Tribes Aerial Assault is based on a multiplayer first-person shooter series that debuted on the PC in the late '90s and quickly gained a large and loyal following. Now Tribes has come to the PlayStation 2 in a game that includes most of the core components of last year's Tribes 2 for the PC. In the game, players assume the roles of futuristic warriors on a 40th-century battlefield, fighting against a race that's literally been bred for battle and is trying to win possession of the humans' newly acquired worlds. In practice, though, the plot won't matter one bit as you engage in pitched battles against rival teams of players, all of you using your high-powered weapons, jetpacks, and vehicles to try to best each other. This can add up to some pretty serious but at times chaotic fun, if you have a network adapter and a broadband connection.
Tribes is a mostly successful PS2 version of a popular multiplayer shooter for the PC.
Tribes Aerial Assault puts you right in the thick of combat, giving you the ability to fly around using a jetpack, create and pilot various vehicles, repair weapon posts, or go on an all-out offensive to try to take out enemy strongholds. By default, the game uses controls that are similar to what you'd find in other console first-person shooters--the left analog stick moves your warrior around and the right analog stick controls where your weapon is being pointed. The jetpack controls and the bulk of the weapon controls are mapped to the shoulder buttons, which allows you to effectively move and shoot without having to reposition your hands on the gamepad.
The game also features the ability to lock on to your opponents. This function is normally mapped to a shoulder button, and it allows you to automatically target the enemy when he or she is within range. While this may not sound too appealing in an online game that is supposed test your ability to aim and fire better than other players, it does add an unusual dynamic by changing the focus of the game from being able to aim effectively to being able to dodge while shooting effectively, giving the gameplay a feel that is similar to that of the Virtual-On games. You have to be extremely conscious of your position in relation to your immediate environment and your targeted enemy. Tribes allows players to disable the lock-on feature, and online servers can be set up to force all players to live without it as well. Playing without the lock-on enabled turns the game into a more conventional first-person shooting experience, putting the focus back on lining up your shots well, but this can be particularly difficult in Tribes Aerial Assault, where you'll often be forced to engage fast-moving, high-flying targets from long range.
Tribes Aerial Assault includes several different types of game modes, whether playing online against others or solo against AI-controlled opponents. These gameplay types include capture the flag, capture and hold, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and hunters, in which you have to collect flags from other players and bring them back to a particular point on the map to score points. While shooting down enemies will earn you points in Tribes, capturing the flag in CTF mode or completing other team-oriented goals will earn you many more, which makes the game more about working as a team than just simply blasting other players.
In light of this, it's unfortunate that Tribes Aerial Assault makes working as a team very difficult by limiting your ability to communicate with your other team members to simple positive and negative comments. It would have been much better if the developers could have included some form of USB microphone support similar to what's found in the recent SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs, though even a simple menu chat system with basic orders like "follow me" or "cover me" or "return to base" would have really helped. On a good server and with good players, you can still kind of get a feel for what's going down just by glancing around and paying attention to your teammates' positions--but this is no substitute for in-game communication. Team-based games that don't offer good communication features often devolve into chaos, which isn't much fun.