Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd for the Game Boy Advance could be an attempt to take advantage of the current lull in new releases for the system, an answer to the cries of GBA-owning paintball fans everywhere, or merely one more way to capitalize on the endorsement of pro paintballer Greg Hastings. But regardless of what strange series of events brought it about, the game is here and it's terrible.
Max'd is a first-person shooter based on the fast-paced cover-and-shoot sport of indoor paintball. There are two modes to choose from when playing the game: freeplay and tournament mode. Freeplay lets you choose one of two paintballers, Greg Hastings or Keely Watson, and then you play a quick match on one of four difficulty settings. The two characters play exactly the same, and you never see them anyway, so it really doesn't matter who you pick. In tournament mode, you start off as a rookie and you have to play through four best-of-five matches to move up to amateur, and eventually pro. That comes out to 12 matches, which isn't a lot when you consider that each round usually lasts less than 30 seconds.
The matches move quickly because they all take place in small, indoor arenas. Each arena is filled with symmetrically arranged bunkers, which are just inflatable barriers used for cover. According to the back of the box, there are 48 different field variations, but you would never know it by playing the game. Occasionally you'll notice that the bunkers are arranged slightly differently or are smeared with a different-colored logo, but for the most part, all of the arenas are the same.
All of the matches in Max'd are simple elimination matches--there's no capture the flag here. You're always stuck playing solo, but sometimes you'll have to take on as many as three artificial intelligence-controlled characters at once. That seems to be the main way this game scales the difficulty, by simply throwing more opponents at you. The AI certainly isn't sophisticated enough to do anything but repeat the same exact tactic over and over, match after match. Not that the shallow gameplay permits or warrants any sort of tactical approach to taking out opponents anyway.
The repetitive and shallow gameplay might be acceptable if it were even slightly fun, but it isn't, thanks in large part to some horribly awkward and imprecise controls. You move around using the D pad, move forward and back on the Y axis, and turn left or right on the X axis. You can strafe by holding A and then moving left or right. You can also hold A and press down to crouch. The A button is used once again when you want to change your snap (paintball speak for lean) position between horizontal and vertical. You can press the L button to snap, and the B button changes which side you hold your marker on, which allows you to lean in a different direction. You fire your marker by pressing the R button, but it's awkward because you can't aim while strafing, and the D pad sensitivity makes it difficult to aim with any precision even if you're just standing still. Sometimes even a slight press of the D pad will turn you 90 degrees, which is disorienting. There is no option to change the controls either, so you're stuck with them the way they are.
Plus, it doesn't mean that you'll actually hit anything even if you do manage to get the aiming down. For one thing, you have to be very close to an opponent to score a hit. The best tactic is to simply run up to your opponents and open fire, hoping you hit them before they hit you. Another problem results from the horribly pixelated graphics, which make it difficult to see your opponents, no less shoot them. All of the bunkers look like jagged blobs of neon blues, purples, and pinks. Coincidentally, that's exactly what your opponents look like too, so it's difficult to distinguish the players from the scenery. The animation and scrolling are extremely choppy, too, which makes it a waste of time to even try to hit a moving target. Sometimes if you do manage to spot an enemy and line up a clear shot, you'll inexplicably miss over and over again, as if your shots are passing right through your opponents.
Or perhaps your opponents are just really adept at cheating. Just like its console counterparts, Max'd on the GBA features a cheat meter that lets you take a couple of hits before you're eliminated. If you get shot a bar appears at the top of the screen, and you have to stop a moving marker within a designated area to avoid elimination. The more times you get hit, the faster the marker moves, making it difficult to get away without getting shot more than a couple of times per match. Even with the benefit of cheating, you'll still get eliminated often, simply because it's such a chore to move and aim with any degree of accuracy.
Max'd does manage to provide some decent sound, meaning that the quality holds up fine and doesn't sound too distorted. The same goofball announcer from the console versions lends his moronic commentary, and he sounds like he's trying way too hard to cop some sort of attitude. Still, the voice at least sounds decent, and you can hear every broken piece of slang clearly. The music is also close to being pretty good. The generic rock tunes sound a bit garbled and unclear, but that seems to be more the result of the choice of music rather than the sound quality. Regardless, the sound isn't remarkable beyond the fact that it's the best part of the game (and that's not saying much).
Even at a budget price, Max'd isn't worth your time or money. The bad controls, sloppy presentation, and repetitive gameplay make for a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. There are first-person shooters that manage to work out just fine on the GBA, but Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd isn't one of them.