Shootmania: Storm Beta - First Impressions

When it comes to gaming, I like to think that I have an open mind. I try not to discriminate against any games for their genre, developer, nationality, or unique artistic style. This open-minded approach to games has led me to some very different – and weird – places throughout my history with gaming. I’ve delved into the typical Call of Duty, Halo, Need for Speed and other equally mainstream big-name franchises, I have to say that some of my favorite experiences have come from some lesser-known titles; one of these titles being Trackmania: Canyon.

I’ve expressed my love for Trackmania before: I’ve written a review for the game and have been playing it regularly since September after I heard about it from GiantBomb’s Jeff Gerstmann. There is something that is weirdly charming about a game that can rely so heavily on its community to support itself: and the game is extremely fun too. But part of Nadeo’s -- the developers of Trackmania – plan that really interests me is the goal of combining the universe of Trackmania with other similar games that include other genres, such as first-person shooters and role-playing games. The idea is so insane that I wish that it all fits together perfectly just to have something as crazy as this be a viable option for developers. Well know this concept can finally come under scrutiny as Nadeo has just released the beta for the first-person shooter of the mania universe entitled Shootmania: Storm.

The first thing that fans of Trackmania will notice is that the custom launcher for Mania Planet has undergone some changes. Mainly, after you log into the service, a brand new UI comes up. From here, you are – or rather, eventually will be – able to choose whatever Mania game you want to play. The UI is slick, but suffers from the Windows 8 start screen problem of feeling more like a touch-friendly interface since it slides side-to-side. Plus, choosing a game is janky since it selects it, then clicking again causes it to bounce a little before locking up and then launching into your selected game. While this isn’t too much of a problem, it is quite annoying since you have to go through it every time so I hope they get around to improving it soon.

It may act weird, but at least it looks kinda cool.

But enough about the launcher: what about the game? Well, to be blunt, it isn’t very great. The problem with the game isn’t that it is poorly made: it has fairly high production values with an appropriate about of weirdness for a Mania game. The problem is that it just feels like a dumbed down shooter with no purpose for the dumbing down.

Let me elaborate: Trackmania is by all means a dumbed down racer. But Trackmania is stripped down to serve the tracks, which make up for the difference by being insane and are helped by not having any other distractions other than the joy of racing these insane beasts. Shootmania on the other hand just feels lacking; by removing all of the extraneous things that shooters have been pacing in for years now, Shootmania has left a gaping hole in the fun that isn’t filled by anything. Part of the problem isn’t Shootmania itself, it’s just that it has no equivalent to Trackmania’s tracks. Therefore, since nothing is there to fill the fun gap, the game isn’t as fun as it could be – logical, eh? Maybe making crazy maps is the answer, but it’s likely not since then you’d be getting away from what makes Shootmania special, and instead start making an inferior Trackmania. Sure some crazy non-shooting maps would be fun, but basing an entire first person shooter on that would be ridiculous.

Before proceeding any further, I’d best break down what Shootmania: Storm is. Shootmania is a first person shooter where all players start off the same gun and attempt to complete whatever objective the game type requires. There are a few mechanics that differentiate the game from other shooters. For one, every character had two life points; depending on what type of gun shoots you, you will either need to be shot twice or just once. The gun mechanics are weird too, since you only have a maximum of four shots available to you at any time. When a shot is fired, the gauge starts to fill back up until it is full again; the implications of this are that you can’t just dump, you have to preserve ammo for when you need it.

In game HUD: complete with weird chat.

Another quirk is the way that the weapon pick-ups work. In order to get a new gun, you have to be standing on a certain platform that enables that gun to be used: leaving the platform makes you switch back to your standard gun. The only way to get a certain off the platform is in the game type settings, or at least I presume so since some servers have instagib rifles as the default.

As for game types, there are 3 main game types in the game (at least, from what I saw):

Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch: Either kill everybody or kill everybody that isn’t on your team.

Point Capture: This mode has both teams trying to capture set locations on the map. The way it works is that one team starts by attacking and the other defending. The attacking team must stand near to the capture poles to capture each of the points is a similar fashion to Battlefield’s conquest mode. The catch is that the attacking team has 15 seconds to attack, with the timer resetting every time a player starts capturing a pole or if they are in the process of capturing the pole. After those 15 seconds expire, the tables turn and the attackers must defend and vice-versa, which leads to a mad scramble for the other side of the map. This constant side switching continues until one team captures all their defined points or the game time expires.

Survival: In this game mode players must activate a centre switch whereupon a giant electric dome slowly closes in on the map. If the dome catches a player, then they are killed instantly; any players killed – either by the dome or another player – are out and must wait to the end of the round to come back in. The last player standing wins the round.

For the most, these game types aren’t bad, but they have roots in other games that have better variations. DM and TDM are obvious mainstays of shooters, but they are better in other more full-featured games; Point Capture is a neat concept, but more often than not you’ll lose track of what you’re supposed to be doing and end up not helping your team; and Survival is probably my favorite game mode, but even then after half an hour I got bored.

Pew pew pew!

So now you know what the game is, so I’ll go back to why it isn’t great. Again it comes down to the fact that it isn’t very special or especially manic. The game modes are surprisingly standard fare, with them all being variations on previously done concepts. The health system and gun mechanics are different, but all they do is curb the mania. I don’t want to be dying every two shots: that just means I die every 20 seconds! And I don’t want to preserve ammo: I want to dump like mad! It feels like someone at Nadeo obtained some sensibility and took everything down a notch: it needs to go to 11!

Maybe those statements were a bit hyperbolic, but they capture the essence of what is wrong with Shootmania. For a game whose sister had a completely different take on a genre, Shootmania doesn’t do enough to make it stand out from the crowd. Again, maybe it’s not Nadeo’s fault. With Trackmania, it was easy to pin down what made it fun and exaggerate that: it was the tracks and their design. With Shootmania, the task of deciding what factor they should exaggerate was likely much tougher: maps could be changed but the core of a shooter is the shooting, but what about the movement? So instead of pinning down one factor and mutating that into a unwieldy beast, they simply changed everything. The result of this was a game that was slightly different in every way, yet still feels similar enough to the point where comparisons can be drawn to other, more capable games.

In conclusion, even though this game is still in beta, the problems with the game are rooted in something much more fundamental than simply the execution. The problem with Shootmania: Storm is any server jank, or any game bugs: it’s that the game doesn’t feel “right.” And it sure as hell isn’t manic enough!

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My Review of E3 2012

The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012 ended 4 days ago, and now that I’ve sifted through all of the press conferences, individual game interviews, podcasts, and first impressions, I feel that now is a proper time to do a post-mortem on this year’s E3.

Next-Gen Consoles

Or lack thereof. Leading up to E3, there was definitely some talk as to whether Microsoft or Sony was going to show off some shiny new console to the public. Although there have been rumours of the Orbis and Durango, and even some developers getting dev kits for these new consoles, nothing was shown at E3 this year. This may seem like a weird move since many people attribute the 2 year jump that Microsoft had on Sony as the reason why they have a larger player base, but I think that there are multiple reasons why neither of them wanted to show off their new tech this year.

For one, by moving to a console they could risk fracturing their fan base. For example, if the Durango (Microsoft’s internal codename for their next console) has specs that are lacking compared next to the Orbis, then upgrading the console would be a perfect time to do this. While you could argue that the gamer would want to keep all of the legacy content they have – such as games, DLC, XBLA/PSN games – there is no guarantee yet that this content while be backwards compatible with the new hardware. Given the fact that the Xbox 360 only plays certain Xbox games, and that PS3s can’t play PS2 games, the hope for backwards compatibility is dim.

Secondly, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? The simple fact is that if Xbox 360s and PS3s are still selling, then neither company has any reason to want to force a switch until all sales have been milked from the community. The only reason they are coming out with new consoles is to incentivise gamers to switch to their console which, as previously mentioned above, could be a risky move given a loss might occur if the new console is disappointing next to the other.

The third point is that maybe they both hope to profit from the lackluster Wii U. I’ll be talking about this more soon, but the gist of it is that no one knew what to expect from the Wii U. On one side it could’ve been an amazing new revelation in technology that would change how we played games, but on the other hand, it could have been another gimmick that Nintendo uses to sell consoles. We know now that the latter seems to be truer than the former, but Sony and Microsoft would have been hard pressed to try and base their decision on speculation. If either company had showed off their new console and the Wii U had been a smash hit with great games to back it up, then the possibility that the Orbis or Durango could have been buried under the hype for the Wii U might have been reality. It comes down to the fact that both Microsoft and Sony were probably in the same boat as the rest of us: nobody knew what the fuck the Wii U was going to be and if it had a great game line up.

No, I swear it's not a university, it's a console!

Which leads us nicely into my next topic in the console section which is the Wii U. Coming into E3 this year, it was clear that Nintendo had the most to win or lose. Coming out of E3 this year, it was clear that Nintendo lost, and they lost hard. The problem was that Nintendo had to do two things this year: prove that the 3DS was a worthwhile purchase by bringing out some awesome games, and also prove that the Wii U isn’t just a gimmick but rather a viable next-gen platform. Nintendo did neither of these things and for that reason they are – at least in my mind – the losers of this year’s E3. Just look at what Nintendo rested their faith on for the Wii U’s launch next year. They had Nintendo Land, a game that simply reworked last year’s tech demoes into a mini-game collection; New Super Mario Brothers U, which will probably be well-produced but I’ll be damned before I buy the same game a fourth time; and Batman: Arkham City, a game that came out last year on the platforms that you already own.

That’s not to say that everything Nintendo was bad. According to people who liked the previous Pikmin games – I’ve personally never touched them – the new Pikmin looks fun, although they haven’t changed much from the Gamecube games, and the new Wii U gamepad barely changes anything. Also, Zombie U looks good, but I’m not sure how that will turn out since the only zombie games that I like are the Left 4 Dead games.

My final note about Nintendo is that I have no clue what they are thinking with the new controllers. I understand what they are trying to do by implementing a touch screen, and I applaud them for doing something different. I also understand keeping the original Wii controllers; we know how to use them and we already own them. But what I don’t get is why even bother with the Pro controller if the whole point of the new system is the new gamepad? Again, I appreciate the fact that they went out of their way to accommodate us “hardcore” folks, but it’s a bit like expecting someone to ride a unicycle to work when they have a car next to it in the garage. Sure you can go out and learn to unicycle, but why the fuck wouldn’t you use the car you already own? By offering the Pro controller, Nintendo is completely undermining one of the key features of the new console.

To conclude, the next-gen consoles that we were all ready for this E3 never actually bothered to show up. While there are rumours about the Orbis and the Durango – and Microsoft and Sony would have to be nuts not to making something new – they never made their grand appearance. As for the Wii U, there really is nothing next gen about it: it’s more of a catch up game at this point for Nintendo.

New IP

I could probably sit here and complain about the big three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) all day, but I’d rather move on to something that I’m impressed by and excited for: the new IP that came from E3. More and more as we move forward in gaming, the biggest games are ones that are birthed out of well-worn series. Looking at all of the games coming out soon, it’s disheartening to see the increasing numbers on the end of the game titles – even if they’re not there. This is just a quick sampling:

And those are just the big ones. Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, Need for Speed: Most Wanted: all of these are games that were created to please fans of series, and effectively stifle any new innovation. This year at E3 though, gamers were treated to something new and exciting: new IP.

I'm super excited for this game.

There were a few main games (non-indie) that were presented this year at E3 that made me excited for the next year in gaming. The first comes from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog, and is called The Last of Us. This game looks simply amazing and makes me extremely glad that I own a PS3. Everything from the beautiful graphics and art design, to the intimate story that they are promising in the game makes me want to play this game right now. Even though the apocalypse isn’t new ground for video games, The Last of Us looks like it’s bringing it to a whole new level. Listening to the Giant Bomb interview, the way that every action is juxtaposed against its consequence sounds great. Also, they are promising that there will be slow moments in the game that will give a contrast to the games high tension encounters that many games – most recently in my mind Max Payne 3 – have lost. What truly excites though is that is really is a game that allows you to play how you want. Hearing the developers talk, it sounds as though a non-lethal playthrough is possible which is great, although we’ll have to see when it comes out.

Another new IP that really excited me was Watch Dogs (or Watch_Dogs, I really don’t know). The mechanic of sleuthing around bringing up information on the fly about the people around you to find your target is neat, but the concept of killing your targets without gun play (i.e. the traffic lights from the stage demo) seemed like one of the greatest things to me. Of course, they then proceeded to make it into a third-person cover-based shooter which in turn made me not want to play that game at all. I think that if that game remains light on the shooting (or at least make it avoidable) then that will be a really fun concept to play with, but if they don’t, then I feel that a lot of the individuality of that game will be lost.

Shootmania is another new IP that I’m really excited for. As a huge fan of Trackmania 2 and old school shooters like Unreal Tournament and Quake 3, this game looks like it’ll fill that slot nicely. The only thing that sucked about it was that it got screwed out of a proper on-stage presence with that god awful “tournament” that may or may not have been recorded a few days before E3 even started. Either way, I’m signed up for the beta and ready to get my shoot on.

Rounding up Sony’s exclusive new IPs is Beyond: Two Souls. The game comes from Heavy Rain veterans Quantic Dream who are a bunch of French dudes that want to make a film, but also a video game so they ended up with this. Not that there’s anything wrong with the game. I personally never played a lot of Heavy Rain but from what I played it was fun, and I watched R3b3link’s entire guide, so there’s that. The graphics on the game are unrivaled and I personally think that the shaders and motion capture put last year’s L.A. Noire to shame.

Worth a short mention here is the new South Park game South Park: The Stick of Truth. Even though past South Park games have been a bucket of ass, this one looks as though they’ve nailed down the aesthetic and actually made a game that mirrors the comedy of the show and couples it with fun gameplay. Also, Trey’s dig at Smart Glass at the beginning of their little section was great.

The final big new IP is Zombie U, which is a new zombie game for the Wii U. I don’t know a lot about the game but some of the things that I’ve heard make it sound as though they are putting some cool little twists into the game. For instance, when you die in the game, you start over with a different character and the previous character that you died with becomes a zombie this time round. You can then kill that zombie for the chance to get all of the loot that you lost on your previous go. Think of it in terms of the similar Demons Souls/Dark Souls mechanic except with zombies. Also, having the inventory screen on the small screen while the game is still running seems like a cool idea, although one of the big things that the Wii U has going for it is transferring the game onto the small screen if someone wants to use the big screen, which negates the inventory and the ability to scan things with the gamepad/tablet controller.

Of course, there are also plenty of indie games with new IPs from the show that I won’t mention because I don’t know any game names, there’s way too many, and half of them are probably just too pretentious to be fun.

Good Old Friends

Ah the sequel. The supposed bane of everyone’s existence yet we all buy them with the regularity that we go to the bathroom. I know that I just wrote about the worn-out sequels that are pumped out every year, but sometimes you just can’t help but get excited for some of them. And yes, I’m well aware I’m a damn, dirty hypocrite.

Kill the red coats! Kill them all!
  • Assassin’s Creed III looks like it’s going to be one of my games of the year. The new tree-hopping tech and red coat murder (even though it goes against my Canadian loyalty) make this look like it’ll be one of the best Assassin’s Creeds yet. And considering how the others were great – if not a tad repetitive getting towards Revelations – it’s hard for me not to be excited for this.
  • Far Cry 3 looks great as well. I never played the first, and I only played 40 minutes of the second before getting bored, the sheer insanity of this game looks like it’ll scratch my itch for some truly nutters story beats, and some solid shooting.
  • Another game I’m pumped for the new Need for Speed: Most Wanted from Criterion. I loved the old Most Wanted game on GameCube, and Burnout: Paradise and Hot Pursuit were both great games that I still play to this day. All in all, this new game looks like the best of both worlds.
  • Rayman: Legends looks like it’ll be a lot of fun but I’m not going to buy a Wii U just for this. This is a tragedy, because if this game is just like the previous one, then I really want to play it.
  • Halo 4 is Halo with new enemies. I’m totally okay with that, because even though I’m not the biggest Halo fan, I still enjoy the game because it is a well-made shooter.
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist may be a further departure from the old series, but if the gameplay actually resembles anything like the on-stage demo in terms of fluidity, then I'm in.
  • Hitman: Absolution looks cool, although I can see myself getting frustrated easily.

Of course we all know that not all sequels touch our hearts, and that some merely middle around the alright mark, while some shouldn’t have been made.

We’ll start off with the shooter of the middling section: Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Dead Space 3, Gears of War: Judgement. All looked like fine shooters, I just don’t care about any of them. Forza Horizon is a racing game from Codemasters, and some other guys. While I think it will be a fine racing game, I’m just not that interested, especially comparing it to the new Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Tomb Raider is another example of a game that looks like it might be interesting, but I just can’t get excited for it, although I hope it does turn out well and surprises me.

I want to make special note of SimCity because I think that it will be a fun game, and I am legitimately excited for it, but I just don’t know. I haven’t played the previous games and I flip-flop on whether I should play it or not. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Finally we arrive at the worst games of E3 (in my personal opinion). These are the games that I think should have died shortly after conception.

  • Black Ops II. It looks like Call of Duty, and we can safely say it plays like Call of Duty. While it might be a fine game to play, do we really want another Call of Duty? When will it die?
  • Resident Evil 6 does not look fun at all. I’ve never been a big Resident Evil fan and this game isn’t helping that feeling at all. Everything that I’ve heard about that game is bad.
  • Dance Central 3, and Just Dance 4. Why?!?
  • Fable: The Journey. I understand that Kinect owners want Kinect games to play, but this game does not look like it will be fun to play.

Usher and Flo’ Rida

No Dr. Dre. Too bad.

It’s not a Console, it’s a Media Hub

This isn’t anything new. For years now Microsoft, Sony, and EA have been trying to make us buy into the concept that they are making our games better with new technologies and social integration, and this year was no exception.

We’ll start off with Microsoft. Kinect is becoming more and more involved in games that have nothing to do with Kinect, and personally I find it slightly offensive. They’re trying to sell Kinect to people just so they can distract enemies in the new Splinter Cell with their voice, or make substitutions and plays in the new FIFA or Madden. The Kinect was built to make games, not add in stupid functionality to a game that doesn’t need it. One cool thing to note about the FIFA thing though is that the player got a yellow card for cursing, which is a cool concept.

Microsoft also pulled Nike onto the stage to show off their new Nike+ fitness game, which looks like a fitness game for Kinect. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing offensively bad about it, it just doesn’t look as innovating as it would have a year or two ago.

Finally, the big tech announcement coming out of Microsoft was the introduction to SmartGlass. SmartGlass is a technology that allows the user to pull up contextual information about whatever they are watching or playing on their tablet or smartphone. The idea seems slightly cribbed from Nintendo, although they have taken it in a different direction. The Game of Thrones map seemed cool, but the fact that developers will have to go out of their way to build that in discourages the whole concept. The one smart thing that Microsoft did was to announce that SmartGlass is coming to Windows 8, and iOS based devices.

IE9 Approved!

Oh and IE9 is coming to the Xbox. I know IE9 isn’t bad, but still.

Sony showed off less gimmicky things than Microsoft, but they also had the worst idea of the show. Wonderbook, anyone? I seriously cannot believe that someone green lit this project. The stage demo was broken, and the need for a special book, Move, and the PSEye just makes this a terrible business proposition for Sony. I don’t even know what kid would want to play this. I’m not that far from my childhood (10 years or so) but I wouldn’t want to use this because I’d probably get bored and go ride bikes after 10 minutes.

Then we have EA with Battlefield 3 premium, UFC license, and Origin. Battlefield Premium looks kinda dumb, but if you were going to pick up all the DLC, then it’ll be worth it just to save some cash. As for UFC, I actually don’t care, although Dana White comes off looking like a ponce on this one considering his previous slandering of EA. As for Origin, I can’t remember what they said, which is probably indicative of how much I care.

That’s All Folks!

And that’s it. E3 2012 in 3200 words. I know some of you probably don’t agree with me about everything in here, but remember this is just my opinions, not yours or Giant Bomb's.

NB: All the information from this article is derived from the actual Press Conferences, the GiantBomb late night podcasts, GiantBomb interviews, Gamespot live demoes and Dan and John’s (From WikiGameGuides) impressions / late night podcast.

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