Who knew shooting people out of midair with a laser gun after skiing down a huge slope and rocketing into the air with a jetpack could be so much fun?
…OK, so that's a stupid question. But I had never played a game in the Tribes series, so I didn't know. After a hands-on demo with Tribes: Ascend, the series revival from Hi-Rez Studios, I understand a bit more about why old-school PC gamers swear by previous entries. The game mixes class-based strategy with face-melting speed to create a unique multiplayer experience.
The Tribes: Ascend maps are massive, wide-open areas, with rolling hills, rocky crags, and huge military installations with multiple levels. The reason for this is skiing. Press and hold the space bar any time you're running downhill, and you'll suddenly begin sliding, picking up speed in a frictionless glide. Aim your skid at an uphill slope and hit the right mouse button, and you'll launch into the air with your jetpack (which each of the nine character classes can access). You can cover immense ground in an instant…but you're also a sitting duck for snipers, as your forward momentum is hard to alter until you come back to earth.
The maps take advantage of skiing and launching in the best possible way. If you know the quick paths to the enemy's base and can keep your momentum, you can zoom in, grab the flag, and jetpack out almost before anyone can even react. This concept of speed mixed with strategy has a ton of appeal.
Speaking of those character classes, they include loadouts like the fleet Pathfinders (weak armor but perfect for flag captures), the heavy Doombringer, who bears a mighty homing-missile launcher, and the Scrambler, who can slip past enemy turrets unnoticed. I didn't get a chance to try all of the classes, but the variety and balance between offensive and defensive powers helped keep things fresh. Many classes also use the classic Tribes disc launcher, a highly accurate explosive weapon you can fire at your feet to launch yourself even faster, similar to a rocket jump in Quake 3 or Team Fortress 2.
Learning the skiing, boosting, and level paths would take longer than the few minutes I got with Tribes: Ascend (although I got my share of kills), and I didn't get to check out any of the game's vehicles, but I saw enough to pique my interest. I'm definitely looking forward to more.