2 at 1024x768 resolutions with 16 players. The frame rates were almost always as smooth as glass except for those rare occasions when everyone was on-screen at the same time along with explosions and smoke. Then it would get jumpy but never unplayable.
Tribes 2 offers the same intense team multiplayer action you've come to expect from games like Unreal Tournament and Quake: Team Arena but with a much greater variety in gameplay modes, bigger levels, more objectives, and more intelligent AI bots.
As with most games in this genre, Tribes 2 is targeted for the online community, but Dynamix has included some very intelligent bots that allow you to play solo with computer controlled teammates and opponents. The AI can be adjusted with sliders during each mission setup allowing you to customize the difficulty for each session. At the higher levels, the AI can, and often will think faster and perform better than most human opponents. Computer bots will work as a team to flank your position or one will try to bait you away from your post while another sneaks in from the rear to capture your structure.
Tribes 2 eases you into the action with several training missions that teach you all the basics of movement, combat, and working with bots. Working as a team can be very important and often critical in the success of your mission. If you try to play this game as a "lone wolf" you will seldom win. Cooperation is even promoted through the use of weapons such as the laser-guided rocket. If you are teamed with a soldier who has a rocket launcher you can arm your laser targeting device and "paint" the desired target with your laser. Your teammate will fire rockets at whatever you are pointing at until it is destroyed or he runs out of ammo.
There are several game modes available and while many of your old favorites are back like Capture the Flag, there are several new and very original game types to choose from.
CAPTURE and HOLD
CAPTURE the FLAG
There is much more than just new game modes that make Tribes 2 one of the most original FPS games currently available. The ability to reconfigure your soldier and current arsenal in mid-mission is a great concept. Scattered about the levels are various Inventory Stations. These small platforms are usually inside towers or other structures and are often guarded by soldiers or automated turrets. You can only use these stations if the generator is still providing power and the structure is under your team's control.
There are over 20 presets to choose from when outfitting your soldier ranging from heavy assault armor to light scout armor. You can also customize the weapon selection for these presets and save your favorites for easy access on return visits to the inventory pad. Picking the right armor and weapons for your current mission or task is critical in your mission success. Your current armor also affects your ground speed and your ability to jump and use the jetpack.
There are over 30 different types of ammo and accessories you can equip as well as three primary armor classes. Picking the right combination can often be as challenging as completing the mission itself. If you know you are going to have to repair that damaged turret on the nearby mountain then make sure you equip that repair pack and light armor that will allow you to scale the slopes quickly. You can always return and re-equip for your next objective.
Your soldier is equipped with a jetpack that can be used to propel you to great heights or even grant you the ability to fly for a very limited duration. Your jetpack recharges when not in use, so learning effective use of the jetpack is very important, especially for evasive combat moves or finding those hidden back doors and ledges in the tops of the towers.
Controlling your teammates is made easy through the use of a Command Circuit interface. This is basically a top-down map view of the current area that shows the location of all your troops and the various structures. From here you can command your troops, assign waypoints, control turrets and sensor arrays, or monitor remote spy cameras that you can place when you are out in the field.
To make things even more interesting Tribes 2 offers several vehicles you can control including ground and anti-grav craft. These range from the speedy Wildcat Grav-Cycle to the slow but heavily shielded Jericho-class Forward Base. There are also tanks, hover fighters, bombers, and transports, to give you the ultimate variety in transportation and combat.
The graphics and level design in Tribes 2 is some of the best I have ever seen in the FPS genre. It maintains all the quality of Unreal Tournament graphics but trades in the bright colors for a more gritty and realistic look. The outdoor levels are huge and second only to the terrain graphics in Project IGI which is saying a lot since that game used a flight simulator engine to render the maps.
Some of the structures in Tribes 2 are enormous. There are a few command building that I actually got lost inside. When you die you restart at a random location and once it took me almost three minutes to find the door to get back outside and into the action. The bases and towers almost always feature multiple levels with vertical shafts you must use to reach the higher or lower levels. Some of these shafts will push your jetpack to the limit.
Screenshots cannot do this game justice. The terrain stretches out to the horizon with no visible polygons. Everything is smooth and textures are graduated as they change so there are no visible seams in the texture maps. The maps are sparsely populated with a few trees here and there giving the worlds a very alien look and feel. Water effects are excellent and have ripples and reflection maps, and the sky is some of the most realistic and beautiful I have ever seen complete with stars and alien moons. Weather effects such as fog, rain, and snow are perfectly reproduced and can often limit your visibility adding even more tension.
Character animation is a bit jerky but since these soldiers are all outfitted in bulky suits of armor I doubt they would be moving too gracefully anyway. You can see the flames from their jetpack as they launch into the sky and their current weapon is perfectly modeled and shown in their hands so you always know what they are about to shoot at you.
Special effects are simply breathtaking. Explosions look like real video superimposed over the game graphics with billowing gas vapors exploding in vibrant colors so real that you can almost feel the heat. Structures and devices all take damage and can be deformed and damaged appropriately. Force fields flash and sparkle as they take damage until they ultimately fizzle out.
The music in Tribes 2 consists of some thumping techno tracks with some heavy metal influence. It's a perfect match for the intense action that is normally taking place on the screen. Of course if you get tired of the music you can always toggle it off in the options menu and settle for the amazing sounds of high-tech combat.
Sound effects are some of the best and each weapon has a unique sound when it fires. The resulting explosions sound as good as they look. Tribes 2 supports EAX sound and if you have four speakers you are in for a real treat. There is nothing more unnerving than to be standing guard duty on a sniper ledge only to hear the hiss of a jetpack behind you just before you turn to face an enemy soldier sneaking up on your position.
The sounds are so realistic and the use of positional audio is so well done that if you are in the middle of a major conflict the sounds will assault you from all directions adding to the confusion of all the smoke and explosions on screen.
Tribes 2 features full support for voice chat and the entire system has been overhauled from the original. It is now much more intuitive and offers a better layout for commands and there are many more sayings. The game comes with a handy reference card to bind your voice commands to keyboard shortcuts. Another new and much desired feature is the ability to issue commands from your suit rather than having to go to the command window. This is a great time saver.
Tribes 2 is going to keep you busy for a long time. I've already logged over 40 hours and I've only sampled a few levels from each of the game modes and played online for about ten hours. Some of the missions are long and take place on huge maps lasting 20-30 minutes each. There are three skill level settings that offer an increasing challenge if you want to replay the same levels.
Of course the big replay feature of Tribes 2 is the limitless possibilities of each mission. You can choose from a wide variety of tasks such as assault, defend, repair, patrol and change these tasks anytime within the mission. You can also take command of your team and override their AI to make them perform specific tasks you want them to do.
If you manage to finish all the solo missions and get tired of online play you can always tackle the map/mission editor that comes with the game. Dynamix has finally released the mission editor manual that makes designing your own maps and missions possible, but not very easy. Next to the Tomb Raider Map Editor this is probably the most challenging and confusing map editor available to the end user.
Tribes 2 is a multiplayer online game by design, but there are several things that quickly detract from the potential success and enjoyment of this title when playing on the Internet. My major complaint is a lack of "serious players". It seemed that in almost all of my online sessions nobody wanted to work together as a team and when you have a dozen "lone wolfs" running around it's hard to get anything done or effectively complete your goals. If you want to play Tribes 2 as it was designed then you definitely need to form or join a clan of serious warriors and only play other serious gamers. Otherwise the game reverts to nothing more than the most primitive version of Quake Deathmatch.
I've been anxiously awaiting the release of Team Fortress 2 which is going to require even more teamwork than Tribes 2. If this is any indication of the general attitude of online gamers then I fear for the success of TF2 or any other title that is based on teamwork and cooperative play.
My second complaint is the lack of servers offering the new game modes. It seems that everyone wants to play the standard CTF and Deathmatch games. While those game modes are certainly fun, after years of playing them in all the other FPS titles that have been released I would much rather play the new and innovative modes Tribes 2 has to offer. Unfortunately, if I want to play an exciting game of "Rabbit" or "Siege" I have to play by myself using the bots.
Despite my few complaints, none of which are flaws of the actual game, Tribes 2 is a solid FPS title that offers some of the best graphics, sound, and team-based gameplay available today. The bots exhibit some killer AI and offer an excellent challenge when you can't find that online session you've been looking for.
Tribes 2 can demand a lot from your system if you want to crank up the resolution and detail levels, but there are plenty of variations and options that make this game playable on most any system released in the last two years.
Dynamix has expanded upon existing game concepts to make for some truly innovative and exciting new modes of play. The levels are huge and well designed so they easily accommodate the 64-player max without overcrowding. Even some of the structures are capable of housing up to a dozen soldiers at a time without getting too confining. Tribes 2 might not replace any of your other favorite FPS games, but it is certainly the next step in the evolution of team-based online gaming.