ShootMania lacks everything you love about modern shooters, and that’s what makes it great
I sat at my computer for a long time trying to think of how to describe ShootMania Storm. It's fun, but can feel thin compared to modern shooters. It's a shooter without story. It's a shooter without perks. It's a shooter without weapon drops, iron sights, or hats!
So why is it so fun to play? Why am I obsessing over my state and national ranking? Why do I drop into match after match?
Learning curve: 90 degrees
ShootMania strips away almost every convention of the modern FPS in favor of pure, simple game play that's easy to pick up and understand without tutorials or a campaign mode. And you'd better learn fast, because if there's one thing ShootMania lacks, it's some instructions.
There are several modes to in ShootMania. Royal is a free-for-all deathmatch, with players trying to outscore one another and be the last person standing. The map starts out large, but as time goes on, a tornado closes in and forces players to gravitate toward the center of the map.
Battle is a team game, where you and your team try to beat the opposing team to a neutral objective which will determine the order of attacks and defends; the team that reaches that point first gets 15 seconds to start capturing the other team's poles. If the defending team can keep the attackers from touching their poles for 15 seconds, the teams switch, and the defenders have 15 seconds to capture the opposing team's poles. Capture all the poles to win a round, first to win three rounds wins the match.
Elite is the hardest of the hardcore - a mode used thus far for ShootMania's many tournaments. The structure is set up to be 1v3, where the sole attacker is given a one-hit elimination weapon and three armor points, while the three defenders have standard rockets. If the attacker vaporizes all of the defenders or grabs the objective before time is up, they score a point; if the defenders hold their position and survive to the end, they score a point. First to 9 points wins, though the winning margin must be two or greater.
Joust is my new favorite mode: two players start at the same spawn point with no ammunition and a countdown clock which causes instant loss if it reaches zero. The players rush forward and must step onto platforms to refill their ammo and reset the timer. It's an intense battle for resources and is easier to follow, since it's just one-on-one fights. Each player can be tagged seven times, so it's a little more forgiving than many other modes where you lose in one or three hits. Best of three or five rounds - depending on settings - wins the match.
Heroes breaks players into teams of five, where only one teammate is capable of scoring a “goal” by capturing points on the map. If that player captures the goal, the whole team gets a point. If the player is eliminated, the defending team gets the point. Teams swap between attack and defense each round, and first to 10 points - with a margin of two or greater - wins.
Siege feels a bit like first-person shooter tug-of-war. Like several other ShootMania modes, teams are broken down into attackers and defenders. Attackers must capture objectives to score points, defenders must… well, defend. Attackers begin with one point of health, and gain a point each round the game goes on. If an objective is taken, the entire defending team gets spawned at the next objective. If the defenders successfully hold their position or eliminate the entirety of the attacking team, the teams switch roles. The team with the most points at the end wins.
Lastly, Time Attack has players racing around the environment in spectacular race-like fashion. You might sprint pretty quick as a Spartan-IV or soldier in Call of Duty, but that's a turtle's pace compared to ShootMania. It's fun to think back on just how insanely, impossibly fast our avatars used to move in the olden days of first-person shooters, and Time Attack is a welcome reminder.
There is, however, one problem: The game never sits you down to tell you any of this. Modern games may suffer from excessive handholding, but that handholding also serves a purpose: to let you know what the hell you're supposed to be doing. Yes, there's a countdown timer that says “attack” and “defend” in Battle mode, but you have no idea what it's counting down to, why it might suddenly stop counting and start back up, or what you're supposed to attack and defend.
If this was a single-player game, a lack of instruction wouldn't be an issue. You would have plenty of time to learn at your own pace. As it stands however, ShootMania is built on the hyper-competitive bones of early '90s shooters, with a modern eSports-oriented audience obsessed with KDRs and ladder rankings. Initial hours with the game can feel more punishing than welcoming.
The only way to learn is to play, and the way you learn to play correctly is to make lots of mistakes, realize what you did wrong, and move forward. Unfortunately, that means lots of anger directed at you for not doing what you were supposed to be doing.
The good news is, should you persevere and continue onward, there's a rich, rewarding experience to be found. By taking out everything extraneous like diving, crouch-sliding, weapon power-ups, and silly hats to wear, ShootMania makes everything feel even-handed, fair, and competitive. Think of it like the original Star Wars trilogy as compared to the prequels.
Part of the charm in the original Star Wars trilogy is the use of practical effects and costumes. Lucas was kept on a budget, and it forced him to utilize what he could, where he could. When the prequels were released, and Lucas had one of the most powerful animation teams of all time under his control, almost all of the dirt and grime of the galaxy far, far away was stripped away to reveal aliens and creatures, cartoonishly animated, and sets that dipped into the uncanny valley.
We've seen this with plenty other films as well: think of all the nifty camera tricks and practical effects used in the 1982 version of The Thing and compare it to the 2011 version, packed with cg chase scenes that destroyed any sense of pacing and horror. Think of Jurassic Park, which was just re-released into theaters.
ShootMania is the original trilogy, it's the 1982 version of The Thing, it's Jurassic Park; it uses what it needs to, when it needs to, and doesn't go beyond that. It forces you to be clever, to analyze your surroundings and pay attention.
Better with the mine launcher than the standard rockets? There's only so many places on the map where that weapon works. You can't switch weapons manually, you simply walk into an area designated for a particular type of weapon, and the change occurs automatically. You can't get mad at someone for having a “noob tube,” because everyone is given the same options. There is no crying foul, because everyone is on the same level. You are not a special snowflake.
Walk the walk, shoot the shoot
This is what makes ShootMania so crazy fun, and satisfying: everything is on you. Your reputation, your ladder ranking, your KDR, your ability to score points all come back to whether or not you can perform better when everybody else is given the same tools as you. In an age of weapon perks, randomized drops, leveling and special talents to make your character stand out, ShootMania allow you to stand out.
Alternatively, your creativity can make you stand out. ShootMania has a kick-ass map editor with all sorts of possibilities, and the game is open to script modding as well. As Ben reported in May of last year:
“If you have some knowledge of scripts, this is a very simple [scripting language]. If you know anything about scripts, you can modify it. There are tons of people out there who know how to do that, and it’s a text file, so you can download it very easily and you can use it in your map,” [Edouard Beauchemin, product manager for Nadeo Live] said. Players will be able to create a level very easily, and then download additional scripting for the type of game you want to play, set up any variables that need to be set up, and the game will give them a green flag if they’ve done it well or a red flag if something doesn’t work. The system is designed to allow maximum ease of use and experimentation.
ShootMania, at this stage, represents a promise more than a product. It's a highly-addictive, fast, fun, and balanced shooter, but it loses many of the hooks that big-name publishers have been telling us we love and want, and it's horrendous at giving you any sense of direction. The upside is in the pure skill-based combat, and the ability to mod the game to create anything you'd like.
Some players will see it as shallow, and leave unfulfilled. Those who long for the days of Quake and Unreal Tournament, who feel that today's shooters have made us soft, will find something special, especially if the community takes the time to make the game its own.