Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Fun Labs
Release Date: November 25, 2008
You know that video games have really infiltrated our culture when companies decide that just about any imaginable sport should be made into a game. There is always going to be some developer who thinks that it would be a great idea to make video game versions of niche sports such as parkour or lacrosse. In the previous generation, paintball was made into two video game versions for just about any system imaginable. The games weren't exactly spectacular, but they were good enough for fans to play every once in a while. Activision, publisher of the paintball games on the PS2 and Xbox, has thrown its hat into the video game paintball arena once more with NPPL Paintball Championship 2009 for the PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360. Unfortunately, the game doesn't do a good job of convincing anyone to try out the sport, let alone play it longer than they have to.
The objective of NPPL Paintball Championship 2009 is fairly simple. After selecting a main character and a team to play as, you try to win all of the tournaments in the National Professional Paintball League. Each tournament has requirements, such as a three-man, five-man or seven-man team. For the most part, the tournaments are all of the capture-the-flag variety and split into three rounds, though there are a few matches that are elimination only. Winning the best of three matches moves you to the next round, and winning that nets you a tournament win. Because this is paintball, one-hit kills are the standard rule here, though you can try to cheat. Successful cheats mean that you can continue playing with the same character, while bad cheats force the character out of the game or initiate penalties for your team.
For anyone who has watched a paintball match, the sport is much more than just shooting the other team into oblivion. Team members are split up into three classes: Back Men act as defenders of the base and lay down suppressing fire for their team; Front Men act as flag carriers, infiltrating enemy bases and eliminating those along the way; and Middle Men act as both Back and Front Men, filling in the respective positions whenever a teammate is eliminated. With the specific positions in play, paintball carries with it some strategy, and winning a match takes a good combination of paint and planning.
The above description of the sport gives you a good indication as to why a video game developer would like to make it into a game. On paper, this sounds like the recipe for Ghost Recon, only without the blood and political overtones. The execution, however, is very bad due to the game's AI, regardless of whether it's friend or foe. In just about every match, the enemy AI's strategy is to always group together and move to one side of the field. This makes it easy for players to get the flag, since all they have to do is watch where the enemy goes and move along the opposite path. While the other team does become aggressive shooters once you are in range, the AI on your team behaves exactly the same way. The aggressive nature on your team's AI, mixed with a constant barrage of paintballs, leads to quick enemy deaths, giving you a pretty clear path to the flag each and every time. This also occurs on higher difficulty levels, making the game less and less tactical as you continue playing. No matter what strategy you plan out before the match and what roles you give your men, the outcome is the same almost every time. Tactics give way to brute force and dumb thinking, making the game boring.
Multiplayer would have saved NPPL Paintball Championship 2009, had it been implemented well. Games are all team-based with a maximum of seven players on each side. While a game can truly be tactical if all you have are real players, plans are thrown out the window once gameplay begins because the game becomes laggy. Shots become misses, and moves don't happen as quickly as you would like them to, making the affair more frustrating than it's worth. The lag decreases once fewer people are involved in a match, but it doesn't completely go away, creating a mode that is as frustrating as the single-player portion. All of this only becomes a problem if you can even find a game, which was a difficult task to do since few games were even running during the course of his review.
The controls work, though there are some questionable decisions that were made that dampen the experience. The title controls like any other first-person shooter on the market in that the left thumbstick moves the character while the right thumbstick controls camera movement. The right trigger fires the gun, though RB also fires, giving you dual trigger support and faster firing. The B button toggles between standing, crouching, and prone stances; LB controls sprinting while the A button controls jumping and diving when sprinting. This all works fine, though for some reason, the A button doesn't work unless you get an on-screen prompt telling you that it is OK to use the button. While this may be fine for sliding and diving moves since they require sprinting before they can be executed, this makes no sense for jumps since, with this method, they only activate when you're close to certain bunkers. Because players must be in position to make the prompt appear before the jump can be done, this increases the likelihood of getting hit by stray paintballs and increases the player's frustration.
The graphics in NPPL Paintball Championship 2009 aren't something you want to show off when you want others to see how good your system or HDTV set is. The models on the character selection screen are muddy, with low-resolution faces stuck on low-polygon bodies. There's barely enough there to be able to tell who exactly is who. Things are a little better on the field, though you won't know who is who, aside from being able to discern uniform colors.
The environments are pretty lifeless, making you feel that this was a last-generation title that's been improperly ported. Character animations are all the same and once someone is eliminated, you immediately see that player disappear, completely throwing out any advances made to graphics over the past few years. Worse yet, there have been times when the frame rate drops significantly in a seven-on-seven game, making it unplayable at points. If there's a bright spot to the graphics, it's that the vinyl texture of the inflatable bunkers is nice, and you can see unused paintballs litter the field.
The sound is about as bad as everything else. The music is generic hard rock, which is fine for an aggressive game like this, but there are only six tracks to listen to, so it quickly becomes a grating experience. Sound effects are also generic, though the sound of paintballs being fired is nice. Voices are bad, though, since there only seem to be three voices present in the game: the announcer, your opponent and your team. Each one of the voices tends to overact, making each kill and win a laughable experience. Whatever you think of these guys, at least they have some spirit, unlike the voices used in the training mode. Voiced by members of Team Dynasty, a famous paintball squad in San Diego, each person there sounds lifeless as they read off what you're supposed to do in each training session. When you're trying to amp yourself up for a round of paintball, these aren't the guys you want pep talks from; they'll make you feel down once you hear how they deliver their speeches.
NPPL Championship Paintball 2009 is a bad game overall. AI issues contribute to the problematic gameplay; controls are serviceable, but the graphics and sound fail to inspire. Top that off with an online mode that is laggy almost all of the time, and you have a mess of a game. For a title with an asking price of $50, you're better off spending that money on a real paintball gun instead.
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