ShootMania is a very different beast to TrackMania, even if it shares a similar feature set on the creation side of things. Ubisoft and Nadeo are, instead of highlighting the crazy track creations from TrackMania, focussing much more on a simple yet ultra-competitive eSports angle.
They’ve been working closely with professional gamers during the beta phases for several months in order to tune the gameplay and improve some of the more original modes that they have. There will naturally be the staples of the genre, like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, but there is also a mode specifically designed for these eSports which I had a go on.
It’s called Elite Exp, and has recently been added to the beta of the game as a modified version of what already existed in Elite mode. It’s a slightly odd set up with two teams of three facing off, alternately attacking and defending, but this uniqueness helps to make it stand apart from other shooters out there.
Only one player from the team attacks, going up against three opponents and trying to take them out before a clock hits zero at which point the capture objective is unlocked for either side to capture.
With only one player going up against three enemies it’s obviously going to need a fine balance to keep it fair, so the attacker has an insta-kill rail gun whilst defenders have rocket launchers and need to hit them with these slower moving projectiles three times to eliminate him.
There’s no splash damage on these rockets, so you will need a direct hit, but you can fire them in quick three rocket bursts before you need to go through a reload wait.
It’s an intriguing game of cat and mouse, and my play time saw each team have a pair of amateurs teamed with one pro to lead the charge. These guys have naturally had months to get used to the ins and outs of the game, and with their finely honed skills they where getting some spectacular long range kills and fast firing triple hits with rockets. That’s not to say that us amateurs couldn’t hold our own, and in fact we would have to in order to win the game.
Each round awards a single point to the winning team whether they’re successfully attacking or defending, with the first team to hit six points and hold a two point lead being crowned the victors. So the scoring will generally end up looking like a long set of tennis, and as we played we soon passed 5-5, 6-6 and so on. In the end it was my team mate that managed to break the deadlock and take us to a rather satisfying 10-8 victory.
I really quite enjoyed this little multiplayer bout. The graphics were pretty, rendering the block based level design in a visually appealing yet lightweight fashion, and the action was pretty frantic and tense, being somewhat reminiscent of some great rail-gun vs. rocket launcher (or equivalent) battles from genre classics like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.
For most people, I’m sure the eSports world is still quite a foreign concept and ShootMania will have to appeal to them on its other merits. Things like the absolutely pared down gameplay leading to instantly learnable controls and a finely tuned game balance, or the simple level design and game mode creation tied to the overall ManiaPlanet and large variety of shared content.
In that regard, there really should be a lot of variety. ShootMania Storm includes lots of lighting settings to tweak and plenty of building blocks, meaning that, like with TrackMania, your imagination should be the main limiting factor to what you can create. Storm is only the first environment under the ShootMania brand, with the second release entitled Cryo having a more arctic theme, with different level design elements, rules and physics.
So ShootMania, an ultra competitive minimalist FPS set in a highly customisable world and with grand ambitions of breaking into the eSports world. It might just have a shot, and Nadeo are going to keep plugging away even if it doesn’t quite make it with the first attempt.