It sure won’t be a game for everyone - it doesn't do well to introduce new players - but I feel that the gameplay speaks
When Ubisoft announced the ManiaPlanet platform at its E3 2010 press conference and at the same time revealed two titles that would join with TrackMania 2 in the Mania family, these being ShootMania and QuestMania, I was full of excitement. I am an avid fan of the TrackMania franchise, not only because the games’ themselves are fantastic, but also because Nadeo created a self-contained environment that allowed people full control in creating an unlimited amount of tracks and decals for TrackMania’s themed courses and vehicles. Applying that concept to a shooting game and a RPG sounds damn right amazing. ShootMania Storm took a while to arrive from its scheduled release of Q1 2011, but it’s here now, so after spending time with the game, is it worthy of the Mania title and the ideas that come with that?
ShootMania is truly a game that heralds the old days of PC first-person shooters. The era where the fast paced combat of Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena were the giants of multiplayer FPS, requiring players to have perfect aiming and bunny hopping skills to defeat their opponents, rather than the Call of Duty extravaganza that has infested many titles, taking away such concepts and replacing them with experience systems, pre-match equipment and special perks. I don’t particularly hate that style, but I am a little fed up that my multiplayer experiences becoming similar across various franchises. That’s when a title that invokes an old style of gameplay, such as ShootMania, feels more revitalising to play than it should be in the year 2013, all thanks to the current state of the genre.
Nadeo has stripped down this multiplayer-only title to the bare minimum, meaning everyone is thrown into the same situation with identical weapons, the same abilities and the same amount of health, which is dependent on the game mode being played, but it usually offers between two to four hits before death. It’s a completely fair playing field where the good players are the ones who have the skills to adapt to the mechanics of the game. Controls are unbelievably easy to grasp, using the typical first-person controls of the keyboard and mouse, WASD for movement and mouse to aim, along with firing the weapon with left click and jumping or sprinting with the right click. The space bar does the same job as the right mouse button so as not to limit your use of the mouse, but it just felt intuitive to use your other finger to control your mobility. Having sprinting and jumping assigned to the same button was initially a bizarre thing to deal with. A tap of the button will make the character jump, but holding it down will allow sprinting on landing. If you fall or use a ramp to get elevation off the ground then you can activate sprint without jumping – a safer way to activate due to not being airborne for long. A metre drains when you are running, limiting the ability to constantly dash everywhere on the map.
The standard weapon is an energy blast, a shot that simulates something of a projectile, where you can see the projectile travelling towards the desired target rather than having an instant shot. These balls of energy are clearly visible, making it harder to take shots from long distances, forcing the player to get in closer and reducing that dreaded sniper problem that often plagues other shooters. A clever person might be able to pull off a lucky shot by predicting where someone will be, but there is a limitation on the ammo – maximum of four shots stored – that stops the possibility of spamming energy blasts, again, adding to the idea that you have to be smart about how you play. Do you shoot all four or save it for when a shot is needed most? The choice is down to the player and how well they can manage their ammo count in specific situations.
Two other guns are accessible, the rail-gun and the grenade launcher. The rail-gun is limited to specific game modes and certain podiums in maps. This gun fires off an instant hitting bolt of energy that kills in one shot, but the downside is that you cannot jump because the weapon’s zoom is assigned to the jump button (depending on the game mode). The grenade launcher is accessible by running to underground parts of the map, which on arrival, will be automatically equipped. You have no option to change back, since there isn’t any weapon selecting mechanic, so players have to contemplate about an additional alteration to the gameplay if they want to follow someone into the depths of the underground for a kill.
In a bizarre way, this straightforwardness to the gunplay creates gameplay that remains far from shallow. Somehow Nadeo managed to craft a product that is simple to grasp, yet elegantly deeper than what it seems from the initial portrayal of the game. It’s a shame then that it does not explain much of this to you. I spent most of my time figuring this out on my own or asking players who were already knowledgeable about the game in the chat window. Why? Because there is no tutorial section in the game to explain everything, and the only offline play is creating a LAN server, no bot action here. I kind of didn’t expect it to feature any due to its competitive online nature, although a mod has come out for horde mode and that has bots, so maybe the community might do something with the creation tools. There are recommended servers for beginners, but these are scarcely populated with players. As I write this, there are six players on one and zero on the other.
While the game itself may strife for a minimalistic approach to multiplayer, one thing it undoubtedly does not lack is game modes. The most popular types seem to Battle, Royal, Joust and Elite, as they are more servers for them than any of the other modes. Battle isShootMania’s capture point mode, except rather than switching sides when a round is over, multiple phases happen during the same match. The first person to begin taking control of a point will initiate their teams attack phase; from there, the team has 15 seconds to begin taking over a tower. Every time a potential capture is started the clock will stop and will only begin counting down from 15 again when capturing is interrupted or a team member isn’t trying to capture a point. It’s a twist on the norm and adds a sense of urgency every time your team is either attacking or defending.
Royal is the last-man standing mode, where all players have one life and the last person alive wins. One pole is situated in the middle of the map and if anyone captures it then a tornado begins to surround the outside of the arena. As time passes the tornado gets smaller, closing down the amount of space for the map, until only the centre is left for the final few people to battle between each other. The tornado is a nifty application that stops people from hiding in the corner of the map to turtle out their round position. Joust on the other hand is a one vs. one type with a modification to the gameplay; you have no ammo until you touch a tower – there are two in these smaller one vs. one levels – and then you are given five shots that do not replenish. If you waste them, you have no choice but to get to the other tower to gain more ammo.
The last of the popular modes, Elite, is a three vs. three, but only one offensive player is participating at a time and has an objective to take over a capture point before being killed. This is against three defenders, but the attacker is given three pieces of armour and the rail-gun to help, meaning instant kill if the attacking player hits a defender. A win can also be given if the attacker kills all defenders. The teams swap around so that everyone gets a chance to be the attacker. Just from me talking about the descriptions of the game types should enlighten people by how different these modes are compared to some of the genre standards that are in today’s shooters.
I’ve already mentioned that ShootMania suffers from a lack of tutorials, and it’s one of the problems that bring the overall aspect of the game down. It’s very much aimed for people who want to play the game in the long run, maybe even dabble in a bit of eSports, since Nadeo and Ubisoft are promoting ShootMania very heavily as a game for such events. I just don’t know what it is with Nadeo, but they can’t seem to make a very logical user interface. The menus are a muddle to navigate – which if you have played TrackMania 2 then you’ll be used to them by now – and everything is basic. I know that is what they were aiming for with the game, but surely you would want a presentable user interface for newcomers rather than some high-school student’s attempt at making a poster in Microsoft Word.
If TrackMania is anything to go by, then the game will be filled with plenty of fan created maps and game types. I’m personally not intelligent enough to design such maps, but the map creation was easy to grasp to begin basic adjustments. It’s the lack of information in the game that could problematically stop people from delving into creating content, but the internet does have wikiguides to help point people in the right direction, if they are willing to try.
Visuals are good enough, but I wouldn’t say they were outstanding due to the bland art direction. There is only one theme for the environment at the moment, so prepare to see lots of grass, brown cliffs, caves, trees and shallow water. Nadeo are following in the footsteps ofTrackMania 2 and offering future packs that are based around various themes. The next one due is ShootMania Cryo, which is centred on snow and will come with its own physics and rule sets. The first-person perspective is literally a crosshair, no gun or anything, and the UI uses metres at the bottom to represent health, stamina and ammo, while the top shows time and score. The chat window can get messy when everyone is using their own colours and strange text alterations that look like a mishmash of a baby’s colouring book gone wrong.
There’s a hurdle you have to overcome when first entering the world of Shootmania, specifically if you aren’t used to playing such classic, fast-paced shooters, but on a personal note, after an hour or two it began to grow on me as I understood what made the game tick. It sure won’t be a game for everyone, and it doesn’t do well to introduce new players, but I feel that the gameplay speaks for itself with Nadeo’s simple yet deep approach. If you want to shoot people in a different way and have a tolerance to learn, then ShootMania is the place to go and do that, and the future can only look brighter once the community floods the game with their creativity.