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.
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.
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.
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!