Tribes 2

Starsiege: Tribes took the Internet by storm when it was released in 1999, and now, finally, Tribes 2 has hit the PC with a bang. This highly anticipated sequel is sure to please hard-core Tribes fans, with a heap of new features and tweaks. However, there are a few caveats, especially for the action gamer who's new to the Tribes universe.

For those unfamiliar with the Tribes games, the premise is simple. Set in a high-tech science fiction background, Tribes 2 is a multiplayer-focused first-person shooter with an emphasis on team strategy. The game lets up to 64 gamers battle simultaneously in large outdoor environments, either on foot or in a number of vehicles, in one of many different games.

The action can be insanely chaotic, especially in games with large numbers of players, when Tribes 2 becomes something of a squad-based real-time strategy game combined with heavy first-person action.

There are a lot of different game modes to pick from. 'Bounty' has you hunting a specific enemy player; once you eliminate that player you are assigned their bounty, and so on until there's only one player left standing. 'Capture the flag' has you trying to penetrate the enemy defences, steal their flag, then hightail it back to your base. You can play any of the games solo against some very good AI bots, or go up against human opponents on a LAN or over the Internet. Tribes 2 servers can be accessed directly from the in-game menu, which has some nice sorting capabilities for ping rates, kind of game, number of players, etc.

Once you've picked a game and jumped into the current battle, you've got to outfit yourself correctly for the role you want to play. You can choose to play defence and go with a heavy, less mobile setup, or snipe the enemy from long range in a light scout setup. There are a number of different armaments you can pick from, and you'll have a blast trying to pick your favourite. You can also select from different armour and equipment packs, like cloaking devices, sensor jammers, and repair packs, to keep your turrets and sensor array working.

Although you can fight on foot, you can also take advantage of a number of vehicles ranging from a quick single-seat Grav Cycle that hovers just above the ground, to a Thundersword heavy bomber that takes a crew of three (pilot, bomber, and gunner). Piloting the different vehicles is quite tough, however, and for the uninitiated it will probably be frustrating.

The command map also lets you plan strategy via an overhead view, where you can set waypoints and issue orders in real-time. The game is improved immeasurably when one team member "takes command" and takes on the role of coordinating your team's efforts.

The graphics in Tribes 2 are much improved over the first Tribes: terrain graphics are very well defined, with lots of rugged mountains, hills, and crevasses to set ambushes and find cover. However, even an 800MHz PIII and GeForce 2 graphics card couldn't keep the game from dropping frames at 800x600 resolution, especially during close quarters combat outdoors.

This isn't a game that you can just pick up and get into, and newbies will have to be patient. The controls are very complex, and the added elements of team play add another layer of difficulty. However, if you're patient and spend a good amount of time playing against the AI bots, your enjoyment of Tribes 2 will increase 10-fold.

Graphics: Excellent terrain details and a good selection of detail settings are hampered by compatibility issues and some wicked frame rate drops when the action is heated.
Sound: Good voice acting and in-game microphone support, backed by some sweet music for the soundtrack, make the sound top notch.
Control: The very complex command set is necessary, but the vehicle controls need work.
Fun factor: If you devote enough time to learning all the nuances of the game, Tribes 2 is a very rewarding multiplayer game.Developer: Dynamix
Publisher: Sierra Studios

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