Tribes: Aerial Assault Review

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Publisher: Sierra (Vivendi Universal Games)
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

In the fortieth Century, barbaric human factions vie for dominance of a section of space known as Wilderzone. In the midst of the chaos, a horde of aliens called BioDerms step in to annihilate the four dueling Tribes, that they might claim the planet for their own. The Tribes continue to quarrel among themselves, now fighting a multi-fronted war. Step into the fray to claim the land that should rightfully be yours.


With the release of the Playstation 2 Network Adapter, the world of online console gaming has opened anew to Sony's fans. With relatively few titles yet available in this brave new world, Sierra has taken the chance to try to score big in the multiplayer, deathmatch-style shooting game genre with this latest installment in their Tribes series. With both offline play and online capabilities supporting up to 16 players in a single broadband game, the fights are fast, furious, and, most importantly, fun.

In a game like this, there's only one place to start the discussion – the weapons. When it comes down to your arsenal, you'll have absolutely no need for concern because Tribes delivers enough firepower for a small army. There are eight main weapons to choose from including a Blaster, Laser Rifle, Chaingun, Grenade Launcher, Missile Launcher, Plasma Rifle, Spinfusor and the feared Fusion Mortar. It doesn't stop there. In addition, you'll have access to four different types of grenades, three types of armor, and eight additional useable items such as health kits or even defense turrets that can be placed to guard specific areas. Unfortunately, as amusing as weapons such as the Fusion Mortar are, some of them can be tough to use. The Laser Rifle, a sort of sniper side-weapon is almost impossible to aim with and drains your jetpack energy to nil when used. The missile launcher provides almost instant one-shot kills if you can aim with it, but getting the actual distance to fire it off while not getting slammed in the head with a Fusion Mortar can be problematic.

But the real show here is the vehicles. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tribes games, the series features vehicles that you can drive, fly and shoot with. All told, there are four vehicles, each with its own trade-offs in speed, power and functionality. For instance, the Mongoose Grav-Cycle moves at least triple the speed of your running pace, yet has little armor and no offensive capabilities. Best of all, due to the sheer size and openness of most of the levels in which you'll be fighting, there's generally plenty of room to take advantage of all those vehicles and cruise around. If you can't find a vehicle to hop into, have no fear. There's always the jetpack you have strapped to your back the whole time. While its power is exercised in short-lived bursts, it's often enough to get you out of a tight scrape or up to those hard to reach places (you'll need it since your avatar otherwise only seems to be able to jump two inches off the ground).

The most intriguing aspect of the game world is that, unlike many other shooters, you're only permitted to carry three main weapons at a single time. You're free to throw aside any weapon for another when you're presented with the chance, but, unless you happen to find alternates lying around, chances are you'll mostly be dealing with your Blaster, Spinfusor and Chaingun. Should you desire to change all your gear around, however, simply track down an inventory station, and access the in-game preferences menu. With just a click or two, you can adjust your armor size (hence affecting your speed), your weapons and your items. Provided the station isn't destroyed by the enemy, you can do this as often as you like, offering a limitless engine of destruction. Vehicles are procured in a similar manner, but from separate vehicle stations, generally located outside a base.

There are numerous game types to choose from, most of which will be familiar to long-time shooter fans, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Capture and Hold. Also included is an interesting Capture the Flag/Deathmatch hybrid game called Hunters. In Hunters, players kill each other and collect the flags dropped by the defeated enemy. At any time, you may carry your flags to the Nexus in the level to turn them in for points. Stay in the field and you have more time to try to get flags, but you also risk losing a bundle if you're killed. Capture the Flag seems to be the game of choice, though I had no problems getting people to join other game types when I hosted them. I found myself playing quite a bit of Hunters, though none of the games overshadows another, as each will give you a good amount of shoot 'em up pleasure.

Although touted for its online play, gamers without Network Adapters for their PS2s can still enjoy Tribes in an offline mode in which AI bots take the place of players. The AI is surprisingly difficult to defeat, as the computer actually knows how to aim. The clunky analog move/shoot functions offer little in the ways of maneuvering your character successfully, which can oftentimes hinder your efficiency in the field. Despite the difficulty of the AI, the offline deathmatches are still just as fun as the online versions against other players. In fact, you may find yourself playing the offline modes from time to time just to avoid the problem of lag caused by players with slow modem speeds or internet traffic.

In addition to the generic offline multiplayer fights, there is also a campaign mode. The offline campaign mode attempts, with mixed success, to tell something of a story as you complete each mission. The actual missions often pit you against numerous BioDerms who easily outnumber you. While certainly challenging, some of these missions don't apply the common respawning rule of most shooters. For example, after spending fifteen minutes repairing a dismantled base, I was bemused to find myself being assaulted from all sides by about six enemies, with little more than a bit of height to use as an advantage. Needless to say, my character was shot down in less than a minute, for which I was rewarded with the cold words "Mission failed!" The missions will definitely provide a challenge, but only hardcore devoted gamers will probably bother with them. Quite bluntly, the fun is all in the multiplayer and deathmatches.

All in all, Tribes: Aerial Assault is a distinct and entertaining addition to the world of PS2 first-person shooters. It is generally well-designed and executed, with some excellent animations. At the same time, a few problems stop Tribes short of "Classic" status. To put it bluntly, the PS2 controller just isn't made for first-person shooters. The mouse-look can be difficult to manipulate when you're supplied with the two awkwardly attached analog sticks. It's a problem shared by other shooters for the PS2, but it's a problem all the same. Fortunately, neither this issue nor any of the criticisms levied above is crippling, and there's plenty of fun to go around. Look forward to the possibility of a future edition that corrects these modest flaws. In the meantime, don your jetpack, load your Spinfusor, hop on your Mongoose, and show that kid four states away who's boss.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 10, 2002 8:18 PM.

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