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Sirromnad avatar 12:36 PM on 01.27.2012  (server time)
Beta Impressions: Tribes Ascend

There are a few different kinds of shooters available today. There are tactical shooters which require a more strategic approach to combat and move at a slower pace. There are twitch shooters that are based more on reflexes than teamwork. Then there are games like Tribes which meld both styles so well it's a type all it's own.

Tribes Ascend took me by surprise. I was a fan of Tribes since it's creation in 1998. Tribes 2 in 2001 was when I really fell in love. It was a shooter unlike anything I've seen at the time. Then time went on and I stopped playing. There were a few more Tribes game throughout the years but nothing ever grabbed me like Tribes 2 did. Fast forward to a few days ago where I found out you could get into the Tribes Ascend beta through a couple simple clicks on their facebook page. It's been a week and I can't stop thinking or talking about it. Tribes Ascend really took me by surprise.

For those unfortunate enough to never play a Tribes game, it's a breakneck first person shooter that uses mobility as a focal point. Two forms of movement differentiate Tribes from other games. The ability to ski and the jetpack. Skiing works like it sounds, building momentum while falling or going downhill. The jetpack is also standard giving you a sustained burst into the air. A combination of these two makes traversing the landscape incredibly fun and effective. It's easy to learn and difficult to master.

So while this unique type of movement sets the pace of the game, the classes offer more precise variety. While only two classes are available to start, two more can be unlocked rather quickly. These four classes show the main differences between the rest of the classes. (12 in total) There are 3 armor types in the game, each type offering up difference in playstyle. The Light armor types such as Pathfinder and Ranger are all about speed and grabbing the flag. Medium armor types like the Soldier are mobile yet effective in combat, acting as perfect support characters. Then there are the heavy types. Their movement is stunted enough to make them less effective attacking but they are perfect for sticking close to base and defending against attackers. All roles are necessary to winning a game and each class can be effective in their own way.

The soldier and ranger are the starting classes, with the rest being unlockable by in game tokens or real world money.

The melding of class based warfare with the freedom of movement made possible by skiing allows for so many different play styles. The maps further compliment this by being basic yet interesting, offering up a lot of wide open space with rolling hills for exciting chases. Each team has a base that houses their flag and comes equipped with automated turrets, shields, vehicle stations, and ammo stations. These are powered by a generator somewhere around the base. For a team to run effectively you are going to need people running for the flag, people protecting the flag grabber, people protecting the home base flag, people patrolling the outside reparing and upgrading turrents, and people underneath the base making sure the generator is online at all times. There is always a role for you to play and this is really what makes Tribes so special. The ability to encourage teamwork while at the same time rewarding players who don't work well with others is something a lot of competitive shooters lack.

Another surprise I took away from Tribes is just how good the game looks. I'm not used to a free to play game having enough power behind it to make it seem like a full title, but it's impressive. Textures look good, I've rarely seen any lag, and maps are all unique from each other.

When it comes down to it, the best part about tribes is how satisfying it is. A game could be sound mechanically, gorgeous aesthetically, and competitively balanced, but that doesn't mean anything if the game isn't satisfying to play. There are so many moments that just make you instantly reflect on how awesome the game you are playing is. Moments like having a high speed chase around the level for 5 minutes, landing a direct hit on a passing enemy flying through the air, grabbing the flag fast enough that the other team barely has a chance to react, etc. Moments like these are a dime a dozen and the reason why Tribes will always hold a place in my gaming library. I'm eagerly awaiting a full release.

I apologize for not being able to get any video. It's a real shame since the true magic of Tribes can only really be appreciated in motion. There are a number of video previews around the web that should suffice however.

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