Tribes Ascend: Impressions
The fastest shooter in the world. You live and die by the z-axis. You can be killed in a single shot.
These are things you tell me if you don’t want me to play your new first-person shooter. Years of trying to get competitive in Halo have taught me that dudes jumping around like maniacs are enough to defeat me and the jetpacks in Halo: Reach made it worse. I can cope with circle strafing but the instant you’re above my sight-line I can’t hit the broadside of a barn.
One of the first things I did in Tribes: Ascend was one-shot a guy out of the air while I was in mid-air. To me this is crazy MLG Halo YouTube montage territory. Here, it’s a medal called the Blue Plate Special and I’ve already got 6 of them.
Making Ascend free-to-play was a stroke of genius. If I had to pay up front, I would never have purchased the game based on my prior expectations. I downloaded the game out of curiosity, fully expecting have a K/D south of 0.1 and to give up after an hour or two. As it turns out, I’m not great at the game, but I’m not terrible – and it’s fun. Yes, the game is fast. Yes, you can kill enemies with a single-shot, but I wouldn’t personally describe it as a “twitch” shooter.
Movement is more important in Ascend than anything else. Players run at 35 kilometers per hour and after five minutes that feels like moving in quicksand. Pressing spacebar makes friction disappear and gather speed as you hurtle down a hill, holding the right mouse button engages your jetpack to fly uphill without losing momentum. Get a sense of the rhythm between the two and you can hit over 200 km/h on many maps. The jetpack has a limited charge but it’s quite generous compared to the jetpack in Halo: Reach.
New players have a choice between three of the nine total classes, two of which I’ve tried so far. I played around with the Soldier class at first because the assault rifle makes it easier to hit targets in mid-air. Tribes isn’t about automatic weapons, though, and I’ve fallen in love with the Pathfinder’s Spinfusor, which fires an energy disc that’s rather slow compared to a regular bullet. It’s all about leading your target. Movement is fast but shooting becomes strategic, analyzing intercept trajectories and your own speed relative to the enemy you’re pursuing. Reflexes can still win out but it’s far rarer here even than, say, Gears of War.
Team Deathmatch is chaos. Lose a target and you can quickly start pursuing another. Sometimes I just abandoned the fray and started skiing around by myself. Most of the time, the interplay between my movement, enemy movement, and the aforementioned shooting mechanics just put a stupid grin on my face. I was having fun in a way I never did with Battlefield 3. In that game I sprint across the map to get to the fight, but the fight can be over in milliseconds. A perfect skillshot in Ascend is one-hit kill, but it’s far likelier to spend upwards of thirty seconds dueling with another player before a lethal shot actually connects. It’s an incredible ballet created via the interplay of movement, speed, and precision.
TDM is where I’ve spent the majority of my time. This, I’ve been told, is heresy to fans of the classic Tribes games so I made sure to check out Capture the Flag as well. With the lack of integrated VOIP in the game it’s hard to coordinate assaults but, crucially, the game still generates amazing stories. One of the maps has very open ground-level flag stands where I was able to grab the enemy flag at a blistering 160 km/h. Another “stupid grin” moment.
And that’s where I’m at after roughly 4 hours of playtime and exactly zero dollars spent. As the community evolves it will be interesting to see if paid unlocks dominate matches but as of right now skill trumps everything. It’s not a graphical knockout like Battlefield 3 but I don’t care – the gameplay is just that good – and the speed of it is unlike anything on the market today. Try it even if it doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy. Heck, get a group of friends together, use a separate voice-chat client and you can start engaging in some high-level strategy. It’s only a 1.5 GB download (link here?) and the only mandatory investment is your time.