Last year's Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball was a pleasant surprise: a budget title based on an extreme sport that didn't feel hastily cobbled together and shoved out to the marketplace. Even better, it was fun, a quality many games of similar price have trouble achieving. Hastings and the rest of his paintball pro buddies return in Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd, which we recently took for a test drive to see how the game is shaping up for its fall release.
First, the best news for fans of the last game: Paintball Max'd will feature a field creator. The field creation tool is easy to use, and you can whip up a new course in short order. You'll start off by choosing a name for your course and the size of the field you wish to play on--small, regulation, or large--and then it's simply a matter of laying down the bunkers exactly as you see fit. Bunkers and obstacles come in a number of different flavors and shapes--from standard square shapes, to columns, triangles, and even picnic tables. If you care about the branding of your bunkers, you'll have a number to choose from: R7, Tippmann, and WGP, among others. You can choose to set up either single bunkers or dual bunkers, which can be regularly spaced and lined up in order to keep your field layout tidy.
While you set bunkers using an overhead view of the field, you have the option of getting a field view of how the course will play by pressing the white button on the Xbox controller. You can even adjust your stance to standing, crouching, or lying prone to get an idea of exactly how each bunker position plays on your created course. We've saved the best news for last: All created courses will be playable both offline and online, with or without AI-controlled bots, a feature that should give this game legs well beyond its predecessor. Paintball Max'd will also feature a match editor that will let you create your own custom five-field tournaments from any field found in the game, user-created or otherwise.
So what else is new in Max'd? A play editor lets you assign individual positions for every player on your team before a match begins. The interface takes some getting used to, but the benefits of knowing where everyone is going and who will be operating as breakout shooters (those who provide cover fire) as soon as the match begins will likely outweigh the learning curve. We understand there will even be voice commands for AI-controlled teammates using the Xbox Live communicator headset, though we didn't have much luck getting it to work in our time with this preview build.
As for the main aspects of gameplay, trading paint in Max'd feels a lot like it did in last year's game, which is not a bad thing at all. You'll still be creeping through artificial "speedball" courses dotted with the aforementioned branded bunkers, but you can also choose to attack courses of a more natural persuasion, complete with obstacles like trees, boulders, and assorted other man-made junk, perfect for ducking behind for cover. You'll still have a posse of teammates at your back just waiting for you to lead them to victory. Your marker (read: paintball gun) still fires in a loosely grouped arc, especially when you're first building up your created career mode player, so your best bet will be counting on quantity over quality shots and really getting your trigger finger busy.
Once a match begins, it's a matter of getting behind cover as quickly as possible and then island-hopping your way into enemy territory so you can really deal the pain (or in this case, the paint). Just as in the last game, the AI opponents in Max'd don't seem to be slouches and will adjust their tactics to your position on the course accordingly. Should you get hit with paint anywhere other than in the face, you'll have a small window of opportunity to wipe the paint off and continue your match, using a golflike swing meter. Stop the cursor in the green zone, and you're good to go; miss the mark by too much, and not only will you be eliminated, but your other teammates might suffer as well. It's only "cheating" if you get caught, so work quick and make sure you don't get caught.
The centerpiece of the single-player game is a career mode that will have you building up a created player from scratch, forming a team from a number of different skill levels, and then hitting the tournament circuit and fighting your way to the top. Along the way you'll run into paintball pros like Nicky Cuba, Matt Marshall, and Peter Utschig, among others, as you vie for the top spot in the paintball world. As you gain experience, you'll be upping your player's stats in areas such as speed, accuracy, marker skill, and reload time, as well as buying new licensed gear such as goggles, harnesses, air tanks, and markers with credits you earn in the game.
Max'd is shaping up with a similar visual style to last year's game--you'll still see the outer edges of your goggles as you play through the courses, for example--and an audio presentation that seems to put a bigger emphasis on voice acting this time around. With online play rounding out the entire package, it looks like this paintball game is set to once again surprise the budget-minded gamer with its full-featured gameplay and beefy extras. We'll have more on the game, including a full review, as we approach its November release.