by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
New type of mania
Most of my favourite video games are ones which tell a deep and engrossing story, with great gameplay, visuals and soundtrack to back it up. But sometimes you just want to shoot dudes in the face with lasers, and that is what Shootmania Storm is all about.
Nadeo's previous title, Trackmania 2 Canyon, was one of my favourite games of last year. I loved the intricacy of the driving, knowing when to brake and when to drift, and I loved the absurdity of it all. So, when I found out that Nadeo was working on an entirely new type of game, namely Shootmania, a ridiculously fast-paced first-person shooter, needless to say I was pretty excited and signed up for the beta test straight away.
The closed beta is live now, and the first thing you will notice is that you canít load the game straight away. The developers have created something called ManiaPlanet, which is what they hope will be a hub from which you can launch games and chat with friends and catch up on the news. I already had Trackmania 2 installed and it was ready waiting for me, but then I had to install Shootmania, and then figure out how to put it onto the home screen, and then figure out how to launch it. The -mania series has never been known for its ease of use, and thatís just something you have to come to terms with when playing one of these games. In fact itís quite endearing at times - the guys at Nadeo know theyíre not a huge company with massive budgets, but they donít care, they just want you to play their games - and if youíre smart, youíll figure out how eventually.
To Jump or to Zoom, that is the question
Shootmaniaís beta is online multiplayer only, and uses the same server browser as Trackmania. Frustratingly, the servers with a higher number of players do seem to have a severe lag issue at times, which is something that will hopefully be sorted out before launch. This is particularly annoying since the most fun is to be had when playing with a lot of other people. After you have chosen a server it drops you straight into the action. The only tutorial is a display on the loading screen telling you what all the buttons do, and at each spawn point there is a screen giving you the basic rules of the game type. Other than that, you are on your own, but it does not take much getting used to. It is standard FPS fare: WASD moves your character, left click shoots and right click usually zooms, but more often than not it actually jumps... weíll get to that in a moment.
There is only one weapon in Shootmania Storm. But, then again, there are three weapons in Shootmania Storm. Let me explain. If you are running around in the open, your weapon will take the form of a four-shot laser rifle. If you venture underground, it will transform instantly into a sort of shotgun which will leave shells attached to a surface that will explode after a short time. If you are up on a platform, it is likely that you will now be wielding a single shot, one-hit-kill laser sniper, with added zoom functionality. Unless youíve got that sniper equipped, your right click (or spacebar) will jump, and if held in will give you an extra bit of gliding time while draining your fatigue meter. Jump pads scattered throughout the maps aid in your movement, and you can get up a real head of speed combining your jump with these pads. Not being able to jump while you are using the sniper feels strange, especially when you donít realise straight away that you have it equipped. Instead of jumping out of the way of a closing laser, I found myself zooming in on it at times.
The standard game modes are all in here, but with some interesting and refreshing twists. There is a team-based ďcapture a pointĒ mode, but there are set attacking and defending time periods of fifteen seconds determining whether you can actually capture points or not. In typical -mania fashion, the respawn time is minimal, meaning you are never left out of the action for too long. Another diversion from a standard game type is the ďlast man standingĒ mode, with an added element of a capture a point in the centre of the map. Capturing this point causes a huge energy wall to converge on the middle of the map, killing anything caught in its path instantly. This creates havoc as the game becomes more about frantically rushing to the centre than killing enemies. I imagine that the modding tools available will allow the more creative of community designers to create new game modes themselves. I fully expect to see some sort of race mode, as I see the finesse-based movement lending itself really well to that.
As hooking as Trackmania?
When Iím playing the game, Iím having fun. It is exciting to be jumping around in a deathmatch with lasers rushing past you at every corner. The problem is that when the match ends, I donít have the same compulsion to keep playing as I did when I was playing Trackmania. If you messed it up in the racer, it was your fault, since there was no player interaction. In Shootmania, if you die, it is probably because you didnít see a laser flying towards you.
There also seems to be an element of luck in getting kills. I often found myself failing to hit someone a few yards away because they were moving around too quickly, but a few seconds later I might accidentally hit someone over the other side of the map. Perhaps I havenít achieved the skill required to play the game at a high level yet, but in a game that is supposedly designed for e-sport tournaments, the lack of accuracy in the main weapon seems odd.
I am not saying that Iím disappointed with the Shootmania Storm beta, because itís certainly well made and fun to play. It is also, as I've stated, beta which means that it will certainly be honed before the final release. However, playing it just made me want to go back to Trackmania 2 and left me wondering when the new environments for that game are coming out.