XBOX REVIEW: GREG HASTINGS' TOURNAMENT PAINTBALL MAX'D

Every once in a great while a good game sneaks up on you that is so unexpected, so out of left field, that you almost feel embarrassed because of how you judged it so unashamedly before placing it into the game system. Last years surprise hit, Greg Hasting's Tournament Paintball is one such title. Paint Ball? Didn't they try this back on the NES with Gotcha? How good could it possibly be? It turns out, surprisingly good.

MAX'D, the second in the GHTP series takes everything you loved about the first game and cranks it to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale of greatness. However you must remember that this is a paintball game. Don't mistake GHTP for another in a long line of FPS, even though the game takes place from a first person perspective. Although there are numerous upgrades available in terms of markers (paintball guns), barrels and hoppers, you won't find sniper rifles or grenade launchers littering the landscape. It will just be you, your teammates and your paintball gun which makes an audible click when you fire it. Boom stick jockeys and giblet junkies need not apply. In other words you don't necessarily have to be a paintball aficionado to enjoy GHPTM, but I'm sure it helps.

Having spent one afternoon of my life playing paintball many years ago, I'm hardly what you'd call an expert. I spent most of the day cowering in fear that some overzealous idiot was going to run up and shoot me pointblank in the temple. My anxiety was clearly founded as one of my teammates mistook me for the enemy and bust a paintball cap in my ass from about 3 feet away. What a maroon! I had to stand while driving home. But fear not dear reader, as good as the opponent AI is in GHTP, they will not be able to jump out of the TV screen and shoot at you with those hard little paintballs. In case I've caused you unecessary stress regarding your own over zealous squad shooting you in the back or face, developer WXP (aka The Whole Experience) has given you a healthy dose of control over them so you can tell them where to go and what to do when they get there.

Paintball players in "real life" - What is this real life that you speak of, oh video game master? - will definitely get the most mileage out of WXP's attention to detail. Located within MAX'D are numerous paintball and gear companies that paintballers will recognize while the rest of us respond with "Oh, a new pair of gloves. Kean!" As well WXP mananged to secure the rights to 39 pro paintballers including of course Greg Hastings and rookie Lou Tomasso of DamonZane skateboards (cool gear!). Continuing in the tradition of the last game, MAX'D features a healthy collection of 29 realworld tournaments featuring over 213 different field layouts. If that wasn't enough for you, WXP managed to squeeze in a feature-filled Field Editor and Match Editor both of which are extremely easy to use. These awesome features allow you to create your very own environment to hold a tournament in and designate what kind of match you want to participate in.

Playing through Career is where single players will get the most out of MAX'D as this mode provides the experience points needed to upgrade skills and advance to previously unlocked tournaments. Any tournaments completed in Career can be replayed at any time in Arcade mode but players will not be rewarded with experience points for subsequent wins. MAX'D also features a co-op mode for up to 4 players offline via splitscreen or online multiplayer which is really where those looking for MAX'Ds competitive edge should be playing.

Surprisingly MAX'D features a robust control scheme which rivals that of any recent FPS. Players will be able to burst run, crouch, crawl, dive, snap, reload and command their teammates all executed through an intuitive configuration. The obligatory training level is provided to get the basics down but players will be up and running to their first tournament in no time flat. The essential movements in MAX'D come in the form of snaps and dives - both of which will keep you from being a moving target as much as possible. Snaps allow you to peek around or above an obstacle with varying degrees of exposure so you can pop out, shoot and retreat. Dives are exactly what they sound like - when you're moving from one place to another it's a good idea to get a burst of speed and then dive to your destination. If you aren't a moving target in paintball, you're a sitting duck. Unfortunately you can't jump and dive, which would help to get your butt behind some cover fast. Another bone of contention is the inability to crawl inside pipes and other hiding spots that would definitely house a human-sized body. I'm not sure if this tactic is against the rules of paintball and it seems silly if it is.

At the start of each round you're presented with the Breakout Manager screen which allows you to adjust exactly where you want to position yourself and your teammates. Using the D-pad you'll also be able to assign 4 different quick plays to your team so they can function on their own without constant babysitting. At first you'll be placing the team in random spots and assigning any old quick play because you won't know any better, but as you progress you'll realize there is a great deal of strategy involved according to where you start from and what actions your teammates should perform based on the lay of the land and the skill level of your opponents. Once you start the round, you'll be able to command your teammates either by talking into the headset or using the white button to issue any of the 14 available voice commands such as Attack, Front Center, Back Right, Your Mom's A Slob...just kidding about that last one, although I hear there may be some truth behind it.

Visually MAX'D isn't going to win any awards. It's as graphically perfunctory as they come, looking like a throwback to the first current generation Tony Hawk games on the PS2. That's not to say it's particularly ugly, just don't expect to be blown away by the onscreen environments. Taking in consideration MAX'D is part of the Activision Value line, we'll just let it go at that. The soundtrack supports your own custom tunes which is always a welcome addition although the tunes available by various bands are perfectly suited for this alternative sport.

One of the more frustrating experiences I had with MAX'D involved the game freezing when it was loading the next level which required a complete reboot. Unfortunately I didn't take my own advice of "save often and save even more often than that", so I had to replay a couple of tournaments due to this. The game seems to hang consistently when trying to load the third tournament. I'm not sure what the problem is (nor how to solve it) and I know I'm not alone as I've read a few reports of this. Definitely not acceptable. I eventually made it past the third tournament but the freeze happened a few other times throughout my time with MAX'D.

As mentioned you'll get a lot out of the single player, but multiplayer online is really where it's at. That is, if you can find like-minded individuals to play with and against. I went snooping and didn't find a whole lot of action the few times I attempted, but I did manage to get into a few games with a couple of real morons. I kid you not, one dumb ass on my team came up behind me and shot me (Friendly Fire was activated)! How coincidental can you get? He laughed and laughed too.

I have to really hand it to WXP as they have included a wide variety of options for online play and since paintball is a social sport - if you can call shooting people in the ass or face with a hard ball a social activity - it is highly recommended that you if you love paintball, you'll really dig playing online.

 

Unfortunately I have little to no previous experience with the first game so I honestly can't tell you if a purchase of MAX'D is a sure thing. What I can share is that aside from the freezing which I understand doesn't happen to everyone, MAX'D is a damn fine example of catering to a specialist sport. WXP has really thought of everything and included it, to the best of my limited knowledge of paintball. If paintball is something you're passionate about, MAX'D is a superbly crafted digital representation of the sport jampacked with features, pros, gear and challenging gameplay that you'll enjoy far after paintball season is over.

System: XBOX
Dev: WXP
Pub: Activision
Released: Nov 2004
Players: 1 - 14 Online
Review by Stew XX
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.0
GRAPHICS
3.0
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
4.0