Hi-Rez has announced today, on the 20th anniversary of the first Tribes game, that they are giving out all of the Tribes Universe games for free, including the PlayStation 2 only Aerial Assault.

You may know the Tribes series as the futuristic FPS with insanely fast movement, jetpacks, plenty of explosions and gameplay so deep that its damn near impossible to master but what you might not know is that Tribes actually began as a mech game. The very first game was called Metaltech: Earthsiege and it was awesome!

Earthsiege had state of the art graphics back in the day and required a rig so monstrous my PC could barely play it despite the game being a fair few years old at that point. Though it wasn't just graphics that held my 7 year old self hooked to the game.

Simply put, it had everything when it comes to mech games: a wide variety of weapons to decimate the enemy with, a layered damage system that could result in either you or the enemy losing their "limbs", a squad of allied mechs you could equip, maintain and bring to battle with you and finally a story mode that reacted to your successes and failures with different missions.

These days stuff like that is fairly common (though not common enough if you ask me) but back then I have never seen anything like it and the game was stuck in my memory since. I can't really recommend it for a serious playthrough as it hasn't aged terribly well but if you're interested in mech games of yore give it a look, you might find it as enchanting as I did.

I told you it looked awesome

But let's say you've been hit over the head recently and due to your trauma you're not interested in mechs and you're wondering where the "real" Tribes begins.

For that you have to look no further than Starsiege: Tribes, the first game to bear what is going to be known as the title of the series. Starsiege: Tribes is a multiplayer-only squad based FPS where you get to create your own loadout by choosing between three weight classes (light, medium, heavy) and numerous weapons, some of which are locked to certain armors while others are free for all (like the now infamous spinfusor which fires explosively charged frisbees of doom). Oh, and in this world, jetpacks are apparently standard equipment because everyone has one so battles are always hectic with enemies streaming in from every possible angle. However, it wasn't any of that which made the series explode in popularity.

That can be attributed to a glitch that would occur when you tried sliding down a hill while rhythmically jumping. With each jump your momentum would accumulate resulting in a faster and faster descent and if you would then hit the crest of a hill and activate your jetpack at the same time you would be propelled across the map at ludicrous (no, not the rapper) speed.

Given the severity of this bug the developers, Dynamix, quickly patched it and banned those that were found exploiting... I'm just kidding, though that would probably happen these days. What they actually did is they realized the potential of this new skiing mechanic so they went ahead and made Tribes 2 which had skiing not as an unintended bug, but rather as its main feature. Besides somewhat plain graphics, Tribes 2 is a great game so if you want to see where history was made (and many of my teenage hours wasted) give it a try, it still has a few active servers and a small community.

Smooth rolling hills, perfect for skiing

If after reading all of this you find yourself interested in the Tribes series there is no better way of getting to know them than simply playing them, so head over to the Tribes Universe website and choose your favorite, they're all free.

Do keep in mind however that these games are not patched to work properly on modern systems so you might have to do a bit of fiddling to get them to work. I've had a couple of issues while trying to get Earthsiege to run but luckily I've found this Reddit thread by evanvolm that has a list of fixes for the various games, Earthseige included. Also if you plan on playing the older games in the series you're going to need DOSBox, a nifty little program that emulates, you guessed it, the DOS platform these games ran on.

As a parting note its worth mentioning that Tribes: Ascend, the newest in the series, has after a long break in development seems to be receiving updates again. Whether this will last or not, now is probably the best time to grab your spinfusor and jetpack in to the fray.