World Championship Paintball Review
Paintball is a lot of fun. Without any doubt, those who have played it know just how intense the action can be, and they've reveled in the safe seek-and-destroy concept where harmless paint replaces bullets or even potentially damaging pellets. It has become a national phenomenon, as paintball tournaments are more popular then ever. There's a lot more strategy and athleticism involved than you may believe, and those who aren't familiar with the sport probably aren't aware of the depth portrayed in most paintball contests, and that's unfortunate. Well, it always helps to expose an up-and-coming sport to as many people as possible, so THQ's World Championship Paintball should - ideally - champion the growing trend of competitive paintball. It would allow fans of the game to sink their teeth into an accurate virtual playground when they can't make it out to the paintball course, and it might introduce paintball to other gamers. Really, it's a win-win scenario... But amazingly enough, this may actually be the single worst PS2 title we've ever played, and we've played some downright absurd productions. It's so bad, it's absolutely hysterical.
We never really expected to see a PS2 game released in 2008 that looked like a PS1 game released ten years ago. We'd like to say this is a gross exaggeration, but unbelievably enough, it really isn't. The detail on the paintball courses is greatly lacking, the jaggy, blurry, and completely unrefined palette is pathetic, and the effects (which only encompass paint spatters) are worse than third-rate. Character and item design really is from the PS1 era and the stunning lack of variety during gameplay makes the entire experience drag terribly. They couldn't even get the colors right; when customizing a character (one of the very few positive aspects of the game), the colors are either washed out or tremendously drab. There isn't a single saving grace when it comes to the graphics, although I suppose... Nope, there isn't one. Character animations are jerky and limited, what appears to be a nice sampling of paintball courses all end up looking the same, and the clarity is awful. We always attempt to find a positive; a bright side or a silver lining, but we honestly can't remember a PS2 title that looks this bad. World Championship Paintball is just painful to watch.
Sadly, the sound isn't much better. In fact, if it weren't for a few music tracks that aren't atrocious (but still less than mediocre), the sound would be the worst part of the entire game. The voices are just plain silly, as both the announcer and player voices sound bored and disinterested. You'll also hear the exact same exclamations over and over and over; if we heard "couldn't avoid the head shot" one more time, we'd have had some kind of breakdown. Furthermore, we get the sneaking suspicion that the same guy did the voices for everything, and he not only uses the same monotone style, the forced enthusiasm is just ridiculous. The sound effects are horrid. We can barely hear the pop of a gun, the impact of a paintball is muffled and poorly implemented, and in general, every contest is a strangely quiet experience. Even when you get caught up in a massive firefight, you simply feel like a spectator who really isn't involved in the action. None listening to the game would even be able to guess what you were playing, and that's a bad sign. The soundtrack is loaded with generic rap and semi-rock tunes that don't represent the paintball culture at all, and every last one of them is terrible. Honestly, it doesn't get much worse.
Oh, but wait...it does. It's probably a good idea to start with the Tutorial - a handy feature in just about any game - and within seconds, you'll begin to recoil in terror. You'll start to say to yourself, "wait, is it really going to be this horrible?" Just like in any brief tutorial, a series of instructions pop up on screen to get you accustomed to the controls, and here's when everything falls apart. Moving left to right works okay but absolutely all control beyond that is so poor, it's a constant battle to even get yourself set in a tactical position. For a game that wants to fall into either the FPS or Tactical Shooter genres, the bad control saps any and all energy from the action and leaves you staring in amazement. The responsiveness of the aiming reticle is almost none-existent, making your target shooting an exercise in complete futility, and your character moves as if his feet are permanently mired in molasses. You can crouch and even lay right down on the ground, which is great in theory, but you don't exactly snap into position. There is one cool feature that allows you to hit the ground at a dead run, but somehow, even that process is slow and tedious. How can you possibly mess up simple movement controls? And is there any particular reason why the aiming is slow and...sticky? What is this, a joke?
You have the standard gameplay options, like Quick Play and Career, and as expected, the primary appeal - if you can call it that - lies in the latter mode. You can customize team members, purchase new equipment that will directly impact their performance, and even customize the team name and uniforms. So on the surface, it seems like there's plenty to do. But while there is a goodly number of upgrades, you won't care about them after playing for a while. The problem is, the action during combat is so lame and confusing, you won't be interested in actually claiming victory. Your foes are crack shots while you can't hit much of anything thanks to the crappy aiming control, and you could easily get nailed over and over again. Heck, you may not even be given the chance to duck and cover; we would start fresh with a new character and instantaneously get smacked upside the head, never even knowing where we were facing. Now, you can issue commands to your teammates, but that very often doesn't mean anything. They're capable, but really, it makes little difference. You won't be able to stop laughing when all-out points matches become haphazard messes.
There is online play for up to 8 players and you can design your own paintball course, but there's no way anybody is going to get that involved with this game. The sickeningly bad gameplay continually hampers your progress and perhaps worst of all, we couldn't see a marked difference between new "upgrades" and the default equipment. We really liked the idea of having multiple pieces of equipment that alter the range, ammunition capacity, and BPS (Balls Per Second), and it was even better that we could buy stuff for our teammates, too. Having the option to pick up a new pair of shoes that make the character faster (no, really) is a little strange, but still appreciated. However, the reason we put "upgrades" in quotes is simply because even the high-end equipment doesn't appear to make any significant changes. In the end, all we do is struggle with the controls, attempt to avoid unseen headshots, and in general, get all teed off that we're even forced to play this game to begin with. The depth is there, but the actual competition is so bad, does it really matter if you got a 15% boost to your gun's accuracy? It doesn't change the moving-with-concrete-shoes mechanic.
There just isn't anything else to say. World Championship Paintball left a bad taste in our mouths, even though we definitely got a few laughs out of it. The price of this title is irrelevant, and it's pointless to compare it to other options currently on store shelves. You could close your eyes and point to any spot on the shelf, and you'd have a 99.9% chance of coming up with something better than this. It won't satisfy fans of the sport, it won't open the eyes of non-fans, and it's nothing more than a slow, plodding, boring, often confusing, and downright pitiful production. There's no need to go into further detail. This is everything you need to know.
1/31/2008 Ben Dutka