Running up the side of the hill, you feverishly scan the display, checking your armor level, energy charge, and the number of rounds left in your plasma rifle. Breathlessly you crest the hill with the enemy flag tucked securely on your back. The base is in sight. It’s an all-out dash now as weapon fire fizzes and hisses about you, lighting up the ground for as far as the eye can see. There’s a strange roar in the air, coming from behind, and though you think you’re home free, you can hear an ominous whistling sound, which is growing in pitch and intensity. Hurtling desperately through the entrance of your team’s base a bomb directly impacts your position?Welcome to Tribes Aerial Assault.
Where is the rest of the ?Tribe’, you ask? You have teammates, either bots or real people, but actually helping you is at their sole discretion. It is in their interest, however, because if the flag carrier doesn’t score, no one scores.
Tribes is an optional first and third-person team-based action game that’s been popular on the PC for several years, but now makes its debut on the console side of the gaming fence.
It’s widely believed that many console games of this nature (Rainbow Six, Unreal Tournament, Quake III) are somewhat dumbed-down versions of their PC counterparts, almost as if to say that console gamers aren’t interested in or can’t appreciate a customizable or dynamic play experience. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Rare’s phenomenal Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 but, as a rule, these kinds of games pale on consoles in comparison to their PC iterations. However, while Tribes has been simplified a little, there are still a ton of play options on offer.
There have been gripes that Aerial Assault has too many options, but, frankly, this notion is to be scoffed at. If you don’t like fiddling with things, then don’t fiddle. Fiddlers fiddle lovingly, and, personally speaking, I’m still finding new ways to play Perfect Dark several years after its release. Tribes possesses similarly dynamic content, but in a whole new way: online play.
Remember that guy who bombed you earlier? He’s actually a 19-year-old college student in Pasadena, or maybe he’s a 32-year-old advertising executive in Chicago. He could be a she. He could be anybody, because Tribes breaks the mold and allows up to 16 simultaneous players per game in an online world, through either broadband or dial-up Internet connections. Finally, a worthwhile use for that network adaptor.
After five straight hours in the middle of the night and an insatiable “just one more game,” attitude I finally retired from an excellent 16-player Capture the Flag session with a real sense of satisfaction and community. Love and hate is found on the battlefield like nowhere else, and already friendly grudges were forming with guys like ?Warrior 1′ and ?Garet Jax’ (the pesky opponent who bombed me at the point of wondrous victory).
Fortunately, the online component comes with a Buddy List feature, so when you find people you want to play with again, they’re always easy to keep track of.
The game brings more than just Capture the Flag, though this is probably the most-played game mode in attendance. Also available are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Hunters (a cumulative, point/flag-based twist on traditional Deathmatch), and Capture and Hold (like Domination in Unreal Tournament where you tag different bases and hold them for as long as possible). All modes are available online and offline, supplying plenty of competent bots (A.I. players) to keep things interesting when other players aren’t accessible.
What also makes this game really unique are all the gadgets at your disposal. You can set up remote turrets for base defense and remote inventory stations to re-arm your comrades on the expansive battlefields between bases.
Also, you can pilot vehicles to transport your allies or rain death upon the enemy, you can run around repairing base generators and sensors, change turret barrels…the list goes on and on.
In fact, set the game timer for any less than 30 minutes and you’ll feel as though you hardly got anything accomplished. This is how Tribes can suck away your life.
This game is quite possibly the defining FPS/TPS moment of this generation, the way Perfect Dark was for the N64 and Unreal Tournament is for the PC. It plays seamlessly whether online or off, with or without bots, and has no fog or framerate problems despite having expansive battlefields and towering structures. Some of the geometry and texturing looks a little basic in places, but who cares when it works this well? Developers Inevitable Entertainment, and publishers Sierra remembered to make a game that was fun, first and foremost.
The cooperative team aspects along with all the chaos around you give a fantastic sense of the frenetic nature of team-based warfare. Best of all, online play is free and the servers never shut down. Even when they eventually do, the offline play is just as complete, something many games don’t flesh out fully enough. Multiplayer bots are essential.
The only valid complaint lies with the communication system. For a team-based game, not having voice chat, keyboard support, or the option for custom messages beyond generic equivalents of “Woohoo!” and “Oops!” is more than a minor development oversight.
Stock up on junk food and eye-drops while you can because once you’re in the game, you may never want to come back out. And if you spy a hardened battle veteran, with a flag strapped to his back, desperately sprinting through the carnage for the victorious confines of his team’s base – please don’t blow him up. It’s just not nice.