ShootMania Storm is a bit of an odd product when you consider the previous game that developer Nadeo is famous for, TrackMania 2. Instead of a wacky, racing-lite time-trials experience – one where players were often encouraged to flip their cars upside down while listening to Jurassic Park dub-step - ShootMania is a multiplayer first-person shooter, with a particular focus on strong competition and paid tournament play. How well can a developer transition to a completely different genre like that? Needless to say, I entered ShootMania with some trepidation, but I was willing to give the developer a chance.
In its first release, Storm comes pre-packed with three gameplay types: Royal, Joust and Elite. The core of these is Royal, a free-for-all death-match mode with capture-the-flag elements. This will probably sound like standard genre stock, until you play it and begin to understand ShootMania‘s unique nuances. For example, there’s generally only one weapon (a simple blaster), and participants will have to make do with little health. More importantly, players can modify their jumps by using an action key to alter their rate of descent, and environments are laden with “tracks” that alter the player’s load-out; in most instances, this turns your jump action into a dash that enables you slide around arenas like you’re Frozone. This is not only very cool, but it alters the match dynamic quite significantly.
The titular “Storm” comes into play should players take too long to finish each other off, forcing everyone into the centre of the arena, lest they be sucked up into a tornado.
The environment affects matches in other ways, too. The titular “Storm” comes into play should players take too long to finish each other off, forcing everyone into the centre of the arena, lest they be sucked up into a tornado. As points are rewarded not only for hits but also survival time, this is beneficial to match pacing overall. Granted, this often leads to the last two combatants dancing around the centre flag-pole, blasting wildly – but it’s hard not to see the appeal.
Another mode, Joust, can basically be likened to a one-on-one duel. The first of two players to reach seven hits wins a point. Joust is the mode I feel like I spent the least time with in ShootMania, mainly due to the length of matches that are already in play. Still, it’s a lot of fun to watch two skilled players face-off here, and this is enhanced by the way the game announces score advantages in a manner not dissimilar to tennis: advantage linkforce79!
Maps feature a thoughtful mix of tight corridors and more spacious plains, which encourages players to try out new strategies each time they are swapped into the role of attacker.
My favourite mode of the bunch, Elite, plays something like a Quake III Arena “King of the Hill” match, only on steroids. In this variant, an attacker is tasked with capturing a flag pole inside a base, while three defenders try to hold their assailant off. To balance this, the attacker has a highly-accurate, one-shot-kill rail-gun, while defenders come equipped with standard blasts and no armour. Maps feature a thoughtful mix of tight corridors and more spacious plains, which encourages players to try out new strategies each time they are swapped into the role of attacker. In one neat touch, matchmaking places queuing players in a friendly warm-up arena, allowing everyone to get used to the controls and socialise with other participants until it’s their turn.
If any real criticism can be levelled at ShootMania, it’s that it has lost a bit of TrackMania’s wackiness and inherent sense of fun. But in doing so, it’s traded it for some genuine eSports cred, and even some of the heart and soul of the FPS kings of old. And it should be made very clear: the game is still bundled with the same sort of customisation tools we’ve seen in previous Mania titles. While in these early days players are mostly working through the bundled modes, in future, I don’t doubt we’ll see some amazing things resulting from community efforts with the in-game map editor and plugin system. It’s unlikely that ShootMania will stress most players’ systems, but the game maintains a stylish, quasi-Tron look throughout, and mods can only add to this.