Tribes: Vengeance

a game by Sierra
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews, 8 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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For several years now, a tight-knit group of the gaming elite have been off in the far-flung comers of the Internet enjoying a highly tactical, nicely team-centric game known as Tribes 2 or (if they're a bit more traditionalist) Starsiege: Tribes. Central to the mastery of these games is the jetpack: here only he who truly understands the power of his own momentum, and the artful downhill sliding known as skiing becomes, and his skills are shown in more ways than lying on a hill and endlessly sniping at spawn points.

Now, for once, the publishing peeps were paying attention, and when they saw all the cult fun being had their exploitation antennae started twitching. If a highly respected developer was entrusted with the Tribes format and tailored it for the mass market, who knows what wonders might occur? And, while Irrational is at it, why not develop a single-player contingent with all the ski-fresh goodness of the online game? And why not make it one big tutorial so that noobs are given a couple of seconds before having their arse handed to them when they plug into multiplayer games?

Why Not Indeed

So here we have the fruits of this labour. A giant tutorial that doesn't resort to endless target ranges and angry men shouting instructions at you about how to crouch. It's a game that appears to lag behind the current crop of high-budget, high-intensity shooters, with comparatively basic graphics, sound, ragdolls and peculiarly bouncy object physics - but it's also a game with some rarely seen sparkle. Whether you're marvelling at its remarkable fluidity (milked straight from the bosom of the goddess of gameplay), or ogling the epic, five-character narrative that leaps from generation to generation and consistently flicks your intrigue switch - it's clear that Vengeance is on to something good.

It's Like Dynasty

There are three main factions within the game - the sniffy Imperials who control interplanetary affairs with a royal blue iron fist, the Phoenix tribe that the Impenals have forced into the wilderness that lies within their territory, and the Blood Eagles - who are a lot like the Phoenix but markedly more evil.

The action kicks off aboard the regal Impenal flagship with a princess called Victoria being coerced into a politically-minded marriage, before (one sudden Phoenix attack and a fairly casual kidnapping later) having a bit of a culture shock. Seduced by the charms of her Phoenix abductor Daniel, she begins to see the truth behind her royal parents' heavyhandedness and the plotline kicks into gear. The action then flips between this timeline (which is actually the past) and the exploits of her daughter Julia - who 30 years later has used bitter memories of her childhood to become a battle-hardened tribal sports star. Levels then skip back and forth, raising and answering questions about the eponymous lust for vengeance that plagues many of the cast. Over the course of all of this you get to control five characters: Victona, Julia, the impressively side-burned Daniel, a battle-hardened Phoenix Heavy called Jericho and, best of all, a mysterious metalbodied cybrid known as Mercury. If you're slightly geeky, he's a bit like the Silver Surfer. If you're not at all geeky, he's like an extremely cool man who's been made out of metal.

Now I'm not saying that Tribes: Vengeance is set to win any virtual Oscars for Best Cannon Fodder in a Supporting Role, nor am I going to suggest that you won't find the petulant princesses more than slightly annoying to control when you start the game. I'm not even going to refute the claim that cheesiness is only ever a step away from the Victoria/Daniel love plot. What I will say, however, is that the structure of Tribes: Vengeance is a hugely brave, original and thoroughly excellent attempt to break convention - taking you away from your accustomed shootage blueprint and into pastures new. It's true to say that Max Payne 2 did similar things with time-skips and parallel levels for separate characters. It's also true to say that these were more effectively signposted, and done in a more coherently cinematic style. That said, in terms of chin-stroking, information dripfeeding and coaxing 'WTF?' moments out of apparently simple (yet simultaneously illuminating) moments in the script, Tribes: Vengeance is an experiment that's been pulled off with stunning flair. I, personally, see this as the best shooter plot since the original Deus Ex.

Airborne Aerobics

All this would come to nowt, however, if the gameplay wasn't worth buggery. So be thankful that the fluidity of movement provided by the game's slipping and sliding makes it such a joy to play. At first you'll be clueless, but as time goes on you learn how to ski towards bumps in the environment and use them in conjunction with your momentum and your jet's power reserves to reach great speeds and elevations. The way you learn all this is by trial and error, and the way you improve through practice is a lot like honing your skills in the Tony Hawk's series - as demonstrated by the considerable number of natural half-pipes you'll discover throughout the game.

The early chapters are designed to familiarise you with this system but then, all of a sudden, it throws a hairpin into the learning curve. Julia's stadium-based sports events (which lack teamwork, but remain conveniently similar to Tribes multiplayer) are addictive to play, yet border on the infuriating for the casual player. Then again, this is presumably intended as a clever way of ensuring that you're up to speed with the essence of Tribes combat before getting you back into the story proper.

If there's one adjective that describes the action in Tribes: Vengeance, it's 'satisfying'. It's an excellent shooter in itself, but its true charm lies in the fact that it consistently manages to conjure up moments that make you feel pretty impressed with your new-found skills and tribal finesse. Even combat in its simplest form can pump you up. One situation had me as Mercury, poised with a sniper rifle on the edge of a valley. I had just left a lone sentry with the merest smidge of health -and a slight boost and a carefully managed ski down the hillside brought me straight to where he was standing in seconds. A sharp blaster shot to his chest saw him cartwheel backwards while I carried on sliding, speeding on over the lip of the opposite bank in a metallic blur. This straightforward frag made me very smug indeed, and it's this recurring smugness that kept me coming back to the game. And the fact that I was reviewing it, of course.

Tribal Master Chief

Level design echoes Halo in that you're often presented with fantastic rolling panoramas to navigate before venturing down into sci-fi bases -generally being tasked with knocking out three points on your map before gaining access to your target. Uncannily observant grunts and a good but not great draw distance mean that long-range combat isn't as wonderful as it could have been, but there's still a lot of enjoyment to be had scouting out the terrain before skiing your way into outposts and duking it out with the defence system.

Below ground, meanwhile, matters don't quite match the fluidity and freedom provided by the cliffs and hummocks of the tribal terrain. However, they do still manage to charm with their odd architecture (who needs stairs when you have jetpacks?) and carefully choreographed ambushes. It's fair to say that there are a couple of dodgy levels knocking about (generally the ones where the developer seems to feel obliged to include seen-it-all-before elements, like moving gun emplacements or excessive corridor killing). However, any early fears of repetitive gameplay are soon allayed by the varying styles of each character you play and the weapons they are allocated. The first time you play Jericho you may moan about the sudden restriction in speed and his clunkiness in the face of Victoria's lithe manoeuverability, but you soon discover that his massive destructive power makes for an entirely different style of play that is welcome when you reach the midway point of the game.

Each level tends to have a gimmick; you could be guiding a Heavy around a map and taking out gun turrets, for example, or more mindblowingly. you could be controlling a defenceless Julia racing a besieged palace in a flashback where she's no more than six years old. As such, the repetition that could have plagued the game is neatly side-stepped - apart from in one or two duff levels.

Up The Arsenal

The eclectic range of weapons is also well managed in both your own inventory and that of the soldiers you square off against, teaching you how to use your armaments as well as how to evade them. You may face the mortar early in the game (and you'll know its incredible power through the international language of the save game) but you won't get to love its green whistling beauty until your much later Heavy missions. In fact, the lion's share of weapons available to you are all winners; partly because they're so different from the usual FPS template (which, thinking about it, might explain my intense dislike for the Rocket Pod and the Grenade Launcher) and partly because, again, you feel so damn smug when you manage to hit a moving target with your Spinfusor's flying discs.

The vehicles you won't be quite so fussed about. Take a long hard look at the war machines lovingly laid out on these pages If you're not already doing so, look again, this time with a curled top lip. As you'll see they're not particularly sexy in any way, shape or form. Even the best of them (the one-man Fighter which is an absolute joy to fly and star of the young Julia's mad dash through the besieged palace) looks like it's been entirely constructed from Technics Lego. As for the Tank, Rover and Bomber - well, none of them are really that bad, but all are well and truly outshone by their counterparts in Planetside, UT2004 and, above all, Halo. There's a definite mark of 'could do better' stamped on the armaments and controls of ground vehicles - and it's not helped by the fact that the levels that showcase them are often among the more uninspiring. It's usually more fun to travel on jet-boot anyway.

A Bit Tricky

Another issue that'll raise hackles is difficulty, because when it wants to be, Tribes: Vengeance is extremely challenging. As I've mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the nail-biting provided by the ludicrously tight time limits in Julia's arena challenges, but there's more than a little dissent in the ZONE ranks as to how unforgiving it gets. The game never reaches Far Cry Volcano levels of keyboard battery, but later levels do set up ambushes that (coupled with an occasional hazy objective) are guaranteed to set your teeth on edge. Then again, my greatest fear for Vengeance was that the Al wouldn't be able to cope with the extra dimension, and this really hasn't become a huge issue in the final product. It's clear that you're not playing online (the opposition don't ski as much as you do and run in odd patterns when you fire at them from a long range), but they are still proficient enough in the exchange of the explosive disc and the general skirmish that you rarely notice the cracks in the set-up.

Ice Cream

I was making notes on a train last night in preparation for this review, and in a clearly countryside-addled state wrote the apocryphal words, "Tribes: Vengeance just feels satisfying in the same way that ice-cream tastes nice." Now this quote will clearly never be emblazoned on the game's box, nor should it ever have been included in a review of a triple-A title - but I was getting close to the truth.

Tribes: Vengeance just feels right. Its fun lies in simple movement - something overlooked in all other high-octane blasters, and it gives you such a feeling of fluidity, control and desire for selfimprovement, that on a basic level it's extremely hard to dislike. There are issues, yes, but coupled with such an intriguing narrative structure, you get the impression that this is a game that will be fondly remembered for many years to come. Personally, I'm hooked. I want a pair of jet-boots and I want to be a princess more than ever before.

The Online Capabilities Of Vengeance Prodded With A Stick

Some quarters have been worried about core tenets of Tribes multiplayer being lost in Vengeance. The big fear was that teamwork wouldn't survive the supposed Unreal Toumament-ization of affairs, coupled with the belief that much loved aspects such as the Shockiance, cloak pack and sensor-jammer had been lost in transition. We'll have an in-depth review of Vengeance's multiplayer masterclass in Online Zone as soon as servers are up and burners are burning, but until then my initial impressions of the beta test are a broad thumbs-up.

I'm a mainstream muppet, and I don't speak for the purists, but myself and Mr Holden have been having a blast with it and will continue to do so for many months to come. Capture the Flag will remain our main focus, but my fiddles with restricted-spawn Arena deathmatchs, fuel-stealing, a superb game in which opposing teams attempt to throw a ball into a goal and the classic Tag-style game known as Rabbit have all felt like someone's actually managed to give me the moon on a stick.

There are some superb maps in the full package as well - from Garuda Gorge's simplicity to Junk's vehicle battleground - and all the smugness I've spoken about in single-player is magnified many times when you actually connect your discs with a real human player.

Aficionados will moan - it's in their nature, but they needn't worry that much since they'll be more than catered for by the deluge of grumble-fixes and mods that'll flood fansites after Vengeance's release. Everyday folk like myself, meanwhile, will be left with the vanilla version - and it's looking like we'll love every minute of it.

Download Tribes: Vengeance

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

You haven't lived until you've played this game because:

OK. so I'm not talking about the multiplayer liere. I'm talking about a silky-smooth single-player game with silky-smooth narrative that leaps between cliaracters and time-frames with consummate ease. I'm also talking about one of the coolest villains in PC gaming - the metal cyborg Mercury, who you control in the best parts of the game, is astonishingly good fun to ski and slide around his massive levels.

I just love this game - even if you strip away the action, tlie shooting and the story, the way it plays just feels like relaxing in a warm, soapy bath. Admittedly, at first the petulant princesses are a touch annoying, and the plot's family orientation occasionally gets Coronation Street-y, but my god more people should play this game. It's satisfaction bottled, blended and sieved straight onto a DVD. I love it.

People probably didn't play it because:

The Tribes community didn't like the multiplayer, shouted about it and ignored it as much as they could. VU were a bit sniffy about it and didn't even release a patch that Irrational had made for it. What's more, the game was abysmally marketed in the US, and suffered from the old chestnut of having female lead characters in an FPS. Don't they know we prefer boys?

Stand-out moment of brilliance:

Probably the wonderful touch of having you play as Julia when she's only six years old, and running around an imperial palace while it's under siege. There aren't many games that see young girls being traumatised through incessant destruction and accompanied by giant killing machines. Apart from maybe in Biosliock. Irrational are odd ones, aren't they?

The panel's views:

Steve: "What other game lias you at one point trying to assassinate a player who you've controlled, at another point playing an interplanetary sports star and at another that same person as a six-year-old kid?" Log: "1 just instantly got into this - the controls are friendly and simple. The feeling when you land on a perfect incline and scoop yourself up again is just f***ing marvellous."

The conclusion:

For the love of god, just play this game. It's a gem.

There Are two schools of thought on Tribes games. The first, smaller group finds them as addictive as a purple fruit-pastille filled with crack. When they log on to the gigantic multiplayer Capture The Flag battles they delight in the free-roaming 3D landscapes. They've mastered the art of skiing' and using the physics and contours of the terrain to launch themselves at the enemy, and know everything about every conceivable tribal warrior from their favourite colour to the serial codes stamped on the inside of their armour. They were also horrified when Dynamix, the erstwhile developer of the series, was shut down in 2001. The second school of thought joins a game of Tribes 2 and doesn't even have time to say, "Cool! I've got a jetpack," before being shot in the head by a pre-pubescent American from a distance of one and a half miles. So they play Counter-Strike instead.

This is where Ken Levine and his band of merry men at Irrational Games come in. Famed for creating the awesome System Shock 2, Irrational suggested that what the Tribes universe needed was a strong single-player element that would introduce the newbie to the physics, tactics and mentality of a seasoned Tribes-hack. A solid solo experience that wouldn't be a glorified tutorial or Battlefield 7942-esque experiment in single-player drabness, but a game that would stand on its own two jet thrusters and plunge disc-launchers into the mainstream.

We took a trip to Irrational recently to check out the new game, interrupting Ken Levine's breakfast to ask him how the hell he intended to jam all of the intricacies and character classes of Tribes multiplayer into a solo FPS. Initially, we learnt that Levine puts a remarkable amount of sugar into his porridge. Secondly, we saw that the way Tribes: Vengeance is dealing with narrative is nothing short of revolutionary. "Why do all games follow a straight 'beginning, middle, end' chronology?" he asks, shovelling on sweetener like a crazed diabetic. "We thought about movies like Pulp Fiction, where the camera tells the story as it wants to be told: going between different people, different times and different places. We've put our focus on one family whose story spans 20 years, with the narrative going back and forth in time to cover it. Within this you'll be able to play as six or seven different characters."

You What?

So, in one mission you could be playing a second-class citizen, a Phoenix Tribesman, fighting for your life in a badass suit of heavy armour, while in the next you could be seeing through the eyes of a six-year-old imperial princess. "She's being chased by these bad guys," continues Levine as he excitedly reaches for a spoon. "She hasn't got any guns or armour, and at one point she gets a jetpack. Seeing as she's so small, and she's got a rocket strapped to her back, the physics are way overpowered for her. It's quite a ride!" What's even stranger is that the nonlinear timeline means that a few levels earlier you will have played as this same character when she is around 20 years older. It's bizarre, we know, but it looks like it's going to work.

Speaking of mixed up chronology, Vengeance is actually a prequel to the two previous Tribes games, with Irrational wanting to develop a section of the Tribes back-story that wouldn't need reams of fanboy knowledge to get into. This timeframe, untouched by any of the other 12 games set within the Tribes universe, has given Irrational a lot of freedom in terms of narrative, but has also had a huge effect on the design and aesthetics of the game.

"V\le wanted to represent the first generation of what you know as Tribes technology," says Levine. "It's a bulkier technology, where you see more of the mechanics on the surface - it's like seeing the difference between a biplane and a 747. Jetpacks will be spewing out black smoke, stuff like that. It's all about functionality."

Unreal City

The use of the Unreal engine means that this won't be the only change in the way Tribes struts its stuff. The trademark rolling green hills will still be there, but there are incredible new styles of map such as abandoned, ruined cities with decaying skyscrapers that will stun even the casual Tribes fan with its potential for online carnage. Another mouth-watering prospect is levels set in huge arenas specifically designed for the skiing, sliding and other three-dimensional tomfoolery that sets Tribes apart from the conventional strafe 'n* shoot mentality. "We've included Tribal combat as a sport in this universe now," explains Levine. "One of the characters is actually a sports superstar, the David Beckham of the Tribes world. You play as her in the context of a championship match in an arena with all these amazing slopes and skating surfaces."

So far, so good. But we all know that if Levine's crew bugger up the multiplayer then thousands of outraged Tribes fanatics will leave their rooms, blink in the daylight and hang him from the nearest streetlamp with a mouse lead. Even the suggestion that the fabled disc-launcher might have vertical discs instead of the established horizontal sent shockwaves over the Internet. Levine knows the risks, but is saying approximately chuff-all about online play until they have more than a 35 per cent build to show us. From the maps we've seen, though, it should be something pretty special. The Irrational lads have been in close contact with the Tribes online community, desperate not to disappoint their fanbase, and have even hired a prominent member of the mod-community to be their lead multiplayer designer.

The direction in which Levine and co are taking the Tribes franchise is undeniably risky, and if the game doesn't please either the newcomer or the old guard then they're truly up Shazbot-creek without a Burner. But Irrational certainly has the talent to pull it off, binding an epic and revolutionary story with a vastly under-appreciated style of gameplay. As long as they keep the hardcore appeased, it looks like they're on to a winner.

Ski School

A Beginner's Guide To Tribes Physics

For those of you who think Tribes is just a shit TV show from Downunder, think again - there are many things that make Tribes 2 stand out from the FPS crowd. Primarily there is skiing: the art of continuing to press the Jump key as you slide down a hill. In this way you build up momentum, and if you aim for a slight hillock or bump and use your jetpack at the right time, you can fling yourself into the atmosphere at quite ridiculous speeds and elevations. In fact, Tribes is one of the few games in which the old-fashioned rocket-jump is still king. In this way Tribes is a lot like a sports game, in that you hone your movement and reactions the more you play and however good you are, there's always room for improvement. Plus it's one of few online games that actually succeeds in eliciting teamwork from its participants. This is why Tribes is good. Sermon ends.

Crappy isn't it, how every blockbuster from the last few months has been a multiplayer letdown? We've gone from the underwhelming Far Cry, to the plain awful Doom 3, arriving at the new Half-Life to discover Valve just left the multiplayer feature out altogether. Add in the resolutely single-player Grand Theft Auto, which removed all traces of network options when it became a console game some years back, and you can see why everyone's still defusing bombs and rescuing bloody hostages. So it was more invigorating than a 3am hedgehog rubdown to return to the world of hills, valleys, jetpacks and unflattering armour (does my bum look enormously coated in metal in this?) and get ready for some no-nonsense shooting Internet people in the head.

Vengeance is the 12th game from the Starsiege universe and the third from Tribes - a groundbreaking multiplayer franchise that has never once had a single-player campaign foisted upon it, nor some cockamamie storyline involving a warrior princess in unsuitable clothing on a quest to send us all to sleep. No, wait, it has. Porter reviewed it in issue 147.1 should have guessed that while publishers were dropping multiplayer from games that needed it the most, they would be contriving single-player for something as focused as Tribes.

Still, the original was a trailblazer in its day, and Vengeance was written to be a concentrate of everything that made its predecessors great -an abridged yet intensified version for fans and freshers alike. Tribes pioneered the use of large-scale, outdoor 64-player maps, not to mention teams, classes and vehicles, and despite suffering the ignominy of its developer being disbanded and its code being dumped on the Internet as freeware, it still plays well and is famously lag-free. That's all the more impressive when you consider it was written entirely in-house by Dynamix and, contrary to popular belief, was not licensed from id or Epic. Sadly, community support has waned over the years as people moved to the likes of Unreal Tournament 2004, Battlefield, Planetside -and all the other games which owe Tribes a beer.

Same As It Ever Was

Fast forwarding to the present day, Vengeance uses a barely disguised Unreal engine -something which in any other setting would have me banging the desk with my hand. Here, the anime colours, sci-fi gothic architecture and general sense of non-realism (hence the name, I guess) make new Tribes seem even more otherworldly and even more, well, Tribesey. In short, no complaints.

There are three armour classes to choose from - light being a fast mover but vulnerable to enemy fire, heavy being a slow but brawny bastard, and medium striking a balance between the two. But unlike previous versions, where inventory size was related to fcchest size, each armour is now restricted to a maximum of three weapons. Combined with the fact that Vengeance maps are malle,than those of its predecessors, k and that the ancient Tribal art of skiing - in layman's terms, aquaplaning on p rocks - is achieved simply by leaning on the space bar, it means that a heavy suit is no longer the impediment it once was and can even be used for the odd capping run.

The gun count is identical to the last game although the actual line-up has changed. The Mortar Launcher, Chaingun, Grenade Launcher and Spinfusor, now a trademark of the game and lethal in the right hands, have all made it to Vengeance. There's a newcomer in the shape of the Grappler, allowing players to do Spidey tricks from cavern roofs, hitch rides with passing vehicles, or dangle above the flag and wait for an unwary enemy to pass underneath. In addition, the Jackal Rifle has been tweaked, and now requires ammunition as well as energy in an effort to stop players spending whole games sniping from the map boundaries. The Targeting Laser has gone, as have a number of toys much beloved by veterans (the Stealth Pack being the most obvious example), but this was done to make the game more accessible - Tribes needs fresh blood, and a bewildering array of equipment and options only serves to alienate the majority of casual players.

Smaller Is Worser

Tribes was always the polar opposite of the competition, presenting you with colossal landscapes rather than narrow corridors, and allowing you to drive or fly rather than trudge everywhere on foot. We take such things for granted nowadays, but five years ago these were revolutionary ideas -and sadly, Vengeance has done little to advance them.

The map size and player count have been halved so that the exhilarating scale of your surroundings is lost (a situation made worse by the way everything not in your immediate vicinity is enveloped in a graphics engine-friendly fog), and the vehicle tally has been cut by a third to make the game more melee oriented. While not a bad thing per se, it's had the effect of making battles rather conventional and less reliant on tactics - criticisms you would never normally level at Tribes.

But before you consign the game to your mental junkyard and move on, do please understand that Vengeance isn't a bad game. Really. It has its flaws, as do its rivals. It's not quite what existing players wanted, but then it's become more approachable to newcomers. And yes, it's lost a little of its grandeur, a little of its individuality, but no game can be all things to all people - not all the time. Thinking about it, this latest Tribes should have enough to keep everyone happy.

Your Average shooter plot isn't rocket science. A group of bad monsters/men/aliens/Nazis (or possibly some monstrous, humanoid alien Nazis) look like they're about to do something bad: unleashing the power of hell, destroying the Earth, invading Poland -a brand of unethical-ness that prompts instant and violent intervention. As a' muscly man with a large gun and remarkable powers of healing it's up to you to stop this nastiness by shooting things. Sometimes in the face, sometimes in the chest, sometimefe-even shooting stationary barrels full of explosive materials.

Clever Drugs

Tribes: Vengeance is complicated. Not the running, sliding, jetting into trees and firing explosive aspect of it - that's relatively simpriko grasp. But the way the plot plays out completely ignores the accustomed FPS blueprint. It opens like Royal EastEnders In Space' (with jetpacks), with you playing a prissy princess who's slightly miffed to have been crowbarred into a marriage of convenience by your Imperial father, before taking you into a narrative with so many splices, flash-forwards and recaps that Tarantino would proud. There you are as Victoria the Princess (mother-to-be of our other lead female character, Julia), mooching on the Imperial barge when it comes under-attack from Phoenix rebels. From here you are guided through a tutorial that's been cleverly integrated with gameplay-leading Victoria through the bowels of the ship with your sister Olivia talking in your ear and explaining how armour suits, weaponry dispensers and jetpack (which as a Princess you've never reduced yourself to using) work. Before long you're jetting yourself around huge rooms packed with enemies and gun emplacements and essentially getting to grips with the slippery-slidey ways in which Tribes handles - dying quite a lot in the process I might add.

Tribes: Vengeance may not quite match the graphical splendour of other forthcoming shooters (and to be honest in a game with such a sense of physical realism ingrained into its characters, a lot of the household objects I bumped into on my travels were unusually bouncy), but it should make up for this with its extraordinary fluidity. My privileged fiddle later took Victoria into an area of the Imperial flagship where artificial gravity had failed - and floating around that area was a delight: constantly scanning all 360 possible angles of attack, tentatively tapping my boosters, knocking an enemy back with my Blaster and watching him spiral out of control with smoke billowing out of his jetpack.

The 16 levels of Tribes: Vengeance, y'see, have been made with half a mind (almost two thirds of a mind) on introducing the player to the subtle ways of the online tribal experience. This is perhaps why, conveniently enough, the story watches young Julia become a sporting hero in a game that's more than a little bit like Tribes' online I33t-fests -only with markedly less sarcastic comments when you die in stupid ways. It seems to work though, casually skiing backwards into one of a stadium's four capture points and firing discs at three Phoenix heavies before jetting up into the stratosphere is a truly cathartic experience. It'll be a rude awakening when online virgins hook into a game that features real Tribes nerds - but for now skiing up and down the slopes of the arena like it were some futuristic skate park, taking potshots at passing enemies and grabbing fuel canisters to take back to your home base is a silkysmooth experience.

Why Chromosome

It's not all womanly death-giving though, testosterone will be provided by playable characters Daniel, Jericho and Mercury -one hero Phoenix Tribesman, one ruthless Phoenix leader and another super-cool, rogue agent who works for the highest bidder. It's here that the Vengeance twisty-turn dynamics come into play: at one point you'll be playing as Victoria and Daniel trying to work out how a stealthy assassin has managed to infiltrate a secure base and wreak havoc, and at another you'll be playing Mercury, that very mischief-maker, carrying out this nefarious task. It really is storytelling magic, and the level that gives you the Silver Surfer stylings of Mercury is probably the best I played. It showed up a fair number of Al glitches that will hopefully have been ironed out in the final product, but sniping and sliding around a moonlit mountain range and managing to pull off some incredibly stylish tajlswith momentum had me feeling fne same smug way I do when I pulloff a particularly smooth Max Payne headshot. Which, coming from me, is high praise indeed.

A word on firepower. Newcomers include the Burner (like a Bio-rifle with 4 flames), the Rocket Pod (which follows your crosshair and replaces the earlier lock-on missilejnodel) and the Grappler, that enables you to harpoon the scenery and swing around like a lunatic. The blaster, meanwhile, has received an overhaul from its previous laser-hurling capacity and now acts as a highly satisfying shotgun. And to finish the job, all the Tribes oldies but goldies: Chaingun, Grenade Launcher, the Spinfuser with exploding discs of death (very practical), the famous Sniper Rifle and the always efficient Mortar (my favourite). And for the grand finale famed Buckler system - half shield and half Tron-style throwing disc.

Child's Play

As for the level with you playing the six-year-old Julia, well I can't think of many games that have done that before. In an echo of the game's first level you find yourself running around an Imperial Palace under attack from the Phoenix -but this time your viewpoint is at navel height to all the soldiers running around you. With cries of Death to the Empire! Death to the traitor Victoria! ringing in your ears, you take to the (convenient) ducts and vents, run defenceless under hails of bullets being exchanged by rival soldiers and watch your snivelling father get callously murdered part way through the level. As for the level's close, well that sets up Julia's dark desire for the eponymous vengeance in the game, so I won't go into detail, but it comes after a truly great moment in which you clamber into a one-man fighter craft and exchange an interest in My Little Rocket-Pony for bloody murder.

We'll have a full exclusive review of single-player Vengeance next issue, along with a full round-up of its multiplayer capabilities, so you'll have to sit tight in your hover-packs for a few weeks yet. Will the final product be as icy cool as Sean Connery jetting over the sides of a French chateau in the opening scenes of Thunderball? Well, chances are it'll have less underarm hair anyway.

Will The Hardcore Jump Aboard The Vengeance Express?

Now Tribes bods are renowned for their devotion to the cause, and countless flame-fests are posted online even now debating the age-old Tribes versus Tribes 2 W argument. So what's going to happen here? The main f tweaks in the multiplayer game are to smooth out the rough edges of controls and gameplay - for example, all the packs you pick up are now operated with the same keypresses and have both sudden-hit active' uses and more subtle passive roles. Locations, meanwhile, range from mountain ranges to green fields, ruined cities and some kind of entirely indoor greenhouse structure that yours truly got thoroughly massacred in during a brief multiplayer scuffle. But will the fans, who the developers lovingly refer to as insane', lap it up? Wait and see.

With Their disc-launching, jet-pack thrusting, physics-assisted skiing and epic CTF battles, the Tribes games have always been a niche series waiting for greatness. Despite having one of the most vibrant online communities around, the series has somehow managed to stay hovering just outside the mainstream, but Irrational's Tribes: Vengeance looks set to change all that. With an epic, multipleperspective, timeline-skipping solo blast (think Pulp Fiction in heavy armour), it's set to take the tribal war into the big time.

Irrational is being pretty cagey about details, especially on the multiplayer side, but we're starting to get a better picture of the twisty-tumy solo campaign.

The basic idea is to bounce you around the Tribes back-story like a demented Scott Bakula, giving you control of many characters across several times and places. Not only does this enable the developers to sketch out the plot in a more interesting fashion, it also gives you a chance to learn every conceivable style and speed of Tribes combat - bound to come in handy.

Trapped In The Past

So, in one level you'll be a six-year-old Imperial Princess, fighting for your life as your palace is invaded and family massacred; while in another, you'll play Daniel, a rebel leader on a barren, oppressed world. I like Daniel because he's got a spark of idealism in him, explains Tony Oakden, producer at the Canberra branch of Irrational Games. While he recognises the plight of his people, and spends most of his time leading raids to secure supplies for them, he remains optimistic there's hope for the future.

So how about new weapons and vehicles then, Tony? Well, there's the Rover, which is a lightly armoured but fast ground vehicle that can carry a pilot. It's a mobile inventory point, but more importantly, it's a mobile spawn point. This means that you can elect to respawn from wherever the Rover is at any time. This may sound familiar if you've ever played PlanetSide, but will clearly add some fresh tactics to the bubbling mixture of tribal warfare. Another new feature will be the Rocket Pod, a devastating weapon that fires a cluster of spiralling rockets, guided by the direction you're looking.

Shazbot Rising

Being new to the series, the Irrational lads are also very mindful of the legacy left by defunct series creator Dynamix. The firm is promising to maintain a much stronger link with its fans, and has promised an open beta next year at the request of the Tribes community to prove it (nobody wants to see a repeat of the bugs that plagued Tribes 2).

All in all, Irrational looks set to pull off the rare trick of delighting fans and newbies alike, and with the fresh ideas on display here, disc-launchers should be the must-have accessory come next winter.

The next generation of action shooters has arrived. Starsiege Tribes brilliantly blends the action elements of Quake II with the squad-based strategies of Rainbow Six.

Team Spirit

Tribes was built exclusively for multiplayer gaming. Up to 32 players battle as a member of one of four futuristic clans fighting to keep their homelands. Tribes' gameplay options range from standard Capture the Flag contests to funky variations like Find and Retrieve.

Everyone can suit up with a custom array of armor and weaponry, but it's the role you choose that counts. You may want to be Mr. Fixit and repair busted generators for a while, or you may want to be the leader of a strike-force team. Each tribe can select a commander to run the show, or players can band together like rabid wolves.

Look Of The Future

Tribes' glitch-free graphics are awesome with seamless integration of the indoor and outdoor worlds, excellent weather effects, switchable on-the-fly first- and third-person views, and surprising compatibility with low-end, non-3Dfx systems. The explosion effects roar, while hot keys enable you to chat with your teammates through pre-recorded sound clips. Quakers will immediately ease into the responsive, customizable controls.

Tribes' seemingly effortless balance between structure and mayhem makes it instantly accessible, yet satisfyingly action at its best.

ProTips:

  • Repair backpacks can be used on ailing teammates as well as on busted equipment and vehides.
  • Assign one team member to buy and install turrets around your base (and your flag) at the beginning of every match.
  • Always use the Favorites system at the inventory stations. It lets you equip specific gear setups in one dick, which saves precious load time for other teammates.
  • You can zoom in with any gun, but it's crucial to do so with the laser rifle and slow, long-distance projectiles like mortars and disc launchers.

In the world of first-person shooters, Tribes: Vengeance sits squarely in the middle. The game offers up a robust single-player campaign, fast-paced mutliplayer action and enough variety to keep you playing for quite awhile- but it doesn't do much to make you realize it's from 2004.

The single player campaign is rich in story-telling and characters, allowing you to play from a variety of perspectives. You play through the game as two princesses, Phoenix tribesmen, and an assassin as the story flips and slips through time and location. The different characters both help make the plot seem more original and makes game play more interesting as you take on the different roles. Although the story isn't the most original, the varied maps and solid game mechanics will pull you through the entire single-player half of the game before you realize it.

Fortunately, the game's multiplayer options have considerably more to offer. The game's 15 maps support up to 32 players and have a handful of modes. Like in past Tribes, survival in the game is based a great deal on your ability to master the jetpacks and skiing. Skiing in Tribes: Vengeance is strictly a non-snow affair. You zoom up in the air on a jet pack blast and then hit a down hill slope with your frictionless boots, sliding down a valley and then back up the other side. If you hit the jet pack again at the right time you can really fly.

The teams in multiplayer Tribes: Vengeance start off in their own bases. The bases consist of inventory stations for armor and weapons, turrets, radar, power and vehicle-spawning areas. It's the need to attack and defend these items that make the game so much fun. Instead of running around shooting each other, this game requires you to formulate some sort of tactics. The modes also help spice the game up a bit. The game has five modes: capture the flag, rabbit, ball and fuel. Rabbit is basically a form of keep-away, ball is a sort of sport game where you have to score by tossing a ball through a goal, and in fuel has you retrieving fuel canisters from a central location. The only problem with mulitplayer mode is that it's not much different from its predecessors. There are some tweaks, but they are minor like the fact that vehicles are no longer ordered, they just automatically appear. The game is fun enough, and does offer up new maps, but not much else new.

Tribes: Vengeance is a short-lived but creative single player game and lengthy but mundane multiplayer one. This game is worth buying if you are a fan of the franchise, but don't expect a whole lot of new.