What it is
The Flatline barrel system manufactured for the Tippmann Pneumatics Model 98 is designed to produce a backspin on the paintball, which in theory produces lift, giving the ball a flatter trajectory. Since it's introduction, the system has been the subject of controversy, with some people calling it a revolution, and others writing it off as a gimmick. From my personal experience, I'd say it is none of the above.
The kit comes with a curved aluminum barrel and adapter, a plastic barrel shroud, several screws, a squeegee and a barrel plug. Installation is fairly straightforward and only takes a few minutes if you follow the included instructions. Operation of the gun remains the same after installing the kit. Physically, the gun is both longer and taller than it's original form, although not substantially heavier, in part due to the fact that the largest piece is made of plastic.
Upon shooting the Flatline for the first time, you'll notice the almost eerie floating effect of the balls. At a given velocity, the balls do fly with a flatter overall trajectory, as opposed to the pronounced "dropping arc" seen from standard barrels. This translates into a greater range without drop, and without the need to aim high and "lob" the ball for long shots. Aiming the Flatline is an odd experience for anyone used to a regular paintball gun. At first you may find yourself habitually aiming high for long range targets, but with the Flatline, things are much more "line of sight". The downfall to this greater range is that the ball slows substantially as it heads beyond "normal" paintball ranges, which could lessen the chance of a break on a soft target.
Accuracy of the Flatline system is overall better than the stock Model 98 barrel. However, that isn't saying much since my experience with the stock barrel has been somewhat less than amazing (see the accuracy test in the Comparo article). Accuracy at "normal" ranges falls short of other well-set-up guns as far as consistency is concerned. Although relatively tight groups of 3 or 4 consecutive shots can be attained, the Flatline produces an unusually high number of "zingers" which fly well off the intended target. At longer ranges it's difficult to compare the Flatline to other guns, since other guns simply cannot reach those ranges without aiming high above the target.
A few notes about using the gun;
1) It is fairly dependent on using good paintballs - the more consistent the paintballs are from a physical standpoint, the better the gun shoots.Opinion
2) The Flatline does not shoot well above 300 fps. If for some reason your Flatline is shooting "hot", you will know it, because it tends to produce a number of balls that will actually climb as they sail to their target, making aiming very difficult. Flatline users have no incentive to "cheat the chrono". We have recently found the best results actually come when using the gun in the 260 to 270 fps range.
3) Holding the gun in an upright position improves accuracy. Leaning the gun over can produce a curving shot - although it is an effect that can be used to advantage if you are creative.
4) The stock Model 98 is not very stable in terms of maintaining velocity (again, see the Comparo article), and as I've found out since first writing this review, addressing this fault does improve the performance of the Flatline system.
5) As with most paintball guns, paint in the barrel can play havoc with performance. However, the squeegee provided with the kit works very good, and as a matter of fact I have started to carry it with me regardless of which gun I am using.
Is the Flatline the perfect gun? Certainly not. I personally wouldn't want to have it as my only gun, but I really like having it around when needed. It works in certain situations, and is suited to a certain style of play. There are probably better (lighter and smaller) guns for short field speedball play, and on any field where opportunities for long range fire are non-existent, the Flatline is excessive. However, other situations beg for the Flatline. Although in print, or off the field, the performance of the system may be the subject of controversy, on the field where it counts there is much less debate. During the first scenario game in which I used the gun, there were over 300 players, and I personally saw over a dozen of them using the Flatline. People on both teams took note of "the guys with the Flatlines", calling on them to make long shots, and warning team mates of a Flatline user on the opposing team.
Due to an overall lack of consistency, the Flatline is not the magic answer to the long range, single shot sniper's dream - the gun does not inspire enough confidence to be used in that manner. However, in the right type of game, a determined player willing to spend some paint and use the Flatline effectively can certainly have a positive impact, not to mention a lot of fun!
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