By Cam Nealie
As I finally sat down at my desk to have a crack at this game, I realised that there are few things that can be such a buzz-kill as putting the word ‘mania’ at the end of a game title. It’s just such a throwaway word in game titles, on par with chronicles, revenge, retribution, absolution, revelations and elite. But as it turns out, ShootMania is a much better game than its title suggests. And I even have to admit that ‘mania’ is probably an apt description of what the gameplay has been like so far – fast, panicky and without remorse.
ShootMania is a bare-bones multiplayer FPS made by Nadeo and Ubisoft, along with all the tools necessary to create and adapt your own maps, rules, and characters. And it’s that second part that’s important. The idea isn’t new - players have been modding maps and changing the rules of servers for years, but ShootMania is the first game that I know of that puts the same emphasis on developing new ideas as actually playing them. It’s meant as a type of sequel to go along with TrackMania (the same idea, but with driving) and is now available through ManiaPlanet which consolidates all the mania content into one hub. The RPG QuestMania will fit in there somewhere too. Nadeo clearly have big aspirations.
And this is all part of the world that is unironically referred to as ‘eSport’. The concept is very ambitious - almost everything can be changed – the maps, the character models, the guns, the rules of the game – and published into a new game. In a way, it’s brilliant – putting the emphasis on the player to come up with new things gives it great potential as a several iterations of the game can be created at once. Every time you log in, potentially, you can be playing a new version of the game. I like to think of it as an exercise in chaos theory – if you have enough monkeys tapping away at enough computers, at some point one of them is bound to come up with the next Team Fortress 2.
Of course, this philosophy depends a great deal on a lot of people jumping on the ShootMania bandwagon, and it also makes the pre-release game very hard to review. The gameplay has the potential to be very broad, and somehow I don’t think reviewing the entire genre of first person shooters in this article would cut it. However, ShootMania does come preloaded with a few showcase maps that give you a pretty good feel for where Nadeo expect us to go with it.
While I struggled to find anyone in the servers at first, my second dive into the depths of online multiplayer proved much more fruitful. I was pleased to see the ‘beginner’ server had 5 people playing in it, and in little more than a minute I was competing in a round of Storm, a game where a sandstorm circles inwards as the game progresses, leaving the playable map smaller and tighter. Before long I had learned the map and was even able to win a few rounds. I realised I was having a pretty good time.
Not long after I found myself on a one-on-one map filled with floorplates that fling you high and far (a staple in many of the maps), playing a game of cat and mouse with a bright green enemy. At this stage in development, ShootMania only has three types of guns to choose from (a gun editor will be implemented in the future), and the ones on this map shot blasts of slow moving energy, offering just enough time for a player to dodge if they were quick enough. This made long distance shooting an exercise in chance, and the slow reload times of the gun made the close distance battles into a game of frantic jumping and dodging.
Shootmania separates itself from the crowded pool of FPS with its blistering pace. You’re sprinting around a map, getting thrown from one side to the other trying to shoot your opponent or capture a spawn point (or any number of things, again, the gameplay is very broad). In all the maps I tried, there’s no point to camping (hiding and waiting for someone to run buy) – stop for a moment and you’re dead. And while I’m sure some modders will attempt more stealthy game mechanics, the default is very fast play with quick respawn times.
The third map I visited featured a large area of hills, tunnels, jumping platforms, and some raised platforms with a single narrow path up to each of them. I soon came to realise that anyone that reached these elevated spots was given the sci-fi equivalent of a sniper rifle with a one-hit kill. But only for as long as they could stay up there, and of course anyone that tried instantly became a target for the rest of us, with our infuriatingly slow energy cannons. As I was busy ducking and weaving trying to catch this sniper off guard, I got flanked and killed by an opportunist. I felt betrayed. This game is pretty damn good, and I’m only on my third map.
I really wanted to hate this game. ShootMania is just such a dumb name, but when I got into the action, there’s just too much to like for me to hold that against it. The fast pace I’ve mentioned reaches all the way back through its interface – I can go from booting the game up to playing a map in under a minute. This is a pretty big deal, and a welcome improvement on some other FPS titles that can take over twice as long to load.
The visuals are adequate. The maps I played were all outside in a future alien oasis, and the characters are all wearing tron-like suits that glow from a distance (hence the no camping). It’s very clean and crisp, which is helpful since you’re often ripping through it at speed. Naturally though, you can mod to your own visual themes. I only had time for a quick play with the map editor tool, which is incredibly in depth and no doubt will prove very useful to some, but I was happy just to play in maps others had created for the time being.
The example game modes are very balanced. Perhaps due to it’s simplicity - you’re just running around a map trying to shoot each other with whatever gun you’re given – the odds can be fairly even as to whether or not you’ll come out on top. There are no pro tricks here, you’ve got to rely on fast reflexes and focus. This simplicity relies largely on the fact there are only three example guns but this will expand greatly when the gun editor is released.
You have to admire ShootMania’s philosophy – leaving the life of your game up to the player is a big step and implies a lot of trust. There is the possibility that this could be something great, and a game design model that may be a game changer. Even after spending a good long time trying to get a vibe for this game, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. But, that’s the point - exploration and discovering new worlds is part of the game. I can definitely see ShootMania being a slow burner, something to return to time and time again, and I’ll be interested to see what the gaming community creates out of it. For fans of competitive gaming, there’s a very real possibility that ShootMania will soon become a must-have.
:: Publisher: Ubisoft
:: Developer: Nadeo
:: Format: PC