Have You Played… Tribes 2?

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.


  1. -Spooky- says:

    Tribes was never popular? Check out Midair .. I guess, the community will tell u otherwise.

  2. Johnny Law says:

    Yep one of my all-time favorite “aspirational” trailers there.

  3. eljueta says:

    It was great, and it was quite popular back then I’d say.

    • Karyogon says:

      It’s odd that every memory I have of playing Tribes and 2 says it ALWAYS worked. Every match was good, unless maybe the server was emptying out and it was time to go to bed, every match had me switch up equipment and class depending on what was fun and what was required for the team to win instead of having two maybe three classes in Ascend (since switching was so terrible). Something about the maps’ design, mechanics, and the ability to freely choose equipment for the three size classes was simply perfect.

  4. mcnostril says:

    I’m surprised this went with Tribes 2 when the original Tribes, considering that’s the really groundbreaking one (a command map! with orders and waypoints! in 1999! No one used it, but IT WAS THERE!).
    Also a bit baffled about the “not popular” considering it had several highly populated competitive leagues running for most of its lifecycle.

    It always bugged me that people sort of defaulted to CTF when playing Tribes though. Defend and Destroy was pretty brilliant (though I suppose the skill gap made it hard – games could easily end in less than a minute against an unprepared opponent).

    • theslap says:

      Ya the original Starseige: Tribes was, in my opinion, better and was definitely the groundbreaking title (that few knew existed) that allowed Tribes 2 to exist. The community in Tribes was absolutely amazing. Lots of good people looking to have fun and friendly scrimmages on the weekend. It’s the one game that I can look back without rose-tinted glasses and say it was truly a phenomenal title.

      I still remember querying servers on my 28.8 kbps modem and it took like 10 minutes. I went to my friends house who had cable and querying took like 15 seconds. After that I switched to cable and it was probably the best choice I ever made.

    • -Spooky- says:

      I used the commander mode often, tbh. Cannons for base defence etc. And some times players followed my lead. XD

  5. disorder says:

    It didn’t have to make sense how skiing was supposed to have worked, but the fluidity of movement enabled by that and a well designed map didn’t mean anywhere was far from anywhere (at least if you knew what you were doing, I guess that’s key). on public servers maps could be just large enough the vehicles were useful, not quite essential and that accidental teamplay happened more often in my memory than is maybe the case.

    And there were dozens of ways to be sneaky. mining inventories for a secondary explosion, making them lethal. timing sniper blasts with a disc impact on the vpad. occupying the generator room in the enemy tower on dessicator.

    The roles you could do, in random fashion where enough players (12-24) a side you could do something relatively relaxing but with value (e.g. turret monkey, or just repairing) or hard. most games played differently each time, because different people did different things and that changes the dynamics each time. nothing at all pulled that off since, and I’m not sure anything even came close inclusive of the family sequels.

    Not even really touching on the tactical complexity that /could/ be available, (no, I don’t really think planetside 2 does it, happy for someone to convince me otherwise) or the effective chasm between those merely ‘really good’ and ‘amazing’ at the role they were doing. Clan matches could come close to the trailer in what they tried to achieve: local superiority, enough to move a light fast fragile handler to grab and evac.

    I always missed it. this being from the age before youtube I guess I’ll watch some demo playbacks, it amazingly, still runs.

  6. N'Al says:

    Tribes 2 may be a good game – wouldn’t know, never played it – but that is one terrible screenshot at the top.

  7. Distec says:

    Thanks to Tribes 1 not having any anti-piracy protections, I lent it to a friend who took quite a liking to it. He would then share it with a few others. By the time the CD got back to me, six people had installed Tribes and we hitting servers on the weekends. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the Tribes community formed this way.

    Curious readers should know that Tribes 1 and 2 are basically free at this point. I think the sequel requires some hacky workarounds at first, but the community seems dedicated to keeping them alive. No idea what server pops are like these days, but bless ’em for trying.

    link to tribesnext.com

  8. DinoSteak says:

    I remember an old buddy and I both having just got cable internet and Tribes 2. We’d fire it up after school and call each other over speakerphone handsets (lol) and team up to wreak some Havoc (puns anyone?)

  9. Phasma Felis says:

    Surely you mean Metaltech: Earthsiege: Starsiege: Tribes 2? I’ve yet to find another contender for “most name changes to one series.”

    • Einsammler says:

      Star Wars: Dark Forces 4: Jedi Knight 3: Jedi Outcast 2: Jedi Academy.

  10. VillainousIntent says:

    All about ninjamod for this. Used to play with the mods creator. think his name was Evilcheese. Shrikes were devastating in that mod.

  11. Grymlok says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the number of players on a server. I played on Houston Vehicles which boasted 130 people online at once. Even today you seldom see more than 64 in a non-MMO game.

  12. April March says:

    I started playing it… a month before the servers shut down. Unofficial servers went up, but you may imagine what it was like to try to start playing a game in which even movement is complex, with only people who were still playing it ten years after it came out.