The competitive first-person shooter genre has seen countless entries over the last few years, standing as one of the most popular types of game. Despite this it’s fair to say that we’re seeing a certain amount of stagnation in the realm of FPS games of late. With a hand full of franchises dominating the market, there has been a marked tendency towards “realistic” warfare shooters. While these games certainly have their place, I often find myself missing the days of Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 where gravity was of little issue and weapons were the size of a chair. Realism be damned.
Lucky for me, Hi-Rez Studios has set out to bring the popular Tribes franchise back to life after its long hibernation. Tribes: Ascend is a free to play PC game for Windows and it’s a breath of fresh air that takes us away from broken down streets and RPG wielding soldiers. Much like me, Tribes: Ascend really doesn’t care for realism, or gravity for that matter. Tribes: Ascend is all about fun.
I’d like to highlight here that I’ve never played a Tribes game before Ascend- I must have been too busy with Unreal Tournament. If its predecessors were anything like Tribes: Ascend, however, I can safely say that I’ve been missing out. Using a free to play model, Tribes: Ascend offers sci-fi FPS action against a backdrop of snowy tundras, desert towers and tropical beaches.
The gameplay makes fast paced feel like an inadequate term. Much of the action is wrapped around a core concept called skiing. By holding the space bar you engage your skiing mode and can glide along the landscape as if it were made of ice. By doing so you can achieve incredible speeds and when used in conjunction with your energy dependant jet pack this can allow you to navigate the landscape with ease. Naturally there is a learning curve to getting used to this aspect of the game and players must learn when to switch from skis to jetpacks to avoid losing momentum.
The goal of the main gametype, capture the flag, is self explanatory and reasonably familiar to many FPS gamers. Two teams, each with a flag and each with the goal of bringing the enemy flag to their own (while it’s on the flag-stand). Tribes: Ascend shakes up this tried and tested formula by involving a generator that heavily links into the different character classes available to the player.
Each team has a generator nestled away deeper in the base than even the flag. By destroying the enemy generator you will disable their base turrets and radar. Additionally any extra class based defences that enemy players have planted will also be disabled; these include light turrets, shields and jammers. With all of these defences down capturing the flag will be far simpler.
Players can choose to play as one of nine classes, divided into three weight categories. The classes include, amongst others, the Pathfinder, a speedy flag capper, the Technician, an engineer dedicated to repairing and upgrading base defences and the Doombringer who sits near or on the flag with a massive chain gun. Each class has a very specific set of possible jobs and none feel redundant. There are, of course, arguments over the balance here and there and Hi-Rez are no doubt tweaking the classes to keep the player-base happy. There are a couple classes that feel as if they need an unlockable item or two to really be effective but generally each class excels at the tasks for which they are intended.
The maps are nothing short of stunning. It’s refreshing to be playing a first-person shooter again where players aren’t limited to tight, grubby corridors and battle-scared cities. Here you’ll be skiing at 150mph over lush green hills while desperately trying to gun down the flag carrier ahead of you. The maps are sufficiently varied as to avoid getting old too soon and Hi-Rez has already added more in their regular updates.
Other stand-out moments are linked to the thrill of knowing you helped the team when using a particular class to fulfil a specific role. For example, sniping a flag carrier two feet from his flag stand with the Sentinel class is extremely satisfying. Tribes: Ascend manages to ensure that no matter what class you play as you’ll always have a sense of contributing to the team effort- something many other team based FPS games fail at.
There are other gametypes available in Tribes: Ascend but they are generally lacklustre compared to the well designed CTF mode. Team deathmatch pretty much does what it says on the box- kill the bad guys more than they kill you. Arena functions in largely the same way but puts you in much smaller maps with two teams of five. While this makes for a nice change of pace it discards the speed and scale that Tribes: Ascend really excels at. It’s good to see more gametypes on offer, but CTF is definitely where the best action is.
Graphically Tribes: Ascend looks good (thanks to Unreal Engine 3) but it really shines through what it is showing you rather than how well it shows it. Tropical beaches and vast green plains are a far more attractive environment than a gritty street, no matter how well Frostbite 2 renders it. The music is grim but exciting and Hi-Rez Studios has linked it to the action by having it shift depending on your actions- grab the flag and the music will ramp up a notch.
Tribes: Ascend has a fairly respectful relationship with your wallet, offering quite an enticing bonus for paying customers. There are two currencies in the game: gold and XP. The former can be bought with money to unlock items quickly while the second is earned through gameplay and makes for a slower path to high tier unlocks. Weapons, perks, equipment, skins and upgrades can be bought and only skins are limited to gold payments. The aforementioned bonus is VIP status for making any purchase of gold whatsoever, including the cheapest £6.99 package. With VIP status comes a permanent 50% increase to earned XP, speeding up unlocks.
Tribes: Ascend is a fantastic FPS that offers a kind of raw fun that has been somewhat absent from the genre for a while. Some may not be happy with the free to play system and there are some unlocks that take a long time to reach without making a payment but Hi-Rez has ensured that the system doesn’t dip into pay to win territory. With new content like maps and unlockable weapons being added regularly, Tribes: Ascend has a lot to offer. There’s no price set on trying it out and even if there were I’d still be recommending it; this is definitely worth a look for any FPS fan.