I never had the pleasure of playing the original Tribes, or even its acclaimed sequel Tribes 2. Imagine my surprise when the nice people from Vivendi and Sierra sent me a copy to review. I’ve played most of the first person shooters that use the Unreal engine, but for some bizarre reason I never made it to the Tribes series. I’m looking upon this as a good thing. This is the first game in the series made by Sierra and Irrational Games instead of Dynamix, the company behind the whole Metaltech, Earthsiege and Starsiege thing. Therefore it’s going to be impossible for me to make comparisons between them. What I am able to do is review a unique game and tell you my impressions accordingly.
The story mode behind Tribes: Vengeance sways between the present and the history of three warring factions; The Imperials, Phoenix and the Blood Angels. These futuristic mechanised warriors of death bare the colours blue, red and yellow consecutively. Single player begins with a few really easy missions, giving you clear instructions. Immediately, I found myself mastering the familiar controls used by most games of the same genre. I was disheartened at this stage to tell you the truth. The level design hadn’t been too spectacular either. I was running down repetitive space ship corridor environments not too dissimilar to the likes of Unreal 2, Halo, Doom 3 and Half Life. Thankfully, the introduction of a jet pack spiced things up a little. I pushed on,
I made it out of the first level and was treated to a new map. This enclosed cavern map didn’t exactly excite me either. Keeping up with the trend, the game introduced frictionless skis to compensate. Thankfully, I made it outside. I’ve never played a game using the Unreal engine that allows you to move so fast. Nor have a played a game using the Unreal engine that includes such gigantic maps. I found myself skiing down slopes and boosting up hills. It was a pretty effective way of getting around, covering vast distances with a modest boost and a slight ski. Before my very eyes, I saw a mediocre game transform into a good game. There weren’t many barriers restricting my game play, I was also enjoying the missions that were cleverly introducing me too the unique items.
There are three suits of mechanised armour; heavy, medium and (you guessed it) light. The heavy armour is just that. It’s not great for covering great distance but it can take a beating and it holds masses of ammo. Light armour is feeble but gives superior speed and agility. Each suit has provision for the user to insert a special pack. There are shield, speed, energy and repair varieties. Each will assist you differently and play a vital part in your survival.
Different weapons have to be chosen to match each suit. As with most first person shooters, there are some first-rate guns and there are some unfortunate guns. A couple really stand out as being lousy, but generally they’re pretty good. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of a grappling hook. I found myself flying up to tall structures and attaching the hook. Once I was swinging in the wind, I was then allowed to switch weapon. I happily sniped at the enemy troops, still suspended well out of their reach on my grappling hook’s thread. Not only was I walking, skating and flying, I was now climbing too.
Your armour also has a backpack for storing one inventory item. Deployable turrets, mines, repairers, catapults and deployable inventories are essential to keep the character alive.
The chapters continued, more characters were added. Soon I found myself participating in some arena tournaments. Looking back I can now see this was the equivalent of UT2004’s instant action mode. I interpreted this as warm-up for online play. A few matches won and I was thrust back to cut scenes and the story. The missions were becoming more demanding. In fact, I found myself stuck on quite a few occasions. I died a few times and finally succeeded. My reward at the next level was a shiny, red Rover. Just the thing I needed to race around the ruined city map.
Frankly, the vehicles in Vengeance are technically and visually the best I’ve seen. If you enjoy driving the Hellbender, Manta or Raptor in UT2004, then this game will delight you. There are four different vehicles at your disposal; Rover, Jump Tank, Assault Ship and Fighter Pod. They all move pretty fast and they can all take a good beating. Full marks go to the vehicle development team.
After completing the single player, I decided to practice my new found skills online. The multiplayer part of the game comprises of several different game types, classified as Tribal War. As well as faithful favourites like Capture the flag and the awesome Arena mode, you’ll find game types such as Rabbit, Ball and Fuel. I played all of the categories and CTF and Arena seemed the most playable to me. After a few games of killing nobody and dying plenty, my skills increased and I started to score well.
If I had to be honest about this game, I’d say there’s nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s essentially an Unreal game that lets you ride in jets and tanks, but lets not miss the main issue. This game is good at what it does. I would further like to add that I feel this game does more justice to the Unreal engine than any other has before. Technically, it’s the first one to support great looking features like Pixel Shader 2.0. Provided you have the correct supported hardware, naturally.
I also found some of the maps at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some where a delight to travel around, others were tedious at best. Thank goodness the multiplayer maps are all fantastically designed.
To summarise, I feel that this game exceeds both UT2004 and Unreal 2. I found it more complex and more enjoyable to play. This can only add to the games last appeal. If you’re a fan of the Unreal series of games, Tribes Vengeance is an essential and should on your shopping list.