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Magnificent & Important Advent Calendar: Day Seventeen

What Are You Packin'?

The Seventeenth Day Of The Calendar Of The Endless Bear is one that is still celebrated with maypole dances in some British backwaters. The village of Elastic-Upon-Tweed makes it their bloody pseudo-Christmas, where a foreigner is eaten alive by children trained from birth in the art of man-hunting. So very British. What better way to celebrate then, than with this wholly unrelated videogame?

It's... Tribes: Ascend!

Nathan: I remember the first time I ever saw a Tribes match. I was still young and impressionable – barely weened off my Nintendo 64 – and my older cousin was skiing circles around the competition on his fancypants PC with authentic dial-up Internet. I didn't entirely understand what was going on, but it was absolutely mesmerizing. Brightly armored manly men soared and shot and shazbotted around a rolling, nigh-endless sea of green. Down hills they went, scenery whirring by as though being chewed up by a particularly aggressive blender. If one lingered for so much as a second, he'd be gone in a clumpy poof of blue the next. I just sat there watching, mouth agape and eyes wide. I wanted to do that.

So I did, and I was terrible. But Tribes was one of my first PC FPSes, and I loved every second of it. The exhilarating speed, the fluidity of movement, the damn near orgasmic satisfaction of timing a blindingly fast shot just right. Heck, if you pay attention to my playstyle in just about any other shooter, it's basically just me wishing it were Tribes. Running around and taking cover is for peasants. I bound clear over people's heads whenever possible. My home's in the sky.

Naturally, then, I was concerned when the series ended up in the hands of some relative unknown called Hi-Rez. I mean, Irrational had already made some pretty big missteps with Tribes: Vengeance, and I was desperately afraid that Ascend's spinfusor shot in the dark would be equally wide off the mark.

I was wrong. I was so, so, so happy to be wrong.

I was rusty when I first jumped in, so Death greeted me like an old friend. Over and over and over again. From every conceivable angle. But that's what I wanted. I had to earn my wings again. My skills from other games didn't really apply.

Granted, some things were out of place. There was a set-in-stone class system, and the Soldier - trustworthy jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none - didn't even have a spinfusor by default. That was heresy. There was weeping, gnashing of teeth, mashing of keyboards - all of it. But then I fell in love with the Pathfinder's ridiculous speed and well-tuned arsenal, and it was pure bliss.

It was Tribes. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like childhood. Jetpack childhood. For whatever reason, 2012 became the year of welcome revivals - that is, series or genres that dropped off the face of the planet before their time - and Ascend fit that bill perfectly. It didn't stray particularly far out of Tribes 2's wheelhouse, but it didn't need to. Over the years, all sorts of jetpacks came and went, but no one really tried to replicate Tribes' slippery, momentum-based take on them. Ascend was warm and familiar, certainly, but its wild speed and wide open outdoor levels also felt intoxicatingly fresh.

That said, Tribes did learn a couple new tricks along the way. For better or worse, it led the charge on this year's crop of truly large-scale, triple-A quality F2P FPSes, and that came with its own ups and downs. Mainly, XP gain started off slow, and - while updates remedied it somewhat - weapon and class unlocks never quite picked up the series' signature speed. But, at least for me, I suppose it's a testament to Ascend's mastery of the basic Tribes formula that I was never really bothered all that much. Sure, I occasionally had to spend an agonizing amount of time on my tip toes to finally reach the carrot at the end of the stick, but I never felt like I was just going through the motions. The slow trickle of unlocks was secondary. Fun came first.

Truth be told, I haven't played for a couple months now due to burnout and various extenuating circumstances (you may now direct your attention to the man in the rock climbing gear who's been bellowing "HOLIDAY VIDEOGAME AVALAAAANCHE" this entire time). There were a couple classes I hadn't quite gotten a feel for, but I needed a break. I never uninstalled it or anything like that, though. Goodness no; I'd only do that if it were, like, the only way to disarm a city-leveling bomb or something. So maybe it's time for me to jump back in already. I had to wait years last time, after all. I certainly won't be taking Ascend's existence for granted any time soon.

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