Previews// ShootMania: Storm

Posted 21 Feb 2012 17:33 by
How do you reinvent the FPS? How do you tear down the visual and violent stereotypes that surround games like Doom, Quake and Call of Duty? Nadeo thinks it has the answer. The French studio has been transforming PC gaming for years with the open-source TrackMania racing project - and now, nine years later, it is attempting the same for the shooting genre with ShootMania.

The philosophy? Add an experience for TrackMania users that adds the thrill, scale and skill of battle, without making it too intimidating for first-timers. The result? A King of the Hill style team-based affair, where players assume the form of cybernetic humanoids with only a laser-powered rocket launcher at their disposal.

It may seem dumbed down at first glance, but then again that?s sort of the point (and the beauty) of it. The obvious thing to do once you start playing the game is to run around like a gibbon, spamming the fire button to try and nuke the opposing side into oblivion. But that doesn?t secure victory - and certainly won?t last you longer than a few seconds in combat against a more tactical player.

You see, you may only have one weapon - the trade-off being that it?s a particularly powerful weapon that catapults large balls of energy from incredibly long distances - but its tied to a charge meter. You can get about three or four shots out when firing continuously, before you have to wait until the bar is filled up again. While it only takes a few seconds, if you?re in the heat of battle, that time can seem like forever as you?re dancing around everyone else?s gunfire.

Add the fact that you can only take two shots before you are ?defeated? and respawned at your team?s base, and suddenly a genre that is known for its trigger-happy tendencies becomes a lot more tactical. And that?s if you just decide to spend the round trying to kill each other, which is a pointless endeavour because this isn?t a Team Deathmatch game.

So, how do you actually win? Each team has a number of coloured posts that need to be activated in order for you to win the round. By simply standing beside said post, the team?s completion rate goes up (and naturally, the more players standing beside a particular post, the quicker that number rises). Ultimately, the goal is to claim your own posts in record time, while stopping the opposing team from either doing the same or trying to kill you.

The maps are pretty simplistic, but allow for some addictive fast-paced action. The first stage I played was a simple rectangular arena, with each team looking after their opponent?s posts directly opposite one another in an open plain. Some stages provide jump pads that launch you a fair distance too - but you can also click the right mouse button for a jump, which can then be turned into a glide if need be.

Although you will be rocking a plasma launcher for the majority of your colourful bouncy time in ShootMania, there are certain areas that will provide you with alternative weapons. One such automatic switcharoo is on a wooden bridge, where you pick up a bow and start firing arrows at pea-sized enemies from afar. Because you?re using unlimited, physical ammo here too, there?s no energy meter to worry about, meaning you can spam arrows to your hearts content - provided you stay on the bridge.

After the initial caution with ShootMania, I have to say I?m pleasantly surprised. It?s a very playable, accessible take on the traditional FPS - easy to play and largely inoffensive to boot. Graphically, it won?t wow anyone - the visual approach is incredibly retro, with maps providing sparse scenery (and in fact Nadeo?s inspiration in terms of gameplay design wise was to create something with Doom?s simplicity in mind). However, for what the game lacks in terms of power, it makes up for in user-generated content - something that Nadeo has proven to a master in.

The ShootMania Editor - and the ManiaPlanet 2.0 platform that the entire game is based on - enables users to open up the source code and create content directly. If you?re not a programming whizz, you can use the WYSIWYG interface to select map and mode templates and place blocks of content onto the arena using the mouse and keyboard.

According to Nadeo, almost everything can be tweaked using a combination of UI-based changes and hard coding - and soon, there will be the ability to add more complex features like automatic turrets that fire on particular players on sight. Users who publish their creations can ?sell? their mods for Planets, the platform?s online currency.

Ultimately, Nadeo?s dream with this setup is to establish a user interface that allows players to float between servers and user-generated content effortlessly - almost as if the studio wants to blur the lines between official and unofficial. It?s a developer that sees itself on the same level as its userbase, and that?s a philosophy that it hopes will allow ManiaPlanet to create the ?next Counter Strike.?

ShootMania is looking like a great addition to the ManiaPlanet world, but regardless of how well it does, the thought process behind Nadeo?s mission statement is nothing short of admirable.

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