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Tribes: Vengeance (Windows)

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Written by  :  Cor 13 (172526)
Written on  :  Apr 20, 2008
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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Summary

Shakespearean drama in an FPS outfit

The Good

Tribes: Vengeance was made by some of the same people who gave us the great System Shock 2; its story was also written by Ken Levine. That was what attracted me to this game.

First of all: I haven't played the multiplayer part of the game. Tribes: Vengeance is an installment of a multiplayer-only series, with the single-player mode probably conceived as a bonus initially. When you say Tribes, you think multiplayer FPS, and there's nothing we can do about it. So many single-player-oriented people missed this game simply because they didn't know it would deliver what they wanted.

But Tribes: Vengeance delivers, and delivers precisely as a story-driven experience. Hands down, the game has the best plot of any "pure" FPS I've ever played. From the very beginning you can observe the strength of the narrative, the well-written dialogue, the sharp characterization, the immaculate pace. It only gets better later; the beginning alone won't even let you suspect the amount of tension and plot twists that await you.

The narrative is a dramatic and ultimately tragic re-interpretation of the eternal themes: the ties of a human being to family, homeland, own social circle, which prevent him from understanding people with different backgrounds; the conflict between different feelings - loyalty, friendship, romantic love, etc. There is something very theatrical in the story; it even reminded me of Shakespeare's dramas, which I love with passion.

The fantastic idea of telling the story from the point of view of different protagonists adds a new layer of depth to it. It becomes particularly powerful when the characters in question belong to opposing camps. It was a bit like the Trinity Sight in Suikoden III, only better executed.

This technique also adds moral complexity to the narrative, making it an outstanding variation on the usual "good rebels against an evil empire" kind of thing. The main playable characters of the game are Imperials. You see many events from their point of view, including a brilliant episode when you control a little girl trying to escape from a palace captured by the Tribals. There is no way to sympathize with the Tribals in that scene. But other episodes show the injustices done by the Empire. It's really hard to decide who is "right" and who is "wrong" here; actually, it is unnecessary, since the story clearly carries one message (sad, in this case) - we are all human.

Tribes: Vengeance is a pure FPS, without any genre-crossing attempts such as environmental puzzles or upgrades or magic system or stealth or anything of the kind. Of course, there is plenty of variety in the action, different objectives (such as protecting important objects), fighting tanks, sniping, etc.; but all this ultimately boils down to the basics: here are your weapons, here is your goal; now go and fight.

But of course, that would be too simple if the game didn't have an absolutely cool gimmick. Yes, of course I'm talking about the jetpack. Having a jetpack means, basically, that you can fly. Really. Holding the right mouse button makes your character rise into the air. Of course, the energy you have is limited and has to be recharged, so you won't be able to stay in the air more than a few moments; but the ability to make absolutely gigantic jumps is exhilarating.

The game utilizes this gimmick to the full, and does it in two ways: first, many of the levels are huge outdoor areas that would have taken ages to traverse if you weren't just jumping through them like a giant grasshopper. Second, many indoor levels are vertically build, and often you'll descend into huge, seemingly bottomless pits, or jump your way up to the ceiling you can't even see from down below. I can't describe how fun it is to jump around with the jetpack; you really have to try it yourself.

By the way, you can play this game entirely from a third-person perspective. It's really cool to see your character flying around, and it makes jumping to the correct spot easier. The levels are not too complex, with clear objectives; the game concentrates more on pure adrenaline-raising action than on anything else. The weapons are ridiculously powerful, quite fitting the sci-fi setting, and overall this game stays true to its "robotic" roots; it feels more like a "mech" game that an ordinary FPS, even though technically you don't control robots.

There are also some very fun vehicles to drive (the red rover with a mounted gun was totally cool), and all kinds of action setpieces, like controlling mounted guns, turrets, vehicle cannons, and so on. One of the most intense parts of the game, for example, included defending a generator and some towers, destroying enemy tanks and piloting an aircraft in a very close succession. Such kind of action always gives you the feeling of not knowing what awaits you, making you prepare for more and more challenges; the tension is exciting, even when nothing is happening and you are just trying to guess what's coming next.

The action never feels repetitive. The balance between indoor and outdoor locations is perfect. The game is not as inventive as, for example, Half-Life 2, at throwing at you different challenges at every level; but nevertheless it comes close to that, and manages to make its levels feel less artificial.

The Bad

I wasn't very impressed by the game's graphics. There were no locations that made me go "wow" just because of their sheer graphical beauty. Even though there is a lot of variety in the locations, somehow they don't come to life entirely because of the graphics. Technically, they are probably not sub par, and there are many nice features such as destructible environments and a physics system; but artistically, they are not very convincing. There also isn't much attention to detail; many places look suspiciously similar, and some of them are simply cloned. That was really unnecessary, because the game doesn't even have a continuous world.

Also, the game's locations are stylistically not very interesting. Many of them have a "generic sci-fi" look, and in many of them the potential wasn't realized, like in the abandoned cities with the dwellings of the Tribals. Perhaps a few exploration-based areas with NPCs could have made the game's world more worthy of the rich lore it contains.

For such an intensely story-driven game, the ending was somewhat of a letdown. The very last chapter was in fact rather disappointing, considering the overall quality of the story. It had to be once again "stop the villain and everything will be okay" kind of thing. The dialogue lacked its usual poignancy and turned into the usual sarcastic exchange between the protagonist and the antagonist. I know I probably demand too much, but the rest of the narrative was utterly brilliant, while the final chapter was merely acceptable.

The Bottom Line

It is very strange that such a magnificent first-person shooter could just quietly "slip under the radar". I think they made a big mistake by marketing it as primarily a multiplayer game; the single-player experience is excellent, and its surprisingly emotional narrative makes the game one of the most fulfilling story-driven shooters in history.