It's kind of ironic that paintball is another sport that has been translated into a video game. When you bring it down to its most basic format, paintball is equivalent to the deathmatch modes in most modern shooters. Having a paintball video game distills the experience into something that remains non-violent but no longer comes with the associated pain.
Like all sports, there seems to be an audience clamoring for a video game version, and the most successful of the games is endorsed by Greg Hastings, one of the sport's more recognizable names. For a while, Activision was publishing his titles, and although they were often relegated to the publisher's budget line, their quality was steadily improving. The release of the latest game on the current generation of consoles, Greg Hastings Paintball 2, marks the end of the Activision era. Majesco Games has taken over the publishing duties, and Super X Studios developed the title. For series fans, questions include whether or not the improvements from the original Xbox release have carried over to the new team. There is also the question of whether this title is redemptive after the disastrous NPPL Championship Paintball 2009.
Believe it or not, there are several different game types that can be played in the sport of paintball. There's Elimination mode, which is similar to deathmatch. Two Flag CTF is the traditional capture-the-flag you've played in other games, while Single Flag CTF has a flag in the middle of the field that must be captured and taken back to your base. Point Capture is a territories style match where you gain points for every spot you hold per second. Assault has you defending points from being captured or, if you're the assault team, capturing them. Recon is an interesting form of tag where you only gain points by touching specified stations on the map. Sniper has you trying to hit all of your designated targets before the opposing team does the same. X-Ball is a mash-up of deathmatch and reverse CTF; points are scored either with total team elimination or by hanging your flag on the opposing base, and the team with the most points by the end of the time limit wins. Finally, Race To is exactly like X-Ball, but with a set point limit hat must be reached.
Greg Hastings Paintball 2 features a few modes for the offline player to enjoy. The first mode, and unquestionably the deepest in the game, is Career mode. You form a team of rookies and get them geared up with the best clothes and guns you can afford. From there, you have three career paths, and while they all have to be completed to properly finish the Career mode, you can switch back and forth between any of the paths at any time. Speedball allows you to take part in organized team bouts in specialized paintball parks, complete with nylon barricades and bunkers. Woodsball takes the Speedball mechanic to a more natural outdoor setting that can vary from forests to abandoned training grounds. Finally, Recball is like a mixture of the Woodsball and Speedball paths but without any real organized team play.
As I mentioned, the Career mode is quite deep. Aside from being able to choose any path at will, you can earn cash at the events and use it to buy new gear for your crew. You can also spend the cash on improving certain abilities for each player, such as walking speed while crouched or better aiming. As you progress through the ranks, you gain the ability to replace your stock of players with better ones. You'll even get in a few pro paintball players along the way. Couple that with the 62 different arenas you can play in, and the ability to create your own that can be used online, and you have a great amount of gameplay stuffed into the title.
If there's one thing that plagues the game, though, it's bad AI. Your AI teammates do a fairly good job of getting to cover and not getting shot, but once they get behind cover, they have pretty bad aim. More often than not, you can see them shooting the very object that they're using as cover. They do a fine job of getting the flag during flag matches, but during elimination matches, they do a pretty poor job of flushing out the remaining enemy since they prefer to be reactionary rather than proactive. Enemies tend to be more aggressive and a little smarter than your team, resulting in matches where you feel the need to do the brunt of the work in order to win. It can make for some frustrating matches, but if you happen to be a player who likes taking charge of everything, it isn't too bad.
Multiplayer games work out well this time around. During the review period, there was a crash the first time the title tried to find an online game but aside from that initial incident, finding online matches was a smooth process. The online games also run lag-free, as there were no instances of players warping from one location to another. About the only issue players may run into is the lack of a large community of players, but if the original Xbox titles proved anything, it's that there are enough players out there to provide a small but constant flow of online paintball games. Time will tell if it holds true for this iteration, but the potential is certainly there. On the plus side, the game allows bots to be included in online matches, so even if the community dries up sooner than later, you'll still have someone to shoot.
The controls are pretty accessible since they haven't changed much from other paintball games. You still have dual triggers for faster firing, and the slide mechanic is there. The slide is variable since you can slide into a ducked or prone position. There is still no cover system, but the lean mechanic is a good alternative. Gun hand switching is there and, when combined with the lean mechanic, makes a good blind fire method. One thing that doesn't seem to work all of the time is the team mechanic, where you get to direct teammates about what they should be doing next. Sometimes you can command them to lay cover fire, but they seem to do nothing after the command executes.
Graphically, Greg Hastings Paintball 2 looks more like a Wii game than an Xbox 360 or a PS3 game. The character models are pretty basic, as their clothes don't sport a high amount of detail. The sponsored clothes still have readable logos, but don't expect a high level of detail on any of the players, rookie or pro. Only the guns seem to have a next-gen look; the decorations and moving parts come through clearly on-screen. The animations vary wildly from decent to laughable. The running and walking animations are fine, but you'll sometimes see players trying to slide or walk while crouching or players gliding on the ground.
The environments tell the same story. They look good for the previous generation of games, but they look quite basic for this generation. You can still tell a rock from a nylon barrier, but only the nylon barriers sport any hints of next-gen textures. Foliage doesn't look much better, as trees sport flat polygonal branches and leaves. Tall grass only fades into view once you get close to the patches. The effects are nice, but none of them stood out as amazing. The fog forming on your goggles when you're running is good, as are the rain splashes on the camera lens and the paint spray from exploding paint balls. Considering the rest of the graphical package, it's a good thing that these effects are in place.
The sound is sparse but effective enough. The soundtrack is limited to a handful of hard rock instrumental tracks. It's certainly generic, but it's limited to the menus, so you never worry about it invading your ears during gameplay (except for a bug that lets it continue in the first rounds). One caveat is that the soundtrack plays out a tad muted, which is inexcusable nowadays, when every system on the market is capable of producing clean, crisp music.
The effects are exactly what you'd expect. The whoosh of the paintballs as they fly out of the barrels is nice, and the little things, like hearing the ping of paintballs as they hit hollow metal poles, show that there was a good amount of work spent on the audio details. Greg Hastings shows up as your tutorial instructor and mentor, and his delivery is great. He sounds natural when he's giving you instructions on the overall game of paintball, and it rarely feels like he's reading from a script. There are a few other voice actors in the game, but they don't say much aside from indicating whether or not they were tagged by a paintball or if their team scored a point. Again, what is here works, but it could have been a little better.
Paintball fans will be relieved to know that Greg Hastings Paintball 2 is certainly a much better game than NPPL Championship Paintball 2009. The campaign mode demonstrates some depth that's usually reserved for big sports titles, and the amount of arenas in which you get to play is astounding, especially when you throw in the ability to make your own maps. The game isn't exactly a good representation of how current-generation games should look, and other graphical issues, like clipping and pop-up, become too distracting. For the big paintball fan, the game is a good alternative to being out there on the field. For everyone else, the game is a pretty decent rental.
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