Reviewed: October 25, 2005
Released: October 18, 2005
According to the National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), participation in the sport of paintball exceeded 11.6 million players in 2004 and has steadily increased every year since 1998. There are more than 5,500 competing teams just in the U.S. and more than 70,000 paintball guns are sold in the U.S. every month. Paintball has recently moved ahead of snowboarding as the fourth largest alternative sport in the United States.
It’s not just a fad for weekend warriors anymore, and Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max’d is the perfect recruiting tool to entice lazy video gamers off the couch and into one of the more than 1,200 paintball specialty shops or countless retailers now selling the equipment required to play.
One might argue that video games are fueling the increase in paintball’s popularity. After all, you can only play so many Tom Clancy, Medal of Honor, or Call of Duty games before you have to satiate that uncontrollable bloodlust, or at least that is what Hillary Clinton would have you believe.
This is the second paintball game to come from budding developer, WXP, and there are numerous improvements and enhancements to last year’s game. And once again, their timing is impeccable, releasing an indoor version of an outdoor sport just about the time half the country becomes too cold to play.
Last year’s release didn’t fare well at retail, but that didn’t keep it from becoming the sleeper hit of the holiday season with more than 120,000 registered gamers on Xbox Live. The big reason the game didn’t do very well, at least in my area (Texas) was because the paintball shop owners would come in and clear out the retail stores and remarket the game in their shops.
Paintball has truly come into its own, spawning its own select group of underground celebrities, which are introduced in the game’s opening movie. I was really surprised how many hot girls are playing paintball – especially at the level required to achieve “celebrity” status.
Max’d polishes up what was already a solid simulation, adding team control to the mix. Last year the other two guys were pretty worthless in the field when left to their own A.I. and I ultimately treated them as extra lives when my primary player got eliminated. In Max’d you now have limited control for positioning your teammates and even ordering them to fire on the enemy. It’s certainly not at the level of a game like Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon but it’s a marked improvement over last year.
Much like the Clancy games, Max’d now supports voice commands through the Xbox Communicator. This not only allows you to order one or all of your men to advance or fire on the enemy, but you can also hear the other players calling out their own orders; a great way for keeping tabs on the enemy.
For more advanced tactics you can now use the Breakout Manager, a pre-battle planning screen that allows you to selected teammates and assign them specific tasks or plot their initial course through the bunkers. As the name implies, this only gets your team off to a more intelligent start, and you will still need to order them around.
Control is sweet with all of the fundamentals from last year firmly in place. You can still peak out from behind cover, either sideways or vertically as toggled by the A button. I supposed I should be used to it after last year but having to switch weapon hands to peak in the opposite direction still annoys me. Admittedly, it’s a totally realistic function. If you are pulling the trigger with your right hand you can’t be peaking around a left edge. This just goes to show how much of a sim this game really is.
Also back and still one of my favorite moves is the diving slide which allows you to immediately go prone and slide a short distance, hopefully behind cover. In a game like paintball you can’t afford to present a target for too long in the battlefield. When combined with the short-term turbo (sprint) mode you can slide into a bunker like a pro baseball player and pop up with paint gun ready.
The one thing that really draws me to this game is the intensity of the gameplay. There is no music so you are only hearing your footsteps and heavy breathing, the occasion popping of paint pellets and the shouts of the other players. With no radar you have to use your eyes to find the enemy and they are almost always ducked down or lying behind cover.
It can get pretty exciting if you send one of your guys forward to draw enemy fire so you can flank their position. The enemy A.I. is very realistic and they will have no unnatural knowledge of your presence, which means you can sneak right up behind them if you are quiet enough and nail them. Of course this can happen to you if you stay in one place too long.
No matter how good you are you will eventually get hit and that is where one of the more enjoyable elements comes into play, the cheat system. When you get hit a swinging meter appears and you have to time the button press to hit it when it’s in the green area. Depending on how obvious the hit, the meter might be going really fast or casually slow. If you get caught cheating you might get a penalty or just removed from the game as usual.
Max’d is loaded with all of the classic gear from the previous game as well as all-new guns (or Markers), plus new licensed clothing and accessories from well-known manufacturers. It doesn’t really mean much to me, but if you are into the sport for real then you’ll be able to appreciate the extra touch of realism.
The solo game features 29 tournaments and 213 new field layouts to get you started and then there is the support for up to four players via split-screen or head online for major competition in battles with up to 16 paintball warriors in a variety of game modes like Eliminations and CTF. Just make sure you have the mad skills required or the online pro’s will hand you your paint-covered ass in record time.
The optional tutorial covers all of the basics from last year and includes the new team command additions. It’s short and informative and well worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to complete it, even if you consider yourself a veteran of the previous title.
Josh Turbin created a lot of the stylized illustrations used in the game’s menus and splash screens. The opening movie is decent quality FMV that shows the pro’s in action interspersed with player introductions. It’s interesting to see just how big this sport has become, complete with grandstands full of spectators.
The in-game graphics are outstanding, much better than last year and in some certain levels, actually approaching the quality of outdoor combat games like Ghost Recon. Textures are borderline photo-realistic, especially the grass, and the texture on the inflatable bunkers, wood walls, rubber tires, and even the trees and water, are all very high quality. You’ll really feel like you are outdoors.
Player detail is really good and you can easily identify the various teams with their custom gear and colors. There is also a complete catalog of options for tweaking your own team’s look. Animation is also lifelike and you will spot the players sprinting between objects of cover, crouching, or peeking around objects to take shots at you.
The entire experience is enhanced with the claustrophobic view through the protective facemask. Again, this can be annoying, but it’s totally realistic and adds another notch to the game’s sim-like experience. It’s also really cool when you get a “facial” and are blinded with a splat of paint.
The music in Max’d is pretty much confined to the menus but it’s all good stuff. Working together for the first time, multi-platinum artists DJ Lethal and B-Real recorded a new hip-hop song entitled “Play for Real” for the GHTP MAX’D soundtrack. In addition, the soundtrack features Puddle of Mudd, Mellowman Ace and several up and coming bands.
Sound effects are minimal yet realistic. You’ll hear footsteps and heavy breathing inside your helmet while sprinting. There is a hollow thud when you get struck and the non-threatening sound of the paintball gun firing. Everything is given the 3D treatment with Dolby Digital so you can locate enemies by their sound and the new command system.
The tournament mode is fairly large and solo gamers will get a solid 20 hours of paintball gaming out of Max’d, but the true value lies in the multiplayer, whether you are going against friends in split-screen or taking your game online with Xbox Live.
The online community is already thriving from last year’s game creating an established fan base for the sequel. I started playing the game a few days before it shipped to stores and saw a sharp rise in online activity once the game hit retail. Look for unlimited gameplay potential with this one.
Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max’d may or may not appeal to traditional FPS gamers. It definitely is a lot slower with more tactics than many gamers are used to unless you play a lot of Tom Clancy games, especially with the new team command options.
The game is also a bit light in the single-player aspect, so if you don’t have Xbox Live or don’t like to play games online then you might want to steer clear of Max’d or at least wait for it to hit the bargain bins. If you are looking for a new spin on the FPS genre rooted in a realistic and increasingly popular sport, you might just want to check this game out. And if you play paintball for real, then you will certainly want to check out what is easily one of the best virtual adaptations of your sport currently available.