Tribes: Vengeance

David Powell

The strength of Tribes has always been its intense, twitchy multiplayer mode.

Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Genres: First-person shooter
Subtitle: Vengeance
Price: $29.99
Multimedia: Tribes
Platforms: PC
Number of players: 1 (64 online)
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Irrational Games
US release date: 2007-07
Amazon affiliate

Tribes is one of those games that I've learned not to talk about, at least not in mixed company. When I do talk about it, I get a gleam in my eye and soon find myself excitedly relating some tale of virtual derring-do involving the defense or capture of an imaginary flag. By the time I snap out of it, the people on the receiving end are either glazed over or giving me that look -- you know that look -- that says how unseemly it is for a man my age to be playing video games.

With all the things that have befallen the Tribes franchise in recent years, it's a wonder that Tribes: Vengeance, the most recent entry, was released at all. The developers of the previous installment, the excellent Tribes 2, were rewarded for their efforts by being fired almost immediately after the game's release, and the nimrods at Sierra who inherited the job of maintaining the title later issued a series of disastrous patches that actually broke the game. I learned some time later, well after my period of mourning, that some of the old developers had been summoned to issue a patch that actually worked. By then, I'd given up Tribes 2 for dead. A cancelled adaptation of Tribes for the PlayStation 2 seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

The strength of Tribes has always been its intense, twitchy multiplayer mode, separated from other first-person shooters by its multiple armor options and by the jump jets that enabled each player to go soaring over the hilltops toward the mission objective. Tribes: Vengeance, I'm glad to report, doesn't fix anything that wasn't broken. Whether there are enough new goodies here to justify the purchase of a new game is another question, especially considering that the previous Tribes games are now freely available for downloading.

The Tribes series is an offshoot of a game called Starsiege, which had an elaborate backstory set in the distant future. The Tribes spinoffs largely dispensed with that story, cannibalizing its devices to create a very good, multiplayer-only combat game. Tribes players were dimly aware that the logos on their armor probably meant something, but they didn't know what. With Vengeance, the developers have attempted to respond to fans' calls for a rewarding single player experience and to reintroduce Tribes fans to the Starsiege universe. Sadly, they've failed on both counts.

The storyline of the single player campaign, which I did not finish, was a pallid assortment of clichés that vaguely reminded me of the Dune novels, a comparison that does a great disservice to Dune. There's a quarrelsome royal family, precariously presiding over a galactic empire. A number of disenfranchised, spacefaring tribes are engaged in long-running guerilla wars with the empire and each other. A feisty royal heiress is kidnapped by one of the tribes, and, with the help of a charismatic, handsome tribesman, comes to see their point of view. Her even feistier young daughter grows up believing that her mother is dead and dedicates her life to avenging her mother... that's about enough, really. This is a glorified training mode, with a plot that feels like an afterthought.

The core game has been polished and recast in the graphics engine that powered Unreal Tournament 2004. Some new toys have been added to the arsenal, including a spiffy grappling hook launcher that lets players swing around the map, Spider-Man-style. Other underused features from the previous games have been removed, notably the command interface that allowed one player to issue orders and set waypoints for teammates. The basic mechanics of multiplayer mode are better than ever, and sailing through the air with enemy players in hot pursuit still provides players with a particular kind of euphoria that can't be had from any other PC shooter. Once you hit the ground, though, it boils down to another variant of red versus blue.

Tribes: Vengeance is a great shooter that preserves the best features of the series and improves incrementally upon a working formula. Unfortunately, in this overcrowded segment, gamers who haven't already been sucked aboard the Tribes bandwagon are more likely to note what's not here. Some sympathetic characters, realistic scenarios, or even just a sense of working toward the completion of a goal might have helped this game run with the Splinter Cells of the world. Soaring and skiing through valleys is fun, but after more than six years, just about any capture-the-flag story is going to be boring.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.