Making non-violent computer games is an honorable goal. Though the link between video-game violence and the real kind, so often decried, is dubious and unproven, it is difficult to imagine that years of exposure to graphic depictions of death and dismemberment will not have some effect on young minds. And, who can deny that the majority of first-person shooters are jam-packed with exactly those kinds of images? So, when a company makes a sincere attempt to take such a popular genre and make it non-violent, the effort should be noticed.
Ultimate Paintball Challenge, in which color-coded teams of uniformly lanky young men face off in multiplayer paintball battles, is one such attempt. Unfortunately, it's not successful in meeting its objectives.
On the positive side, it is visually better than average. Due care is given to the creation of the environments, all of which are large and interesting with plenty of good places to hide and take cover. Also, the AI delivers on the promise, made by many games, of crafty opponents as they dodge and dive with good, though not annoyingly perfect, aim. The music is decent, as well. It's a kind of standard "extreme" instrumental rock, with tacky wailing guitars and electronic drums, but not really bad.
One major problem, though, is that real-world paintball is itself a matter of pretending -- pretending to fight a war against the other team. You run and dodge, find cover and strategize as if you were in a real battle with the only consequences being ruined clothes. Paintball is inherently a facsimile, the same as a computer game. In a conventional first-person shooter, the player pretends to be some pumped-up, one-man slaughterhouse, blowing enormous holes in everything that stands in the way. Therein lies the problem -- a computer game about paintball is a facsimile of a facsimile. You're pretending to pretend to fight. That's one degree of separation too many for the game to have any sense of urgency.
During gameplay, you lead a team of computer-controlled guys in an attack on a team full of more computer-controlled guys. Single-player mode just isn't quite as exciting without a real plot where the people on the other team are scheming to create a messy end for Earth, you or your family. They're just guys wearing a different color, which they want to splatter on you.
Ultimate Paintball Challenge is a case where a general flaw, a fundamental conceptual shortcoming, renders a lot of specific strengths almost irrelevant. There are many details that are good or at least respectable. Most likely, if you play the game for 30 minutes and really enjoy it, you'll be able to replay it innumerable times. The likelihood, though, is that most players will be bored fairly quickly.
Perhaps it's possible to design a game with the urgency of Half-Life without the blood but Ultimate Paintball Challenge isn't that game.
Graphics: Always interesting 3D environments.
Sound: The music is neither obtrusive nor enhancing and the sounds are adequate.
Enjoyment: The concept gets boring quickly. Without any multiplayer aspect, the idea of playing against computer-controlled AI opponents wears thin.
Replay Value: Repetitive gameplay in the long run with no multiplayer options.
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