You might expect a paintball game to play like a gimmicky, bloodless version of your average first-person shooter. However, if you're familiar with the sport of paintball, you already know that there's much more to it than that. In fact, Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball and its followup, Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd, go to great lengths to present paintball as legitimate sport, with its own rules, culture, products, and players, rather than a dumbed-down imitation of a first-person shooter. That nonword in the title of Greg Hastings' Max'd sounds silly, but it brings with it some much-appreciated new features like team control, voice commands, a map editor, and more course layouts and tournaments than the previous installment in the series.
As in the original game, Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd lets you participate in the lightning-quick sport of tournament paintball. All of the matches are team-based, with three, five, or seven players on each team. The three game modes are elimination, single-flag, and capture-the-flag. All three games play pretty similarly, but they're scored differently. In elimination matches, the objective is to just shoot all the players on the opposing team. That's basically the objective of the flag matches too, because the easiest way to grab a flag is to eliminate the opposing team first, so you can deliver the flag unopposed. In a single-flag match there's one flag in the middle of the course, and one start box on each end of the field. You score points by grabbing the flag and delivering it to the start box on the opposing team's side of the field. In capture the flag, you have to grab a flag from the opposing team's start box and bring it back to your own start box. The first team to secure a flag wins the round, and points are distributed based on how many eliminations and survivors your team had, as well as which team was the first to grab the flag and which was the one to secure it. In the flag match tournaments, both teams score points that add up from round to round, and the team with the most points at the end of a set number of rounds is the winner.
The rules are simple and easy to pick up, even if you've never had any exposure to paintball beyond early-morning showings of Gotcha! on TBS. The focus of tournament paintball isn't on rules (you can blatantly cheat, just as you could in the first game), but on quick moves and smart tactics. The courses are small and are filled with various low, medium, and tall structures to provide cover. Coincidentally, you have three different positions available: prone, crouched, and standing. You can also dive and sprint, which comes in handy when you have to take some evasive action (which you often will). In any given match, you basically run from cover to cover until you find an enemy, and then you just start blasting away with paint. The paintball guns--called markers by those who are in the know about such things--aren't particularly accurate, so the best tactic is to just send as many paintballs as possible at your target and hope that one or two of the balls hit their mark. You can run out of paintballs, but that rarely happens because most rounds don't last longer than 30 seconds, and it isn't irregular for a three-on-three round to end in fewer than 10 seconds.
As simple as it sounds, the game manages to pack a lot of fun and intense action into these short, rapid-fire rounds. The challenge is in anticipating where your opponents will move and using a bit of smart teamwork to outfox your enemies. One of the new features that makes coordinating your efforts on the field easier in Max'd is teammate control. If you have an Xbox communicator headset, you can issue verbal commands to your teammates. You can tell them to attack, move, or focus on a certain area. If you don't have a mic, you can issue commands to your team using the white button on the Xbox controller. By aiming at a teammate and hitting the white button, you can get him or her to move up to the next nearest bunker. By looking at a specific area of the field and hitting the white button, you can tell your team to look at that area. If you just want your team to attack, you can hold the white button for a couple of seconds. It works well, and you'll use these commands often; you'll rely a lot on your team to back you up, and if you don't communicate with them, they'll quickly get eliminated and you'll end up losing the round. Before each match, you can also assign routes to your teammates using the breakout manager. It works sort of like calling plays does in a traditional sports game, and a good breakout plan can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
If you're playing Max'd by yourself, there's a career mode with 29 different tournaments to compete in. The tournaments are spread out around the world from Texas to Cambodia, and as you win you earn credits and experience points that you can use to purchase gear and improve your character's skills. You can purchase new markers, jerseys, shoes, goggles, hoppers, harnesses, and more, all from licensed manufacturers like Tippmann and Kingman. As you complete tournaments you'll earn your way up the ranks from rookie to novice, and eventually you can go professional. The matches get progressively more difficult, thanks to the solid artificial intelligence of the high-ranked teams. The AI poses a challenge not only because it's fairly sophisticated, but also because it varies quite a bit from team to team and player to player.
The multiplayer component of Max'd offers about as many options as you could possibly want from a paintball game. You can play online with up to 14 players in any of the three game types. You can set the number of rounds, the course, whether or not to allow cheating, what type of paintballs to use, and more. We didn't have any problem finding people online to play against, and we didn't notice any lag or other issues during our online experience. The matches move quickly, though, so if you're playing against some experienced opponents you won't stand much of a chance. That isn't much of a problem, though, because you can set a skill-level restriction when you create a game. If you prefer to play offline, the game supports system link and offers a four-player split-screen mode.
Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd does a great job of authentically recreating the sport of paintball, but the presentation is somewhat disappointing. The player models and the courses look extremely outdated. There are some decent textures on some of the bunkers, but for the most part everything looks washed out and dull. The player models are blocky and they only have a couple stiff animations. The sound is also pretty lackluster. The markers sound good enough when firing paintballs, but everything else sounds cheap. The soundtrack comprises a bunch of generic rock tracks from bands like Puddles of Mud and Static-X. The tunes are harmless enough, but if you really don't like them you can create your own playlist using the custom soundtrack feature. The worst part of the sound is the announcer. He sounds like he's trying too hard to be cool or extreme, and it just comes off as annoying. He also repeats the same couple of phrases over and over again, and they're all terrible.
The biggest challenge with a paintball game like this one is trying to justify spending $40 for a game that will likely appeal only to people who are already involved in the real-life sport of paintball. Max'd is as authentic and feature-laden as paintball games come, but that really isn't saying much. Sure, there are almost 300 different course designs, and even a course editor for you to create your own, but they all feel so similar that anything beyond the first dozen or so will feel all too familiar. Plus, there are only three game modes, so after a short while the matches become repetitive. The solid AI in the single-player game makes for some fun challenges, and the online play is great, but in the end it's still just a game of paintball. Still, if you're a fan of the sport or are interested to see what it's all about, this game is definitely worth checking out.