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Graphics: Tribes: Vengeance looks good, running a modified and enhanced version of the Unreal engine under the hood. The terrain especially stands out with plentiful hills and valleys and enough viewing distance to make you feel unrestricted. Likewise, interior environments are spacious and pleasing to the visual senses. Character models are nicely detailed and each tribe is distinct in both form and coloring from its cousins. The overarching look of the armor did give me flashbacks, though, and it took me a while to put my finger on the fact that I was being revisited by shades of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division. The animation of the character models is a little jerky, but not outlandish. The only substantial problem I had with the graphics was that turning up the quality settings in Tribes: Vengeance to their highest point strained the muscles of my computer, causing it to have momentary stuttering problems when the action got heated or after a quick save.
Interface: Tribes: Vengeance sticks to first-person shooter interface convention both in and out of the game. The options menu is filled to overflowing with settings affecting everything from sound and graphics levels to custom equipment load outs. Default control configuration also follows tradition, but can be reconfigured to suit any taste. Inside the game, information about energy and health levels, ammunition, available weapons, and waypoints are clearly visible and easy to interpret.
The biggest problem with the interface is miserably long load times for everything from program launch to loading a new level to reloading a quick save. You know you’ve got a problem when you’re afraid to turn off the game because it will take too long to load it up again or you dread cutscenes because they require a level load. Additionally, exiting the program takes a considerable amount of time as your hard drive flops around like a dying fish trying to reclaim resources. Several times after playing for extended periods, I was forced to reboot because of the lingering post-game performance impact.
Gameplay: Tribes lovers the world over may look at the list of things that have been removed from Tribes: Vengeance and be tempted to write it off as a casualty of changing developers, but that would be a mistake. While weapons and items have certainly been removed (and others added), many of the changes have been to the betterment of the franchise, streamlining the gameplay rather than taking away from the experience. Admittedly, this newest edition of the series is a little less tactical than its predecessors, but it’s far more accessible than either of the two previous outings. The core elements that made Tribes good in the first place still lives on.
One aspect of this is skiing. Skiing was an accident in the first game, a control abnormality that was exploited by players that allowed them to move fast down slopes. In the sequel, skiing was given legitimacy, but it was still clunky and the bouncing almost made your spine hurt to watch it. In Tribes: Vengeance skiing has finally come to its own, shifting into an activity that is fluid, natural, wholly effective, and almost effortless. Additionally, using the jetpack has taken huge strides toward being organic, and is now more like an extension of the experience rather than a simple means to climb mountains.
The addition of the single-player campaign is also a great asset to this title. There’s not too much that hasn’t been seen before, but the tried and true elements of first-person action have been brushed off and used well here. The one thing that Tribes: Vengeance has going for it that many other FPS’s out there do not is the jetpack, which opens up a world of possibilities on the vertical plane. Breaking out of the normal front-and-back, side-to-side perspective helps keep Tribes: Vengeance‘s levels interesting, especially interior areas where structures rise and fall several stories from top to bottom, hiding loot and bad guys on the ledges in between.
A change with which I don’t necessarily agree is the simplification of sensor arrays to a single point on each side of the map and the subsequent omission of Cloaking Packs and Sensor Jammers, as this alteration removes some of the tactical essence of the series. However, attacking and defending is also likewise simplified, so teams don’t have to be spread as thin, guarding a wide array of dispersed resources; it’s a trade off with which I can ultimately live. The Cloaking Pack was a geeky-fun addition to the original games, so hopefully someone in the user community will be able to develop a mod that logically snaps it back into the framework of Tribes: Vengeance
Multiplayer: The cornerstone of Tribes franchise, multiplayer has not been neglected in this latest outing. Multiplayer games are established on a LAN or over the Internet using a built-in version of the GameSpy browser. Setting up a match is simple and requires only a few clicks. There are five game types: Arena, Ball, Fuel, Rabbit, and Capture the Flag. Arena is Tribes: Vengeance‘s version of deathmatch, Ball is similar to Bombing Run in Unreal Tournament 2004, where you have to put a ball through the opponent’s goal, and Rabbit is a version of Mutant, also from UT2004, where one player is “it” and everyone else tries to kill him so they can be “it.” Fuel is the most original mode of the bunch and pits two teams against each other in an effort to fill their own fuel depots. They do this by picking up glowing canisters from across the map and also stealing the enemy’s fuel reserves to place in your own stockpile. The first person to fill their supply to 100 percent wins the match.
As much as I liked the single-player side of the house, multiplayer is still Tribes: Vengeance‘s bread and butter. The improvements to the jetpack and skiing control add heartily to the experience and becoming familiar with the finer points of these mechanisms greatly increases your sense of freedom and your lifespan when dealing with other sentient beings. The grappling hook also makes its distinctive mark on mobility. If you watch people who know how to use that tool swing all over the place with it, you can’t help but be in awe of its simple brilliance as both a means of escape and an offensive asset. All of the weapons are finely balanced, so it becomes a matter of knowing how to use the gun in your hand as well as having good aim.
Aside from intermittent lag, the biggest complaint that I would want to register about the multiplayer component of Tribes: Vengeance is that the 15 multiplayer maps are all fairly small. This holds especially true when comparing these maps to series predecessors and even the included single-player campaign. When you drop the maximum 32 players in one of these confined spaces, it can get pretty frenetic. On the flip side, the frenzy can also lend to the fun since you’re not constantly hunting for someone to shoot out on the vast frontier. However tactics and teamwork end up taking a backseat to brute force and bravado on full servers. The best time I had was playing Rabbit with two other people because I wasn’t being constantly obliterated and I had to use maneuvering and strategy to corner the guy that was “it.” The only other issue I have is that most the current games out there are Capture the Flag, which is a good mode, but Fuel is so much more inventive that it would be nice to have a deeper pool of people playing that for variety’s sake.
NOTE: In order to participate in multiplayer matches over the Internet, a client is required to be using an up-to-date version of the program. Ordinarily, it is the policy of the Adrenaline Vault to review only out-of-the-box game code, but to evaluate the multiplayer content of Tribes: Vengeance, it was necessary to install the update. All statements regarding the multiplayer portion of this title are based on v1.01 of the game.
Sound FX: The bulk of Tribes: Vengeance‘s sound effects are excellent, ranging from ambient hums and footsteps to distinctive gunfire and earth-shaking explosions. Voiceovers hover around average, but often swing wildly over the top, sometimes crossing into campy. The lines being delivered don’t help the plight of the actors much, either. The story itself is good, but the dialog could have really used some love and affection. Cutscenes themselves suffered from a variety of perplexing bugs that made voices inaudible, extremely quiet, extremely loud, or sped up as if you were listening to a rendition of “The Chipmunks do Tribes.” Sadly, these problems surpass purely annoying as they cause the listener to miss big chunks of the storyline presented in the cutscenes.
Musical Score: During gameplay there seems to be only one futuristic techno musical track that keeps you company, or if there are multiple tracks, they sound so similar as to be confused with one another. While there’s action on the screen, the tempo picks up and then returns to a quiet, dreamy tone when all your foes are dead. Cutscenes have their own tracks that establish a serious tone that accompanies a storyline of brutality and betrayal. These tracks still sound electronic, but they are noticeably more dramatic than their in-game counterpart.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The AI in Tribes: Vengeance is better than the bots in previous outings, but that’s not saying much. Bad guys will alternate pinpointing your location from across the map to staring dumbly into space while you ratchet shot after shot into their skulls. When they are on the move, they rely mainly on speed, numbers and their own jetpacks to keep you from getting a bead on them. Some of the medium armored units set themselves apart from the crowd because they have deadly aim and use their jetpacks all the time, but once you master the art of predicting where your foe will land, that challenge softens quite a bit. Ultimately, the AI provides a moving target that has passable aim, but don’t expect too much.
There are three difficulty settings included in Tribes: Vengeance: Easy, Medium, and Hard. Stepping up the ladder increases the aim and destructive power of your enemies while decreasing your own resistance to damage. Anyone who plays first person shooters regularly will find enough action to keep them occupied on Medium difficulty but will want to step up the challenge once they’ve mastered skiing and the jetpack.
Overall: Some dyed-in-the-wool Tribes junkies out there will find the streamlining of this franchise off-putting, but they still shouldn’t deny themselves a look at Tribes: Vengeance. This newest entry into the series makes its changes judiciously and generally for the betterment of the license. The single-player campaign is a great addition and will be of benefit in training those who are new to Tribes and in entertaining those who have been around since the beginning. Tribes: Vengeance is a solid title that should win over fans from the past as well as future die-hard initiates.
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