PC Gaming

Tribes 3’s Next Fest demo has me hopeful for a Tribes game that finally sticks

Here is what you need to know: Tribes 3—demo currently available as part of the ongoing Steam Next Fest—lets you ski backwards at 150 miles per hour while firing a chain gun at pursuers. On that basis alone you should probably go give it a try. All the best, most basic zones of your mammalian brain will light up like starshine.

But if you need more information than that, here it is: Tribes 3 is the latest revival of the twice dearly departed Tribes series, team-based FPSes that let you deactivate friction on your feet at the touch of a button, turning every match into an incredibly fun mess of momentum-building spacemen zipping around big, hilly maps and annihilating each other with rocket launchers. It's also called Tribes 3 despite there being three other Tribes games in between it and Tribes 2. Are we going to explain that? No.

(Image credit: Prophecy Games)

A confession: I never played the original Tribeses. I came in only for 2012's Tribes: Ascend, the first, free-to-play revival of the series that went quietly into that good night back in 2016. It was excellent while it lasted, though, and while I was always dreadful at it, I invariably had an excellent time playing. And while what I've played of Tribes 3 isn't perfect, I do feel like I'm right back in 2013, merrily blasting and being blasted in the FIS Alpine World Cup: Second Amendment Edition.

My time in the demo was split between two modes: 12v12 Capture the Flag and 4v4 Arena, though there are some intermediate modes with, for instance, seven players on each side. As far as I'm concerned, the more players the better. My time in 4v4 felt incredibly sparse both compared to the demo's 12v12 modes and to my own memories of the rank chaos that would ensue during my time in Tribes: Ascend.

I do feel like I’m right back in 2013, merrily blasting and being blasted in the FIS Alpine World Cup: Second Amendment Edition.

On the other hand, the maps I encountered did sometimes feel a tad over-cluttered in the 12v12 matches I played, leaving you feeling like you were either shooting fish in a barrel or that you were the fish and the map was your barrel.

(Image credit: Prophecy Games)

Tribes 3 has jettisoned Ascend's three classes and nine subclasses in favour of a pared down matrix of three classes—light, medium, heavy (gone are the evocative names of old, at least for now)—and two loadouts for each: offensive and defensive. I mostly played light offence, on account of why even play Tribes if you aren't attempting to max out your speedometer at all times, and I was rewarded for my choice.

There is more to Tribes than the skiing, of course, but it's hard to not to circle back to it at all times. It feels excellent, the addition of a short dash that gives you a burst of speed before you begin your plummet down the most gnar-gnar slopes in all of FPSdom makes the movement feel deliciously responsive, and gives you a potential out whenever you end up trying to ice-skate uphill and lose your hard-earned inertia. The special ability I opted for on my light offence guy was a short-range, momentum-preserving teleport that let me warp behind foes, get out of a scrape, or manifest like the wrath of god in the middle of the enemies' flag room.

(Image credit: Prophecy Games)

Combine it with a jetpack whose fuel supply lends you precisely enough rope to hang yourself with—cutting daring escapes short, leaving you dangling like Wile E. Coyote above a buzzing hive of enemy activity—and an arsenal of weapons that demand you learn the specifics of other players' movement to actually hit them (in contrast to some of Ascend's annoyingly hitscan weapons) and, yes, it's just as exhilarating as the old days, baby. My old days, anyway. Like I say, I can't speak to the experience of anyone who was doing this back in the glory days of 1998.

It doesn't feel like it's all the way there yet. Like I said, some parts of the game feel too sparse, others a little overactive in maps of the game's current scale, but it does feel like it has the correct foundation to build a Tribes experience that might actually last. With the devs at Prophecy acknowledging the mistakes that led Ascend to an early grave, maybe this is the Tribes revival that sticks.

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