In a game where a single hit results in disqualification and both teams are crammed together on a small 180 by 100 foot playing field the game's rounds can be over very quickly, sometimes lasting less than sixty seconds. This makes every dash between bunkers crucial as weaknesses can be exploited and entire flanks crumble in mere moments. At the start of the match you lay out your breakout plan, assigning each team member to a bunker location on their side of the map, along with setting their aiming arcs. These affect both which side of the cover they lean out from and also their level of accuracy by controlling how rapidly the player fires and their resulting paintball spread.
Once the game begins you have some limited degree of team control but the initial break is really where matches can be won or lost. To succeed a good mix of positions are required with some players entrenched behind their bunkers in the backfield in order to provide suppression fire so that others can make quick sprints, leapfrogging from cover to cover in an attempt to outflank the opposition. When the fast firing markers are combined with the one hit and you're out rule you really do have to keep your wits about you as if a member of the opposition ever draws a bead on you from the flank or rear itĎs rare to get the opportunity to return fire.
Due to these factors this is not so much a game about the shooting as it is one about planning and effectively using the different shapes and layouts of cover to really hammer the opposition. The single player is broken up into lots of little tournaments; each features just one map but is played against a variety of opponents who each behave a bit differently. So you might be able to get away with a rather one sided strategy against one group, but the next round against a different team could see you getting completely wiped if lazily repeating the same strategy. This encourages gradual modification to your tactics over the course of the rounds rather than just throwing your whole team down one side and hoping for a cheap win.
Millennium, however, isnít just about the playbook. The simple fact that you can be taken out of the equation with just a single hit, coupled with the fact that the markers, once upgraded, can fire at quite a rapid rate makes for an exhilarating experience. Thereís no pulling back behind cover and allowing your health bar to recharge here, push too far forward without team support or lose too many friendlies and the game transforms from an adrenaline fuelled rush down the oppositionís throat to a taught, tense affair as you try to slow the enemy teamís movements, hoping to get lucky and pick off the over ambitious, thereby rebalancing the stakes. On the negative front the game has included the option to cheat and wipe off any hits you might take. Sure it happens in real life but its inclusion in a videogame is unnecessary and is so ridiculously easy to pull off that frankly itís a game breaker. Fortunately it can be turned off so if you want a fun time then switch it off, while for those with a penchant for easy achievements and wasting their money it can be left on.
One factor that contributes significantly to the gameís success is how intelligently the developers have implemented the control mechanics. The left trigger activates a lean ability and this behaviour can be quickly toggled via the face buttons which can switch the hand you are holding your maker in, causing you to peek out in the relevant direction or instead alter it so that the player stands more upright, looking out over the top of the bunker. In addition to this while sprinting the game will automatically detect the desired result for the A button based on the position and orientation of the player with respect to the cover items around them, alternating between superman dives, slides and jumps accordingly. The result is a very fast, intuitive control scheme that enables the player to seamlessly utilise cover in an extremely effective manner without employing a lazy cover latch system like so many other games. It makes shootouts tense and much more controllable with every slight movement affecting how much of the playerís body is exposed and how much of a viewing angle they have. In a nice nod to the real life sport both the right trigger and right bumper are each used for firing a single paintball, so to shoot rapidly the player must walk the two triggers, alternating between them with both fingers much like how a person would fire a real marker.
The bulk of the game is based on the NPPL setup, with teams competing for flag grabs. Scoring alternates between best of three matches and cumulative scores where points totals include other factors such as surviving team members, number of eliminations and so on. The far less frequent Millennium fields revolve around reaching the other teamís start zone and hitting a button to win - essentially like the NPPL only you donít have to haul the flag back to your base. These matches are far less enjoyable and prone to player exploitation of the AI. Firstly rather than using a bunker to block the visibility between the two starting locations, as per the NPPL setups, both have almost complete visibility of each other at the break. This usually ensures that at least a couple of team members will be eliminated before even reaching their first bunker. As if this randomness at the start wasnít bad enough, because the player doesnít have to make their way back through the field after reaching the end zone, it can be possible on the non-pro difficulty settings to just race down one flank almost unimpeded and slam the button without engaging the opposition at all. Thankfully if you try this kind of behaviour in an NPPL match youíll be peppered with paintballs as soon as you grab the flag and the Millennium matches are also completely optional.
|Millennium fields are often populated by wide open spaces making for some manic if less subtle play.|
There are, in addition, five Woodsball locations that can be played in single and multiplayer featuring fully automatic markers. These offerings fail to deliver the kind of tight gameplay and strategical depth provided by the Speedball matches and feel like a low rent FPS wannabe. As an experience it fails to cross over into the video gaming world well.
Over the course of the single player campaign players move their team up through various divisions, adding new members and upgrading their gear as they go. If you utilise the gear upgrades well it's possible to have a profound effect on both yours and the teamís performance with range, accuracy and rate of fire all highly variable, along with additional subtler factors such as how likely balls are to bounce off various pieces of clothing without breaking. Many of these upgrades work in concert, for example a new marker may be capable of firing at a much faster rate than your current one, but unless itís paired with a suitably fast loading hopper you just arenít going to see the full benefit from it. Similar couplings exist between other pieces of equipment such as marker range and gas canister capacity, but the user interface makes it very difficult to judge the differences between these pieces of equipment. Information is limited to a few bar charts and often they donít appear to match up that well to the actual in game performance of the items, turning proceedings into a bit of a trial and error affair. The player can also upgrade their teammatesí performance using credits earned from matches which can have a big impact on how well they perform. But because credits are so easy to come by it ends up feeling like a somewhat cheap way of boosting your odds.
|The game revolves around the effective use of the bunkers, if you're out in the open you won't be in the game for long.|
Thereís no disguising the fact that a paintball game isnít going to cause a storm in the gaming community but the developers have done a decent job with the presentation none the less. Background graphics and character models are distinctly PlayStation 2 era, but the inflatable bunkers do look really good. Their leather finish is excellent with some nice looking reflections and they react accurately when hit, with the normal mapping applying a distortion effect to the light contouring, dimpling the surface with the impact. Unbroken paintballs will also come to rest on them and are similarly factored into the object lighting model. Elsewhere the game has a late nineties vibe going on with rap-rock music and tribal style artwork adorning the menus, harking back to the era when alternative sports games ruled the roost.
The game features online and system link multiplayer with additional bot support available, although disappointingly thereís no breakout planner available in these modes, restricting the degree of player control. Playing against human opponents, even if itís only 2 on 2, really takes things to an even tenser level and due to the emphasis on outwitting the opposition thereís a sense of camaraderie between players, analysing each othersí plays and manoeuvres post match. Despite the large number of maps thereís also a simple to use level editor, itís just a shame that thereís no split screen support to allow players to compete co-operatively against the AI on a single machine, which should have been feasible.
|The different shapes and placement of bunkers can make for a surprisingly diverse variety of level designs for such a small area.|
Millennium Paintball offers something unique on todayís consoles. Itís a very fast paced, intense mix of team planning and hectic shooting action. The control interface is spot on and a lot of other shooters could do well to take note of Fun Labsí achievement when it comes to effective cover use. It has its rough edges - the Woodsball matches arenít up to much and the Millennium games expose some weaknesses in the AI but overall it meshes a quick, arcade style hit with a long lifespan via an extensive campaign and level editing feature set. For anyone perhaps somewhat jaded with modern shooters Millennium comes highly recommended.