With so many sci-fi first-person shooter (FPS) games available such as Halo, FEAR and Singularity, you’d be hard-pressed to develop a game that’s differentiated from the rest of them. One game has carved itself a cozy niche amid this saturated market, based on the premise of players running and gunning at tremendous speeds. Say hello to Tribes: Ascend, the sixth title of the Tribes series by Hi-Rez Studios released on Apr 12.

The lineage is impressive to say the least, as the Tribes game Starsiege: Tribes (1998) that started it all was the first-ever game with vehicles, huge maps, as well as jetpack and skiing mechanics. All these elements can still be found in Tribes: Ascend to retain that emphasis on speed that the Tribes series is well known for.

Many conventional FPS games focus on combat in or near buildings and structures – taking cover inside buildings, so you can jump an enemy as he rounds a corner and eventually storm the enemy base. However, in Tribes: Ascend, there are times you’ll want to forget about cover and just leg it. After all, a fast-moving target is a hard-to-hit one, and it takes some skill and experience to accurately anticipate where target will be when the shot lands.

Launching explosive discs with the iconic weapon of the Tribes series, the Spinfusor MKD, is a blast, in more ways than one.

Indeed, taking the fight outdoors might afford you a better chance at surviving than holing up in a cramped indoor area, where a grenade or two could spell your end. Buildings and structures are strategically significant as houses for objectives and as vantage points, but they are few and far between because indoor skirmishes are not the main draw of the game.

The maps and environments in this free-to-play multiplayer game are designed to provide you with plenty of space to zip around, along with numerous rolling hills you can duck behind or weave around for protection. Skiing down slopes to build up speed or using jetpacks to zip around in the open are two ways to experience the speed that’s the best thing about the game.

In an interview  with Metacafe, Todd Harris, Chief Operating Officer of Tribes: Ascend, said he wanted the game to feel “like I’m not just running around the map with a gun, but there’s a skateboard attached to my feet”.

Weapon loadouts vary according to the classes you pick. Lightly-armoured classes have weaker weapons but make up for it by being speedy and hard to hit. The heavy classes have the most damaging weaponry in the game, including homing missiles and chainguns, and over twice as much health as light and medium classes, but present slower and larger targets for their foes. Heavy classes are generally better suited for combat, but have a harder time in capturing flags or chasing enemies.

For a multiplayer-only game with speed as its core gameplay mechanic, it’s little wonder why its Capture-The-Flag game mode is so popular. Snatching the flag from your enemies’ base under their noses at over 200 kilometres an hour isn’t something you can do in other FPS games, and the ensuing high-speed chase to capture or retrieve it is even more exhilarating, with volleys of projectiles, plasma fire and grenades traded back and forth.

Other game modes, such as Deathmatch and Capture-And-Hold (point defense), are available, should you desire matches that don’t entail chasing or absconding with flags, although UrbanWire feels that Capture-The-Flag mode makes the best use of the extreme mobility allowed by the game.

The graphics of Tribes: Ascend is definitely not lacking in quality.

Tribes: Ascend’s setting and combat system are similar to games like Halo, Unreal Tournament and Planetside, except that things move a lot faster. Some practice is required to get used to the high speeds and fluidity of movement, but once you do, you will understand what separates it from your typical FPS game. In between getting used the high mobility and trying not to crash into things, Tribes: Ascend might look like it has quite the steep learning curve, but UrbanWire feels anyone with experience playing FPS games shouldn’t have a problem in learning the ropes.

In the graphics department, Tribes: Ascend has good backdrops and texture work; it’s almost on par with games like Halo: Reach and Unreal Tournament 3. Character and weapon models have interesting designs; clean and futuristic, but definitely nothing that looks too much like alien technology.

The sound department is not lacking at all; the background music tends to create a feeling of high energy and tension, perfect for the fast-paced environment of the game. The guns sound realistic, and not too thunderous or too devastating. Subtle sounds of wind blowing past you when you’re going fast make it that much more thrilling to speed.

Tribes: Ascend is free to download and play, so there’s no chance of getting buyer’s remorse, which you’ll likely not get anyway. It’s well worth your time, or at least a try, if you’re into FPS gaming. It’s only available for the Windows platform, and full technical specifications are available here.