Youth hobbies are distancing themselves further and further from action these days. Yu-Gi-Oh is a game about playing a game about fighting monsters, and Splat Magazine's Renegade Paintball is about reading a publication about playing a game that simulates war. For all but the most dedicated of fans, this isn't a thrilling premise. But Renegade Paintball is better than some of its budget-bin competition. It seems like Global Star Software played Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball and tried to incorporate as many of the features therein as possible. Its success was inconsistent.
Renegade Paintball features a difficult career mode that's essentially a tutorial for multiplayer confrontations. As in Greg Hastings, you've got elimination matches, in which you have to paint each member of the opposing team, and CTF matches, in which you either have to capture the enemy flag or a center flag between your bases, depending on the map. These levels include woodsball and speedball arenas, which give players a taste of traditional and avant-garde paintball gameplay. Woodsball takes place in large outdoor arenas with cabins and rocks as cover. Speedball is set in smaller arenas and uses artificial, inflatable cover. The latter is, as the name would imply, much quicker. As one shot kills in any paintball game, you'll be respawning a lot in speedball.
In career mode, you'll choose from one of several paintball "greats," including an editor from sponsor Splat Magazine, Chris "IQ" Iaquinta. Enthusiasts may be familiar with some of these big ballers, but anyone else probably won't have a clue. Your character choice actually means little, as all players seem to perform equally. If you die in an elimination match, time will stop and your spirit will appear to leave your body, moving to take control of another player. Characters without licensed names are called horrible things like "N00b Bob." Of course, that's fitting for a game that exclaims "You got served!" when the computer dishes out an especially heinous beating. At the start of a particular map, the same baritone announcer voice asks, "Do you have what it takes to be king, [dramatic pause] or will you just be [another dramatic pause] a court jester?"
The appeal of the single-player campaign is limited, due to huge gameplay imbalances. The odds seem hopelessly tilted in favor of your CPU opponent, especially on the Xbox, in which there is no auto-aim. You're simply expected to be as accurate with your thumbsticks as you would be with a high-resolution mouse. As a result, it's incredibly hard to hit anything on the Xbox, especially with the first few, lower-powered markers (guns). Compounding the problem is slightly jerky character animation, which makes it really tough to anticipate enemy movements and to lead your shots accordingly. Consequently, pretty much the only way to score frags is by shooting dozens of paintballs in a wide spray. When the scores are tallied, having 5 percent accuracy means you performed well. This is not true of real-life paintball. Even on the PC you'll have a lot of trouble hitting the mark, although this is due mostly to jerky graphics.
By contrast, the CPU seems to hit its mark the first time, every time--at least on normal difficulty. If you, even for one moment, step out of cover, you'll be bombarded by a spray of enemy paintballs, regardless of your distance from hostiles. Meanwhile, your friendly artificial intelligence characters are completely useless. On capture-the-flag maps, they'll never, ever capture the flag on their own. You'll have to do everything yourself.
Some of these problems could have been mitigated by rudimentary team commands, like "get the flag" or "guard the base." Instead, your teammates pretty much do whatever they feel like at the time, which may be totally counterproductive. On certain maps, one of your men will invariably occupy a sniper tower, even if the gun he's wielding doesn't have the firepower to reach anyone from there, which is the case for all but the ultimate weapon, "Sweetness." You won't even realize the poor sap is holed up all by himself until you die (before which you single-handedly wasted five dudes) and spawn in his brainless body.
Throughout the game, you'll be heavily reliant on Renegade Paintball's best tactical feature, which is borrowed directly from Greg Hastings. With the use of the left trigger, in conjunction with the left analog stick, you can snap in and out of cover and take aim at your foes. Your gun and body will lean into the open, but will snap back as soon as you release the thumbstick. You can perform snaps while standing or squatting, but not while prone, due to the obvious mobility limitations inherent in that position.
Multiplayer sessions are much more playable, mostly because everyone is working at an equal disadvantage. On Xbox Live, players spend a lot of time accusing one another of using turbo controllers (do such things even exist anymore?!), because you'd glean a huge advantage by having a faster firing rate. Players duck behind cover and fire off hundreds of rounds at each other, hoping one will stick. It usually doesn't. In Renegade Paintball, everyone's in the same boat, so it's all fair.
Of course, you can't make baseless accusations of your fellow players in the PC version, because there's no built-in voice support. We can't foresee anyone setting up a TeamSpeak server for Renegade Paintball, either.
The game's built-in field editor is a nice touch. You can take an existing map and tweak it to your liking, adding and removing a host of environmental features and obstacles. On PC or Xbox Live multiplayer, you can start a game based on your custom map, and joining players will automatically download it. Some players creatively place obstacles to allow for jumps to high ground.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer sessions--both on the Xbox and the PC--are riddled with bugs. On the Xbox, you'll be dropped to the lobby at the end of every match. In speedball, sessions are over very quickly, compounding the problem. It's tough to get six players together at any given time at this point, so to risk losing them after every game is a terrific annoyance. An Xbox Live update is supposedly forthcoming to address this problem, but it wasn't available at press time. On the PC, you'll often be dropped from the host entirely, but you'll still be allowed to continue playing (and you'll be wondering why no one is getting fragged). Both versions will usually repeat the end-game message twice, probably due to lag problems. As you can't sort by ping, it's impossible to anticipate server performance.
You can also play with buddies via system link or split screen, with about equal results. Theoretically, a system link could allow you to play with 14 dudes, none of whom would have much fun. As a result, they'd never come over to your place again, and instead they'd start a club dedicated to hating you. In both single-player and multiplayer (on both consoles), load times are far from great.
Renegade Paintball looks much better still than it does in motion. Although the texture work is universally bland, and the marker models are clearly where the most time was spent, the overall look isn't bad. In motion, however, Renegade Paintball chops up, both on the Xbox and on a wide variety of PCs. This problem is especially apparent during the prematch flybys, where you survey your map a few painful frames at a time. Patching the game to its latest available version helped a bit, and it reduced the frequency of black-screen crashes in campaign mode.
Renegade Paintball's audio consists of two or three painfully generic rock instrumentals featuring the same tired power chords. There's also an announcer, who encourages you to "run like a sissy," and who generally assaults your manhood. This is only entertaining to 10-year-olds, some of whom mimicked the announcer over Xbox Live. Many of these chatterboxes were on the opposing team, but we could hear them anyway, because all speech in Paintball is broadcasted to everyone. This makes voice chat a party line rather than a tactical feature. Unless you develop an elaborate code, you can't broadcast your orders over the unsecured airwaves.
Splat Magazine's Renegade Paintball is decent by the standards of bargain-bin paintball games, but it can't compete with the mainstream shooters of the past generation. Unbalanced AI, poor shooting control, and shoddy design at every level of the experience make this extreme sports title unworthy of your $30.