Professional American paintballer Greg Hastings may be virtually unknown in Australia, but the sport of paintball is not. Paintball fields have gradually popped up around the country in recent years, introducing many to the delights of showing off a body of bruises to family and friends. Although it remains a novelty sport here, paintball tournaments around the world offer good money for those with a fast trigger finger.
The idea of a video game then based on a young, up-and-coming sport seems a good idea. Certainly publishers Activision thought so -- Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd (GHTPM) in fact being a sequel to their previous effort. But gamers have found in the past that good ideas do not automatically equal good games.
GHTPM is relatively simple to play, which is a good thing as the action can be fast. Put simply, you command a team of paintballers who must either eliminate, or capture the flag of, your opponents. Matches are usually played over a number of rounds (ie 3, 5), and your team's score accumulates depending on whether you returned the flag, how many opponents you hit, how many times your team was hit and more. A time limit is usually imposed for each round.
If you're thinking this sounds suspiciously like yet another title in the biggest gaming genre known to man - the first person shooter, you're partly right. Thankfully though, GHTPM is more than just a paintball-themed first person shooter.
To start with, the developers have gone to the trouble of creating a tutorial mode to help you learn the moves and how they can benefit you. For instance, a few 'snap' moves let you peer around the side of, or over, an object, without exposing yourself to too much opposition fire. There are also crouching and lying positions, all of which can be used behind various field obstacles like pylons, cones, tables, bins, cars and buses.
Gameplay revolves around moving upfield, looking for your opponents and trying to hit and eliminate them. Importantly, you can cooperate with your computer-controlled teammates through a number of orders at your disposal. Fix your crosshair on a teammate and you can tell him or her to move upfield. Do the same to an area of the field and your teammates will aim for opponents in the vicinity. Or, if you're sick of hanging about, give the order for all-out attack. More specific commands are available to gamers with an Xbox Voice Communicator. While all these orders don't always stop your teammates from blindly rushing forward only to be mowed down by opposition fire, they do give you some control over your team's efforts, and the game is better for it.
Another fine inclusion is the cheat meter. This appears when you've been hit, and gives you the chance at a second life. If you're able to stop the fast moving indicator in a green zone, the paintball does not break and instead bounces off your body, or you remove the paint mark without the referee seeing. Either result allows you to play on. However, should you miss these zones, you could be eliminated anyway, or, worse, be forced to also call out one or three of your teammates from the game. Penalties like these make the cheat meter a real gamble, and double as a sort of 'continue' button. Of course though, you don't have to gamble, and if your opponent manages to land a paintball on your facemask, you're not even given the chance.
A round of GHTSM paintball usually lasts under 15 minutes, and so the action is short and snappy. This begs the question then of how many games can you play before it becomes repetitive, but fortunately Career mode overcomes this. Here, you try to progress through tournaments held around the world, with the aim of winning money and experience points to boost your skills. Earned points can be used to boost your speed and accuracy, as well as reduce the time taken to switch weapon hands and reload.
Career mode also does a nice job of varying team numbers, playing fields, and game modes. For example, you might win through an elimination tournament of three-a-side in the US, only to move to a capture-the-flag tournament of six-a-side on the other side of the world.
Team selection and strategy is also important. Each player has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as positional prowess. A speedy player for instance might not be the most accurate shooter, and be more suited to charging up the front of the field. These attributes may also influence your strategy before the action begins. Here, you assign each player a destination point on the field. It might be behind a bunker up the end of the field or just guarding your team's flag. These considerations may not seem of great importance to GHTPM newcomers, but will be appreciated in the long-term.
Acquiring new gear throughout your travels is vital if you want to progress. From your shoes to your goggles to your trusty paintgun marker, all can be upgraded at the right price. It's usually better to buy lighter clothing, but you'll have to decide whether to upgrade to larger capacity pod harnesses and air systems at the expense of running speed.
If you already own GHTPM's predecessor, there are probably enough new features to warrant you forking out more cash. Chief among them is the field designer, certain to prolong the game's playing life. This allows you to design what objects will be on the field, their location, size, appearance etc. This can change the way a match is played and is even more fun over Xbox Live. Also new to GHTPM is the ability to play cooperatively via split screen.
As you can see, we had very few complaints with GHTPM. The biggest of our gripes was that some sound effects are quite tame. While teammates can be heard calling out orders throughout battle, the firing of your paint gun only emits a quick, dull 'pt'. Now we acknowledge we're not operating a rocket launcher here, but firing should be more exciting, rather than sounding like a pea-shooter. Our other gripe was that the instruction booklet is not comprehensive, leaving you to work out the finer details of the game over time.
Yet overall, GHTPM is plenty of fun. Competent enemy AI means you'll spend plenty of time ducking and taking cover, wondering where that pesky opponent got to. GHTPM is a fine reflection of the sport of paintball, and with a few clever features thrown in, should provide plenty of fun for newcomers and series veterans alike.
Keep up to date with the latest games news, reviews and features by signing up to CNET.com.au's free Games Spotlight weekly newsletter. Sign up now!