What I thought at the time: Great, but merely great. It got eighty-something in our mag (Tim reviewed), and I remember thinking “God, I love eighty percent games” as I jetted and ski’d around the enormous levels. The Grappling Hook level annoyed the living fuck out of me, though, to the extent that I stopped there and didn’t play it again for three years.
What the world thought at the time (paraphrased): The world was unavailable for comment since no-one in it actually bought Tribes: Vengeance. It went vritually unmarketed, so only the Tribes hardcore actually bought copies, which was kind of a shame because, by putting enormous effort into a lengthy, complex, story-driven single player campaign, it was very obviously designed to court everyone but the Tribes hardcore. They hated it.
What the world thinks now (paraphrased): The world is unavailable for comment as its populace have either a) never heard of it, b) forgotten about it entirely, or c) intentionally erased it from their memories to preserve their fondness for the original games.
What I think now: I liked it a lot more this time through, admittedly because I wasn’t above using a level skip cheat to avoid fiddling around with the dismal grappling hook level, and to retain my sanity when I lost yet another hour’s progress due to the COMPLETE FUCKING LACK OF AN AUTOSAVE. The ludicrous thing is, the reason I keep losing masses of my progress is that I like the game so much. I’m lost in it, so I’m almost never pulling back and thinking “This is a game, I need to save”.
It doesn’t even have a quicksave key. Instead, you have to pull out to a menu, select save, then select “New Save Game”, whereupon – I kid not – it asks if you want to overwrite “New Save Game”. It’s not really an option, it’s a dummy savegame they put in there that gets recreated when you save over it.
The thing I wish everyone would copy: Skiing! We have games with jetpacks – though not enough by anyone’s count – but we badly need more that combine your short-lived skyward thrusts with the ability to curl that gravitational potential round into blindingly fast lateral motion by angling your descent along inclines. It’s a thrilling, elegant and endlessly satisfying mechanic. Even on the last level I was amazed by the dizzying speed I could pick up by playing off the shape of the land.
Best bit: It’s partly that, but more specifically what that leads to in the context of a single-player shooter. Because the levels are enormogasmic, you have some time and distance to plan your attack. But the main thing you’re planning is not which weapon to use, where to throw a grenade, but the rollercoaster undulations of your blistering route through the area.
“If I jetpack over that ridge, I can land on the incline and ski all the way down to the facility, and hit that lip at the bottom to launch over that water-tower, take out the turret, and still have enough jetpack juice to blast up to the mountains on the other side of the valley to ski back for another pass.”
I got to the stage where I could execute all this without hitch almost instinctively, leaving my higher brain functions free to handle the shooting as I shot by. The centrepiece weapon is the Spinfuser, which is like a lightweight rocket launcher except that your missiles inherit your own velocity. That means that you have to lead to compensate for both your own movement and that of your target, so nailing five guys as you slide by at eighty miles per hour does genuinely need some brainwork.
I don’t think I’d like a game that forced you to conduct that kind of mathematics in the middle of an N-like momentum manipulation across a 3D landscape, but I love that there’s a game which lets me, and rewards me.
How cocking hard is it? Not too bad, but the challenge has its minor frustation factor magnified a billion times by the no-autosave thing. There’s the odd inordinately tough boss fight, some of them unexpected, and the prospect of repeating the entire preceeding level in order to take another whack at one of these caused me to level-skip to the victory cut-scene once or twice. I am not ashamed of this. Irrational should be.
How long is it? Long. It feels super-epic, but in fact it’s merely long. It’s an utterly absurd structure – at various times you play a princess, her daughter at six, her daughter in her twenties, her daughter’s boyfriend, her daughter’s boyfriend’s killer and even your own killer. By the end of it, even though precious little of the dialogue and precious few of the characters have been even remotely good, you’re so exhausted by the sheer amount of plot you’ve lived through that you can’t help but feel rather satisfied.
Jumps the shark: Guess what? The grappling hook level. But not just because of the grappling hook. This is a level where you play a six year-old girl, piloting fighter jets and mowing down legions of trained soldiers. The problem with the grappling hook, by the way, is that their coders weren’t clever enough to work out how to make it wrap around obstacles that get in the way of the line, so when you grapple onto the ceiling or a high ledge, the challenge is to make sure your lifeline doesn’t brush some light fitting, skirting board or defect in the wall, or it will instantly vanish and you’ll plummet. It’s all the less tolerable because an Unreal Tournament player modded in a grappling hook with this feature implimented beautifully, and it took him all of a few afternoons. That’s the same engine.
What’s the end like? The penultimate level is really good, as mentioned, and entirely true to what made the bulk of the game great. The final one is a boss fight with someone who seemed to me to be a fairly minor character, and it’s pretty unremarkable. But it wins big points for a) not being at all frustrating, and b) being set above the clouds against a spectacularly beautiful sun. It’s one of the few games that ends in a place that feels like an appropriate place to end. It’s a game about flying, and you finish it higher than you’ve ever been before.
What’s the ending like? Surprising, actually. You never get to kill the real villain of the piece, she gets away scott free. It would almost be noir if the characters involved weren’t such hammy irritants.