Tribes Ascend - PC Game Review

Tribes Ascend - PC Game Review
A free-to-play resurrection of the "Starsiege: Tribes" series, "Tribes: Ascend" offers gameplay not found in basically any other modern shooter.

"Tribes: Ascend" is a first-person shooter made by Hi Rez Studios; it is currently free to play, but uses a lot of "paid" elements (buying experience, buying gear, etc). Tribes: Ascend is notable because it represents a kind of FPS gameplay that has been neglected in recent years: that of the fast-paced sci-fi FPS, akin to games like Unreal or Quake. A multiplayer-only game, Tribes: Ascend has a fairly standard range of game types - deathmatch, capture the flag, control points - but their diversity is not the main selling point of the game.

Tribes' gameplay utilizes two important things. The first of these is how the game handles movement. Normal running speed for Tribes characters isn't much faster than standard FPS characters'. However, Tribes characters can "ski", essentially making them frictionless. This allows them to build up high speed when going down slopes. They are also equipped with jetpacks, which allows them to boost up slopes in order to keep their momentum. A good "skiier" can be going many times faster than a character's normal running speed, and mastering skiing is key to getting good at the game. Going fast is definitely the best part of the game, and keeping the "flow" of high speed is an exciting and potent mechanic.

The other major aspect of the game is the slow projectiles. While many modern shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield rely heavily on guns with accurate bullet speeds, Tribes: Ascend uses the older concept of slower projectiles that have splash damage. This means that both hitting enemies, and being hit yourself, are fairly difficult - you have room to evade incoming projectiles, so as long as you can keep your speed up you can prevent yourself from being hit. It's difficult to learn how where to shoot, and most people miss pretty often, but it's neat to have a game where it actually feels like you're in control of whether or not you get hit, instead of putting it down to random chance like in many other FPS games.

The biggest problem with Tribes: Ascend is its free-to-play model. As you play, you gain experience depending on your performance. Experience can be used to upgrade your character or your gear, or unlock new classes and weapons. If you pay money (real money) you can essentially buy the upgrades instead of having to earn them through experience. In many cases it's only really feasible to get something through buying it; a good match gets me about 1000 experience, and buying some of the unlockable weapons costs 100,000 experience.

It's wholly possible to play the game normally and earn all these things, but the game seems balanced such that it's often easier just to "pay to win". It's not like not paying guarantees your loss or anything that severe, but the benefits are just so out of wack that it seems bizarre. I'd rather have just paid $30 for the game and started with everything unlocked; unlocking everything as it stands now would cost over a hundred dollars. To be fair it's hard to be rough on a game that's literally free to play; nobody has to buy those things, after all, they can all be earned the old fashioned way. But as a consumer package, it just seems weird.

On a technical level the game looks and sounds great. The contrasted sci-fi looks of the red and blue teams (the utilitarian Blood Eagle and the sleek, shiny Diamond Sword) is identifiable even from a distance. The game's music is kind of lackluster, and doesn't really have the energy that a game like this needs - it's advised to find a fast-paced song and play it in the background instead of using the default soundtrack. Easy communication with other players is possible through the game's "VGS" tool, which uses easy button presses to play messages based on category. For example, "V" to bring up the menu, then "F" to select "flag", then "R" for "retrieve our flag". It's difficult to do at first, but once you learn the commands you need it saves a lot of typing time.

Overall, Tribes: Ascend is a good, solid game with some questionable aspects to it. It's easy to pick up and recommend to your friends because, you know, it's free, but if you want to get more into it and pay for extra stuff, you can. It's an easy game to play casually, and it presents a style of gameplay not found in any other modern game.

Rating: 9/10.

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