Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Tribes 2 was superb, offering things no other multiplayer game at the time could: vast landscapes, land and air vehicles, movement which required as much skill as the shooting; and a complex classless system that offered real opportunity for strategy.
When it worked, it worked beautifully. That normally depended upon playing with a clan in which everyone knew their roles. Someone needed to be the flagbearer, who’d ski across levels at great speed to grab the enemy’s flag and return it to base. You’d probably want a couple of infiltrators, who would attempt to get inside the enemy’s base in order to take their power offline before the flagbearer arrived. It’d useful to have someone harassing the enemy team, perched on a high mountain near the base, raining down projectiles. Plus defenders to cover your own flag, and a support team to position mobile spawn points somewhere safe near the frontlines.
When it worked, you could almost – almost – get close to this video, which today plays like the inspiration for all of Ubisoft’s recent E3 stage demos:
All of those things were why it sounded, and could be, so amazing, but they were also the same reasons why it failed to find a large audience. At a time when every other multiplayer game was leaning towards small spaces and accidental teamwork – Counter-Strike, in other words – Tribes was asking a lot of its players. Without even classes to direct people towards useful roles, most public servers were a mess of snipers and stragglers, in maps whose size meant they lacked chokepoints and often left players stranded in no-man’s-land with a long walk in every direction. Even the game’s trademark weapon, the Spinfusor, was a slow-moving projectile that required careful timing to use effectively.
Tribes was never popular, but it’s always been great. I hope people keep trying to remake it.