The average modern multiplayer shooter is bloated with perks, unlocks, and dumb gimmicks. ShootMania, the new game from TrackMania developers Nadeo, is a spiritual return to the days of Quake and Unreal Tournament, when skill was everything. This makes it a tough sell. Some will appreciate its purity; others will find it archaic.
The game has been designed with the eSports community in mind. It's fast, competitive, and carefully balanced. All players are given the same three weapons, and there are no upgrades or power-ups to speak of. It's boldly simple.
The default weapon fires slow-moving balls of energy. They have no splash damage, so every shot has to be precise. Leading fast-moving opponents takes some getting used to, but hitting a distant target with a well-placed shot is a satisfying pay-off.
The other two weapons are activated whenever you step on certain map tiles. When you're next to a window, you'll automatically switch to a long-range laser, reminiscent of Quake's railgun. When you move to an interior, like a cave, it becomes a grenade launcher.
It's an odd system. The small arsenal can make the combat feel limited, but it levels the playing field for tournament play, and each firing mode has its own quirks and nuances. While other online shooters see you unlocking a parade of increasingly powerful guns and attachments, here it's all about mastery of a fixed set of tools.
Character movement is fast and responsive. Depending on what tile you're standing on, the space bar/right mouse button will either make you jump or sprint. Jump pads and ramps send your character hurtling across the map, and you can hover briefly. It's not a patch on Tribes: Ascend's kinetic skiing, but it's a good fit with the twitchy combat.
Like TrackMania, the base game - which retails at £15.99 - is only the beginning. A powerful editor is bundled with Storm, allowing players to create their own maps and modes. Depending on your skill level, you can make a basic deathmatch arena by dragging and dropping tiles, or use scripting tools to create something far more elaborate.
Some incredible stuff came out of the TrackMania community, but we've yet to see anything really remarkable in ShootMania - yet. We've mostly been playing the three modes that come bundled with the game: Royal, Elite, and Joust.
Royal is a frantic last-man-standing free-for-all. As the match progresses the map steadily shrinks, forcing players together in the centre. It's a fun take on the familiar deathmatch format, although you do spend a lot of time spectating.
Elite sees three teams taking it in turns to attack and defend. The attacker is alone, but with a one-hit weapon, while the defenders - three of them - have to stop them scoring a point with normal guns. It's a really unique mode, and easily Storm's highlight.
Finally, Joust is a one-on-one mode that pits two players against each other. Weapons have to be loaded at charging stations, but other than that it's a fairly typical deathmatch. Joust is the weakest of the three modes, but a good way to hone your skills in smaller maps without worrying about being caught in other players' crossfire.
The problem is that ShootMania is perhaps too simplistic. PC gamers are spoiled for choice when it comes to multiplayer shooters, and some of the best - like Tribes and PlanetSide 2 - don't cost anything to play. At this early stage, £16 is too much for too little game. But that could change if the community gets a foothold and starts to produce new maps and modes. TrackMania took a while to become great, and so might this.
A fast, balanced multiplayer shooter with an eSports slant, but one that will live or die by the strength of its community.
- Powerful editor
- Fast, reactive combat
- Messy front-end
- Too expensive, for now