Tribes 2 has something for everyone. That's the conclusion I've come to after a fortnight's worth of solid gameplay. Every FPS taste is catered for, and the world is already warming to it, with servers across Europe full from dawn till dusk. The main focus of the game is of course teamplay, but you needn't scour the neighbourhood for 15 willing friends before handing over your cash - over the past week I've seen people band together on public servers, creating elaborate networks of motion sensors and defensive turrets around the flag in CTF to weed out stealthy intruders, and incredible battleship offensives streaking across the skies and laying waste to enemy generators and defence systems thanks to well-trained bombardiers. Apart from CTF the game also features Capture and Hold, straight Deathmatch, Hunters (rather akin to the classic Quake Headhunters game), Team Hunters, Rabbit (single flag, many players, with the object being to hold onto the flag for as long as possible to accrue points) and Siege (one team defends a control switch in a base whilst the other tries to capture it). CTF is the best represented, and my personal favourite so far, but the others (Rabbit in particular) can be incredibly intense! Weapons-wise Tribes 2 is a definite improvement over Tribes, with a refined arsenal, including such classics as a tweaked Spinfusor (the weapon of choice for Scout classes), flare gun, missile launcher, grenade launcher, mine launcher, mines, yadda yadda. There's a lot of hardware to play with, depending on your loadout. Speaking of improvement, the graphics (although they have taken a bit of a hammering in certain circles) are fantastic. Play it with anti-aliasing enabled and you won't want to leave. Huge, rolling landscapes and detailed player models and weapons make it one of the nicest looking first person shooters for a while. And that's got to be difficult to do on levels so open and vast. There are even 512x512 high quality player models tucked away on the CD. Aurally the game is nothing to complain about either, with some nice ambient, rumbling backing music to match each level.
Moving on, the game's player system is broken down into customisable classes. As a team player you should work out which best suits your style of play and work around it. The default loadout is fairly weak, so making your way to the main base and an Inventory Station is of paramount importance when you first spawn. The inventory system is a big improvement over Tribes. You can hit Numpad Enter at any time to pull up the inventory screen and select a class (you can alter them via drop-down menus as you see fit), and you can preselect any class by hitting its number on the Numpad. Once selected, wander up to an inventory station and you're upgraded in two seconds flat. This is a much more team friendly approach than that of Tribes, where all inventory work had to be done on the pad, often holding entire teams up whilst one player fiddled with the settings, and making them an easy target for nippy Scouts. The three main armour classes are Scout, Assault and Juggernaut. Scouts can be Assassins or anything they like, and pilot any vehicles, whereas Assaulters can pilot some vehicles but can't carry certain weapons (like the Laser Rifle). Juggernauts on the other hand, carry extraordinarily powerful weapons but have no piloting abilities. The trade-off is speed. Scouts can zoom across levels in moments with the use of their jetpacks, but Assault classes can only sweep across the sky at a medium pace, while Juggernauts are practically glacial under most circumstances. Through the inventory you can also select which packs to load your favourite classes with. As a defender, a repair pack is useful for putting right damage to generators and remote stations, and as an attacker extra shield or health packs are necessary for success. Cloak packs are great for assassins, because when coupled with a Shocklance, a crafty fella can sneak into a base, wait for an opportunity and sneak up cloaked behind an Assault class defender or repair worker. One hit with the Shocklance (has to be direct contact) can take almost anybody down. The jetpack plays a very important part once again. For moving yourself up and around the hilly terrain, and for escaping the deadly splash damage of the Spinfusor, there is nothing like it. And considering most defenders' propensity to mine the flag, swooping in from above is somewhat crucial. Jetpacks are also very useful for mad-dashes across the landscape with the flag, but for real lightning raids, you need to start delving into the vehicle options.
Vehicles are what makes Tribes 2 so special. This isn't just a little infantry showdown any more, this is war. Any map with vehicle stations is incredible fun. There are ground-based hoverbikes, assault style fighters (Shrikes) and full-blown bombers and personnel carriers. Clans-sorry, Tribes, have been putting together elite flight teams for the big bombers, and the APC-alike carriers are very popular too on 32, 48 and 64 player maps. Creating a decent equilibrium between the attacking and defensive divisions makes the difference between a rout and a proper fight. Actually watching this happen on public servers shows that it's not always as fluidic as it could be, but thanks to Tribes 2's community features, finding a Tribe that's willing to take you on for a bit of organised teamplay shouldn't be too difficult. The community features have taken a while to catch up with the enormous interest in the game, but at the time of writing, everything (with the possible exception of the community email function) is up and running. The profile system, which was very slow when this writer originally signed up, is now easy enough to access and play around with. Finding a Tribe is quite easy too, with plenty advertising on the game's IRC server and in-built Forums. A few people have taken issue with the way the game authenticates clients when they first buy it. I've heard reports of people who have been burnt by "CD key already in use" errors, requiring a return to the store or an angry phone call to Sierra tech support, but my own experience wasn't all that troublesome. All it took was to enter my name as my login and then a password, along with my Warrior name and CD key, to wait a few seconds and I was registered. I originally prefixed my warrior name with my clan tag but realising this was a mistake changed it in the Profile section afterward - useful, since warrior names have to be unique. You can also select aliases (for instance if you like to play when you should be working and avoid detection!) The game does authenticate you every time you want to play it online, but so far the authentication server has only been down once.
I've been pretty happy with Tribes 2 on the whole, as must be evident, but that's not to say its ambitious design hasn't caused a few problems. In fairness, I persevered and now I enjoy the game more every time I play it, but for some people, these issues will be simply unacceptable. For starters, the system requirements for Tribes 2 are simply over the top. Our general test machine was a 1.33GHz Athlon with 256Mb of RAM and a GeForce 3. That's a very high spec, and it's slightly worrying that it actually required that GeForce 3 (which of course you can't yet buy anywhere) to run without any framerate issues with all settings enabled and maxed out at 1024x768 - the way I like to play my games. Changing the video card to a 64Mb Radeon DDR (the next best thing), proved acceptable, but not without inexplicable jerking in built up areas on certain maps. Changing the processor for an 800MHz Athlon and the graphics card for a 32Mb GeForce 2 GTS offered pretty much the same result, with lower framerates across the board until a number of detail levels were reduced. On the same note, load times are pretty hefty, even on the best technology we could throw at the game. Be prepared to wait for a while whenever you join a new server. Another problem the game has thrown up is the number of patches required to play. Since signup, more than five have been downloaded. In actual fact, embarrassingly I've lost count now. The most notable is a patch for the actual patching utility, which spontaneously failed and crashed my machine unless I downloaded it separately and performed the update manually. The netcode may be brilliant and capable of letting gamers to play laglessly (a good word, but stop making them up -Ed) on servers with more players than kilobytes their modems can push per week, but having to download 5Mb or so of patches is a bit of a joke just to play online. That said, if you're clever, when you buy Tribes 2 (and you should buy Tribes 2) then you will set your PC off downloading patches from a fansite while you duck into the single player game for the limited training. I don't really rate the training (and it is itself bugged if you can believe that) but it's worth completing anyway.
At the end of the day, Tribes 2 has won me over and no mistake, with just so much to offer. I haven't even touched on some of the more refined points the game picks up on and I'm practically 50% over my word limit. Things like the impressive control system (with presets for every sort of player) and the useful server filter option. Skiing, too, which has stopped being an annoying gameplay-destroying detraction and become damnably useful. You'll just have to take my word for it. In short, then, you should buy this game, and if you play anything online this year, make it Tribes 2. However, you might want to buy it from a store with a good returns policy, in case the game's mammoth system requirements or currently buggy disposition puts you off. I doubt they will, but unless you're a Tribes nut, you'll appreciate a get-out clause. Anyway, off to the shops with you. Shazbot!