If you’re looking to find out information on the newly released F2PMMOFPS that is Tribes:Ascend, about the worst place to go is their official site, which provides the sum total of a download link and a 46-second gameplay video.  However, the video is telling in a certain respect – an awful lot of projectiles are fired, and very few are shown actually hitting anyone.

The game, which has been in beta for a while, recently released, and I just as recently gave it a spin.  Two things come immediately to mind: playing the game is reasonably fun, and if you’re used to playing most modern shooters you’ll most likely be absolutely rubbish at it.

The thing that sets Tribes apart from most games is the fact that it has a ridiculous amount of mobility, at least on the surface – while it is a multi-class game, each class has a jetpack, as well as friction-reducing boots that let you “ski” across any terrain, as long as it’s downhill or you have momentum.  Theoretically, you can chain these two abilities together for almost limitless movement across an entire map at ridiculous speeds.  In practice, I found that you’ll often lose momentum and run out of jetpack energy fairly quickly, leaving you trudging slowly towards the next peak to get some momentum again.

The other main difference is that unlike most gun-based FPS games, almost none of the projectiles are instantaneous.  The primary skirmish weapon of most classes, the bizarrely-named spinfusor, is kind of like those foam-disc shooters you might have had as a child, only with discs that explode on impact.  Or, put another way, the game is more akin to something like Quake 3 Arena, where the name of the game is jumping and hitting people with rockets, which are basically what the spinfusors are.  Even the gun-type weapons such as assault rifles have slow-moving bullets that most classes can outrun as they’re skiing around.

Now, consider the facts of the game together – slow-moving projectiles with some splash damage, combined with players constantly moving at high rates of speed relative to each other in three dimensions.  These factors add up to an FPS game where it’s a minor miracle to actually hit another player with your weapons.  Most of the time you’re moving along so fast, and so is everyone else, that you have mere moments to line up a shot – and the speed coupled with the slow-moving rounds means that your shot most likely hits where someone else was a second ago.  Essentially, you have to predict, instantaneously, where another player is going to be when your shot hits a second or two later.  On the one hand, I suppose it is interesting just how well people can intuitively react to this style of gameplay, where in the real world it would take a significant amount of complex physical equations to make the same determination that you’re making on the fly.  On the other hand, it’s a drastic recalculation from most any other shooter on the market, and unless you were a Quake expert back in the day, this game will present an unpleasant learning curve.

Another quibble I have is with the matchmaking system.  The system automatically dumps you into a game – as of yet, there are no real dedicated servers to choose from, so you don’t get to choose where to play.  You can select a game type, but you’ll end up on a random map with a random set of people.  Worse, there doesn’t seem to be any post-round auto-shuffling, which means that one of the two opposing teams tends to get stacked with better players, and once people notice which team has the undeniable upper hand, they all try to join that team, with the top players generally sticking with it as well.  This leads to the unfortunate situation where determining whether you will win a round in the game is based less on your own individual skill (unless you are one of those few people who top the leaderboards anyway), and more on whether you happen to luck into clicking fast enough to get on the team that wins the round over and over again.

However, the good news:  Since the game is free to play, you can download it and play three basic classes to your heart’s content, and there admittedly is something quite fun about zooming around the battlefield at breakneck speeds, even if you have my skill level in the game and are resigned to a staggeringly awful kill/death ratio and a basement position on the postgame rankings.  And, theoretically, you can even unlock most of the other classes and gear if you are stubborn enough to play for the amount of time necessary to rack up enough in-game points to purchase them.  Of course, you can also buy gold to speed up the process, but unless you’re actually good at the game, I can’t see any compelling reason to do so – if you can’t score hits with the basic gear, it’s not likely you’ll do any better with the optional unlocks.  Oddly enough, this is one of the few F2P games that I’ve seen thus far where you can enjoy a reasonable experience in the game completely for free, as what’s unlocked at the start gives you enough classes to choose one that best fits your playstyle.

So, if you’ve got a few gigs of disk space lying around, I can’t think of any reason not to try the game.  Just be aware that if your main FPS experience is playing Battlefield or TF2, it’s quite a jolting change.  You will miss, a lot.  You will die, a lot, especially if more than one person decides to gun for you at once.  But if you’re not particularly concerned about losing or being stuck on a team that gets stomped on repeatedly, there’s a fairly fun and reasonably grind-free (if you don’t care too much about unlocks) core of a solid, old-school shooting game amidst the frustrations and F2P trappings.