Simple controls, fast game play and community focus: Shootmania is the non-violent Unreal Tournament
Shootmania: Storm is an upcoming PC FPS from Nadeo, the same development house behind the delightfully addictive Trackmania. Nadeo blended a high-def look with the simplicity and joy of building and racing on a Hot Wheels track for Trackmania, and now they've set their sights on the first-person shooter market. After playing the closed beta and experiencing what Shootmania has to offer, I welcome the fresh air.
Whoever said non-violent games have to be boring?
Like Trackmania before it, Shootmania has stripped away many of the genre conventions we've grown used to in favor of satisfying, basic game play. There are no perks, no iron sights, no steady regeneration of health. Hell, there are no blood or bullets. You may be expecting tricky controls to memorize and master when you bring up a map, but it's just move, talk, check score, action, stamina, and shoot. Combine this with the extremely rapid movement of player characters and you have a game that feels less like Call of Duty or Halo and more like the original Unreal Tournament. Don't confuse easy for simple. There are also plates which can affect a player's movement and abilities. On the SandCastle map, for example, when I ran across any of these large, grated metal plates, I couldn't shoot or jump. You don't realize how free your movement has been and how powerful your rockets/flares/fireworks/whatever feel until they're taken away. Since you don't change weapons from a loadout, other plates will change your weapon type. Weapons are area based, so instead of being something to pick up and add to your arsenal. In some areas of the map you'll use a shotgun. In high places you're given a sniper rifle.Once you've spawned into a map, things are similarly simple; your HUD displays three bars – the one on the left is the ammo for your weapon, which steadily refills over time, the one on the right is your stamina, which also refills over time, and in the bottom-center is your health. You get two hits and you're done. Shootmania is a non-violent take on the FPS genre, substituting bullets and gun crosshairs for a simple aiming reticule and rockets that look like fireworks. When you hit an enemy and deplete all their health, they float mid-air for a moment, scattering into digital particles. There's no blood, and no screams of agony. But you shouldn't worry about that, because as a flash of pink energy whizzes just in front of your face, you realize you've got seven other players coming for you.
Nadeo has instituted an overhead spectator cam which will automatically zoom and move so that all remaining contestants can be seen, though you can still tilt it yourself if you like. Shootmania is interesting to watch as a spectator. I enjoyed it so much that I even sat in on a few games, no playing, just watching. Due to its simple nature and lack of bloody, gory death explosions, it was easy to follow what was happening. In many ways this feels more like a sport than a game. I had a particularly large amount of fun when the battle came down to the final players. Watching two players do their jerky, strafing dance as they fired rockets was exhilarating; if you're a football fan, think of how you feel between when the ball is let go for a pass and when it is caught or intercepted. That's how watching matches of Shootmania feels anytime someone is firing. Which they will do a lot. Because the game is called Shootmania.
Map-maker, map-maker, make me a map
As with its predecessor, Nadeo has promised lots of customization within Shootmania. They want this to be your game as much as it is theirs, and to that end they've included a suite of map editor tools. When you create a map or edit an existing one, you'll place tiles of landscape or obstacles down in grid pattern, locking them into place. There were 14 tiles for me to choose from in the simple editor, which ranged from simple roads and t-intersections to archways, boulders, and spawn points. This is the game's final beta before going live, so it's hard to say if there will be more added. There's also an advanced editor which allows for custom skins and more tile options. You can even set time of day with the advanced editor. With enough creativity and abuse of the 30 layers Shootmania provided on the map, I'm sure the community will think of some insane structures. Unfortunately, I'm not so artistic or patient, so the map I created consisted mostly of a spiral road, which led up to a 30-layer high archway. Because reasons.
The coming sport
I had a lot of fun with my time in the Shootmania beta, but said time was limited, and I'm only one person. What's really going to make this game, and what has me the most excited, is the community that will support it. The game is built to be eSports-friendly, and by keeping the game play simple and almost retro in feel, it ensures that not only will the playing field be dictated by skill, but that spectators will have an easy-to-follow experience, allowing them to cheer on the action. I can't wait to watch.