Have you ever played the Instagib mod for Quake 2 or the mode of the same name in Unreal Tournament? If so, you know pretty much what to expect from half of what ShootMania Storm - the new game from the TrackMania guys - is all about. If not, don’t worry, I’ll explain.
Basically (and that’s a great word to start with), ShootMania is the very essence of a first-person shooter. You shoot people, using the game’s one gun (which changes into one of three modes, at certain places on certain maps), from the first-person perspective. Two hits, down they go. There’s no powerups, no iron sights, no camping, and no quick-scoping. There’s also no military motif or, for that matter, much in the way of context for what’s going on; if you come in search of narrative (say, something about some sort of alien attack, or a futuristic death sport) you’re out of luck.
Remember that bit about the shooting being “half” of the game? The other half, which will come as no surprise to fans of Nadeo (the game’s developer), is the construction kit, with which you can make levels and even whole modes - should you have the talents and time, obviously.
The editor is split into basic and advanced versions, giving you something to quickly muck around with, and something to really get your teeth stuck into if content creation is what you’re all about.
It all sounds pretty good so far, right? In theory, that’s how it should be; in practice, ShootMania Storm - the version you’d play were you to buy it today, at least - is somewhat less than the description makes it sound. It has those bits, sure, but none of them particularly excite.
The whole game has a beta - nay, Alpha feel about it. From the moment you start it up, only to be confused by its cumbersome interface, the pervasive impression it gives you is of a game that’s not yet done.
That interface? It feels like someone created something from a default Macromedia Flash template and dropped some clipart on top of it. It's also quite slow, taking a long time (no doubt thanks to deep online integration) to respond to clicks. Downloads (which are frequently required, whether for patches or new skins - etc) are also fairly slow (and this, on a 100Mb cable connection.) That said, the background of the menu looks nice; it's video footage of clouds, with god rays peeking through. It does, however, add to the visual confusion of the whole thing.
The editor is incredibly cumbersome; it’s easy to understand why, of course, because constructing something like this is a complicated business. But even so, this is something Nadeo hold at the core of their “Mania” experience, so it’s a little disappointing that they couldn’t make something a bit more usable. Still, it works, and the type of people that will spend time in here are the type of people who’ll be happy enough it exists to forgive that it fails to execute with any real flair.
The most successful part of the game is the running around and shooting at people bit. Character movement feels good, and at no point did I feel like lag had robbed me of a kill - a rather important facet of the game to get right, given there’s no singleplayer component whatsoever. Learning the nuances of movement and how the different gun modes work is a fun - and unique - experience, and there's already a tight (if, apparently, tiny) community forming around the title.
It does get a little tiresome, however, with so few options and - more importantly, perhaps - the lack of variety in the look of the maps. The levels themselves are interesting and fun to explore, but they’re all built from tiles and you very quickly learn what they’re all about - kinda like playing in a world made from LEGO; you can make all sorts of shapes, but they’re all built from the same basic bricks.
It's pretty hard to recommend ShootMania to all but a select group as it stands right now but, like TrackMania, it seems reasonable to expect that it will improve over time and become something more worthwhile as the months go by - assuming Nadeo, Ubisoft, and the community at large continue to invest in it. If you're a hardcore fan of the genre, a budding game designer, an eSports enthusiast, or just want to get a look at the "before" version, by all means - dive in. Otherwise, your "shooting people in the face" fantasies are better served elsewhere.