The Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball games from Activision have appeared on the Xbox, Nintendo DS, and even the Game Boy Advance, but for whatever reason the PlayStation 2 has been without a decent paintball game until now. However, because Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball Max'd on the PlayStation 2 is the same game that came out almost a full year prior on the Xbox, it feels dated. It doesn't help that by now the previous versions of the game cost much less than the PlayStation 2 version, despite their being practically identical. But if you haven't played any of the previous games, you'll find that Max'd offers an engaging and skillful game of paintball with good online play and plenty of authentic content.
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 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 cable. The focus of tournament paintball isn't on rules (you can often blatantly cheat by wiping off the paint when you get hit), 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, jump, 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 less than 10 seconds.
As simple as it sounds, the game packs 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 them. One of the new features that makes coordinating your efforts on the field easier in Max'd is teammate control. You can aim your targeting reticule at any spot on the map and press the R3 button to tell your teammates to cover that area. By aiming at a teammate and hitting the button, you can get him or her to move up to the next nearest bunker. If you just want your team to attack, you can hold the R3 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 similar to how 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, you can take advantage of a career mode with 29 different tournaments to compete in. The tournaments are spread out around the world, from Compton 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 10 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 it's quick and easy to set up a game. The matches move quickly, so if you're playing against some experienced opponents you won't stand much of a chance. We did notice some slight lag, which can be especially troublesome in a game that demands speed and accuracy. Most of the time the lag appeared only briefly, though, and it wasn't bad enough to be more than a very minor annoyance. If you prefer to play offline, you'll be happy to know that the game supports system link as well as four-player split-screen multiplayer. The game also supports USB headsets to make it easy to communicate with your teammates while you're on the field.
Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd does a great job of authentically re-creating the sport of paintball, but the presentation is disappointing. The player models and the courses look extremely outdated. The backgrounds are bland, and everything within the courses looks washed out and dull. The player models are blocky, and they have only a couple of (stiff) animations. The sound is also lacking. The markers sound good enough when firing paintballs, but everything else sounds tinny and repetitive. The soundtrack comprises a handful of generic rock tracks from bands like Puddle of Mudd and Static-X. It only takes a few rounds of play before the songs start to repeat, which quickly gets annoying. The worst part of the sound is the announcer. He sounds as if he's trying too hard to be cool or "extreme," and it just comes off as annoying. He also repeats the same few phrases over and over again, and they're all terrible.
Max'd is as authentic and feature-laden as paintball games come, although that 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 AI in the single-player game makes for some fun challenges, and the online play works well, but in the end it's still just a game of paintball. What's more, it's a game of paintball that you can find elsewhere, for much cheaper. If you've played any of the previous Greg Hastings Paintball games, you won't find anything new here. But if this is your first foray into paintball games, you'll be pleasantly surprised at just how much fun this game can be thanks to its quick format, good artificial intelligence, and solid online play.