Shootmania Storm is an upcoming (you guessed it) online PC shooter on the ManiaPlanet network and the first multiplayer FPS from Nadeo. In this second Beta before the game’s full release on January 23, 2013, players can take on a generous sample of online game modes and experiment with the title’s biggest selling point: the immersive level editor. The levels in Shootmania Storm are set in a moody fantasyland, with dark skies, looming architecture and crumbling landscapes. The visuals are all clean and crisp, with great color schemes and the promise of running and looking great even on dated, lower-end video cards. There is an incredible sense of isolation and seclusion to these outdoor arenas, with nothing beyond the structures but serene and empty grasslands. While the world of Shootmania Storm is very medieval and ancient looking, the neon jumpsuit character designs and plasma-based weapons themselves are very futuristic, which results in an almost dystopian feel akin to The Hunger Games.
Shootmania Storm is a simple game, without the bells and whistles of the weightier, more cumbersome online shooters. But trust me: that’s a good thing here. This not only allows anyone to pick up and play within minutes of creating their own account (something Shootmania prides itself on), but best of all, it puts everyone on the same playing field right from the start. You’ll never face a high-level player with that fully upgraded machine gun or advanced invisibility perk, which is great for gamers like me who may have some trouble jumping right into a competitive online platform. No, each player in Shootmania Storm is equipped with a sole “rocket gun,” a shield on their back. The grit and skill needed to come out on top is up to them.
The decision, by Nadeo, to arm everyone in Shootmania Storm with a rocket gun makes for some interesting rocket launcher-based gameplay, along with helping Nadeo achieve its goal of minimizing the time you spend in character customization screens. But it also means just a few quick shots and you’re toast. In Shootmania Storm you will also come across a sniper weapon and a short-range weapon called The Nucleus for underground confrontations, but it’s clear that weapons in the game take a backseat to the level design. In Shootmania Storm, it’s all about utilizing your environment and outsmarting your opponents on ever-changing terrain. The controls are just as basic, with minimal key inputs and fluid character motions. In addition to running and shooting, you are left with a secondary action button, which seamlessly changes its function based upon your character’s movements (from wall-jumping, to gliding and everything else in between).
Each of the game modes in Shootmania Storm favors tactical strategy over mindless run-and-gun gameplay and offers short bursts of fun whether you have hours to play or only a few minutes to spare. One of my early favorites, the “Royal” scenario seems to be a popular choice among beta players right now and is an exciting twist on the “last man standing” elimination death match. As the round goes on and more fighters are eliminated, the playing field literally grows smaller, as a shroud of fog steadily engulfs the outer edges of the map, working its way inwards. Get caught in the fogvand it’s “Game Over” faster than a rocket gun blast to the back. It physically forces players to engage with one another, by pushing them towards the center of the map in one final game-deciding confrontation (cornucopia from The Hunger Games anyone?). Other modes bend the definition of the FPS genre, like Time Attack mode, which tasks players with moving faster than their opponents and prevents them from firing a single bullet; and Victory mode, a new addition in Beta 2, where game objectives cycle every 30 seconds and range from killing the most enemies to performing the highest jump.
Like ManiaPlanet’s flagship titles, TrackMania and TrackMania 2: Canyon, steady content creation from a dedicated community is what gives Shootmania Storm its legs and makes it a fresh new experience every time you log on. Trust me, Shootmania Storm players can do some amazing things with the tools they are given. Some of the user-generated maps I came across are truly stunning in design, with intricate labyrinths of columns and underground tunnels at every turn. The fantastic sense of depth and space in the editor lets many map builders place an emphasis on verticality, with wall-jumping zones and thrilling boost ramps that launched my fighter high into the air at lightning-fast speeds. In addition to the original wasteland textures, this demo of Shootmania Storm also includes a vibrant “toon” texture pack, with bright colors and buildings that look like they are made of giant Lego blocks. The vast spectrum between these two sample textures makes me excited to see what other kinds of worlds players will be able to traverse once the full Shootmania Storm game is released.
In Shootmania Storm, you can build maps using one of two level editors: simple or advanced. Simple feels very limited in scope compared to advanced and I actually found the advanced editor more inviting and easier to use, not to mention the plethora of tools and objects that advanced puts at your disposal. Even though my skills at map building don’t extend much beyond making lopsided towers and planting a few trees here and there, I still found the interface extremely easy to use and was zooming all around the editor as if I’d done it a hundred times before. Shootmania Storm’s Beta 2 also introduces a 3D Objects importer which players can use to upload and share their favorite game objects and to make their map making possibilities virtually limitless. You can even record gameplay videos as you play and edit your replays from right within the ManiaPlanet interface itself.
One thing that does concern me though about Shootmania Storm is the game’s potential longevity beyond these one-off matches and competitive standings. Aside from ranking on global leaderboards and perfecting that magnum opus map design, long-term goals like leveling up seem to be scarce or almost nonexistent. Furthermore, with such little variety in weapons or unlockable upgrades and abilities, players might feel thinly rewarded by gaining experience points or leveling up. Another downside is that the rounds can be a little on the short side, with many I’ve experienced ending in a minute or less. Granted, the short rounds make sense given the rules of most game modes, but it can still feel a little jarring at times. Sometimes I’ll just be getting used to a map’s layout in Shootmania Storm, when I’m suddenly blasted into oblivion and ripped out of the environment I was just beginning to learn. But with that being said, there is still a highly addictive and incredibly rewarding quality in learning to think on your feet and quickly adapting to whatever the game throws at you next. And don’t forget: your opponents will always have to adapt right along with you. No amount of practice can prepare you for fighting blind on constantly unfamiliar terrain.
In the end, the Shootmania Storm beta is easy to get into and difficult to get out: as the “just one more round” mentality quickly kicks in the second you start to play. With its fast-paced multiplayer game modes and rewarding content creation, this online FPS shows a great deal of promise and is one to definitely keep on your radar. So jump in, give yourself up to the storm and be sure to look for my complete review of Shootmania when the full game is released later this month!