Starsiege: Tribes is the best FPS game I’ve ever played. This view is shared by many other gamers (and forum trolls) over at TribalWar.com. Tribes is different from other games in many ways, and has a unique combination of features that may may it impossible to recreate (Tribes 2 and 3 were considered failures by the community).
Wikipedia describes the game as follows.
Tribes was one of the first online-only games of its kind and sported several multiplayer features that other games have only recently included (32+ player support, 128 players max, troop transport vehicles, several different player classes). Most of the standard maps were outdoors in a variety of climates, from sunshine to snow and hail. In general, bases were scattered throughout the map depending on the gametype. The outdoor environments were and still are relatively huge, extending for several kilometers in any direction, but “jetting” and “skiing” gave Tribes a fast-paced feel.
The feeling most players get when they think about the game can not easily be described. The same is true for me, but I think I can list a number of the reasons why no other game can entertain me in the way that Tribes did (in no particular order).
- Excellent community – Perhaps back in 1998 when fewer people were playing online games, their communities seemed more tight-knit. The Tribes community was full of interesting people who created just the right amount of drama, and teams that created great competition. The majority of the community was active on the TribalWar.com forums, where they would discuss upcoming ranked matches, strategies, and player demos. Almost every player was familiar with the majority of the other teams and their members, something which does not seem to be true in the communities of newer games (are they too big?)
- Player demos – Tribes provided players with the ability to record their gaming sessions as a ‘demo’. These demo files could be uploaded and played back inside the game by other players. When a top player or team released a demo, everyone wanted to watch it so they could learn (you could also watch your own demos and learn from your mistakes). The key players on top teams wouldn’t always release their demos for fear of the other teams gaining inside information (flag capture routes, turret placement, etc). Demos were fun! I’m not aware of other games that have implemented demos as well as Tribes, or at all. Fraps & YouTube doesn’t cut it.
- Learning curve – A player’s learning of the game reminds me of the phrase used by Mattel when advertising Othello (Reversi); “A minute to learn, a lifetime to master”. When I first started playing, it was a trivial (but fun) task to run around in heavy armor and deploy turrets to help protect my team’s base. I didn’t have to know the layout of the map, the weapons, or what my teammates were doing. I could stick to this one easy task and make a good contribution to my team without needing any skill. Of course I’d often get my ass kicked when an enemy entered the base, but this helped me learn the weapons and how to fight.
- Instant respawn – No waiting for a new ‘wave’ of teammates to join you when respawning. This leads to more play time and entertainment. When playing many newer games, I am very frustrated having delayed respawns and long distances to run in order to get back into the action.
- Physics – Tribes has jetpacks which allow the player to jet a short distance using a small energy reserve which is always slowly recharging. Being able to fly creates an infinite number of ways to move about each map. It also allows for more interesting escape routes and duels compared to games where you’re stuck on the ground. Perhaps more important to Tribes’ unique physics was the ability to ski. A bug in the game allowed players to glide across the terrain without friction by jumping repeatedly. By skiing down a hill players could move at incredible speeds. With practice, you could learn the terrain well enough to sustain a high speed for entire circuits around the map — very useful for the Capture the Flag game type!
- Visible projectiles – Most of the weapons had slower-moving projectiles (well, slower than bullets) which an aware player could sometimes dodge. This made duels take much longer since it was more a matter of planning and movement than a race to see which player could keep their crosshairs on the target for the longest.
If you’d rather see what I’m so excited about, watch this fan-created video titled Legacy. It shows the skill, speed, and team synergy necessary to play the game at a competitive level. Or, if you don’t mind playing a 9 year old PC game, you can download a fully patched version of Tribes at TribesFTW.com.
Tribes will turn 10 years old next year, and I’m sure there will still be full servers to play on every night. It probably won’t last much longer than that, however. Every month more players move on to newer games, and just last week Sierra announced that they were shutting down the master server.
Hopefully a fan created mod for Quake Wars or any of the other new games can recapture some of the perfection of Tribes. Maybe if we’re really lucky, the guys over at Garage Games will come through with Legions. I predict that some day in the future people will tire of WWII clones and futuristic urban warfare weapons and an innovative, sport-like game will have its time in the spotlight once again.