Over the holidays, Activision, as it often does, snuck out a few sleeper titles to fill in the gaps between its larger releases like Call of Duty: World at War, Guitar Hero: World Tour and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, and one of those games was NPPL Championship Paintball 2009.
Officially licensed by the National Professional Paintball League, NPPL Championship Paintball 2009 is as authentic and feature-packed a paintball game as you’re going to find, complete with plenty of game modes, teams and fields to play and even a simple map editor. Chief among the game’s modes is its extensive career mode. It spans more than 30 tournaments set on real NPPL and Millennium Series venues around the world, and over the course of the career you are able to manage your team by improving their stats with earned skill points, selecting which players you want to take into each tournament, and purchasing new gear with the credits you’ve won. You get to customize everything: markers, hoppers, barrels, air tanks, harnesses, and your team jersey attire, all of which is officially licensed from top paintball equipment companies like Spyder, JT Sports and Tippman.
In the career mode you only get to play in Speedball matches, however in exhibition and multiplayer matches you also have the option to play Woodsball. Match types include Elimination, Capture the Flag and Center Flag – my personal favorite being classic Elimination play – and you can play in matches of up to 14 players max (7 per squad) by yourself with AI teammates and opponents or online with other live players. Playing online proves to be the best way to play, obviously, however as is often the case with niche game releases like this the online community isn’t exactly booming so it can be tough to find matches sometimes. But when you can the game plays smoothly and the competition is intense.
On the downside, the game’s control scheme is overly complex. Unlike most cover-based shooters where your character’s position on the cover automatically determines the angle in which your character leans out when you aim, NPPL puts all the control in your hands. As you’re playing you have to constantly toggle your lean direction to left, right or up and switch which hand to hold your marker in to adapt to the flow of the match. Once you get used to the controls they work well, it just takes some time and practice (thankfully the game does provide helpful training drills). In a way this is a great thing for serious paintball fans because it puts emphasis on skill, but this ultimate boon comes at the cost of accessibility.
NPPL does, however, make significant technical advances over all previous paintball games. The paintball ballistics are more accurate than I’ve ever seen, the effects of inflated bunkers indenting from incoming shots and paintballs splattering on all forms of cover show a fine attention to detail, and the overall atmosphere is incredibly immersive with the sounds of markers constantly firing off all around you and paintballs sailing by and impacting cover ringing through the air. The goggle outline effect around the screen is also key at pulling you into the experience. This game certainly generates an authentic paintball atmosphere.
Paintball is a niche sport and likewise video games based on paintball are niche by default. NPPL Championship Paintball 2009 is much the same, but I must say, despite the learning curve it is a game that has a wider appeal than other paintball games I’ve played. I’m certainly no paintball expert, but I had a blast playing this once I got over the control hurdles.
NPPL Championship Paintball 2009 is a definite buy for seasoned paintballers and a game I’d also recommend to non-fans who enjoy a challenge and are hankering for some heated virtual competition.
+ Authentic paintball atmosphere
+ Complex controls place emphasis on skill
+ Fun online play, when you can find others to play with
+ Lengthy career mode
- Complex controls require a steep learning curve
- Shallow online community
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS2, PS3 and Wii
Release Date: 11/25/08
ESRB Rating: E10+