Shootmania Storm is frantic, furious shooty fun. It's from Nadeo, the team behind the community-centric racer Trackmania, and does for FPS action what that game did for racing; namely putting the community in the driving seat - giving them the tools to go on and make the game their own.
This is also a game that has been built with eSports firmly in mind. It's competitive, twitch-based fare, with skill being the only thing that separates the players on the field. It's got a Quake-esque feel to the movement, it's responsive and fast, if a little floaty. Players are indistinguishable from each other save for a customisable shield pinned to their backs. It reiterates the game's team-orientated design, and pushes the competitive feel to the action.
What resonated most strongly with us is the sporty feel that underpins the action. Whilst you might be shooting rockets and lasers, or dropping explosive mines at opponent's feet, it doesn't feel violent in the way that so many other games from the same genre do. This must be commended, because the FPS genre could do with more of this attitude. This isn't about revelling in the virtual death of another, or blood splatter, or gruesome explosions, but more the feeling of eliminating an adversary from the game, of sending them to the bench whilst play carries on without them.
This is a simplistic way of looking it, and it doesn't always work like that. "Death" is frequent, and with each respawn you're hurled to one of the spawn points and must make your way back to the action. Only on a couple of playlists are you required to actually sit out the action once you've been taken out of the game, but taking out an opponent in any of the modes is as satisfying as it is commonplace.
There are currently only three weapons to concern yourself with, and they're environment specific. The standard option is a rocket firing device mounted on one's wrist, two shots from which is enough to end an adversary. There's grids that when stood on change that weapon to a one-shot laser beam. Deadly, but requiring precision. In capable hands they're very effective and can easily win a game or turn the tide of battle. Then there's the mines, activated when entering into confined spaces. They can be attached to walls and ceilings, with the potential here for the laying of traps. There's a short countdown before they explode, and they're an effective defensive tool.
It's the rocket launcher that you'll spend most of your time with in the game. Each player can take two hits (three if you're still a beginner) before they'll find themselves respawning back at base, and the brevity of life ensures plenty of restarts. The three core weapons are all solid, and while we appreciate their qualities, at no point did we fall head over heels in love with them. Flinging fluorescent rockets at people, with the pacing that it sets, turns lots of encounters into strafe-fests. There's twitch gameplay in there for sure, but there's also an element of timing and anticipation, and sometimes working out where the shots will land almost borders on guess work. You're never given enough time to get as proficient with the other two weapons, and as we've not been able to try out any others yet, all we can do is point out that as it stands there's still room for Shootmania's arsenal to grow and diversify.
When it comes to ways to play, gamers will often find themselves coming back to Royal and Battle. Royal is free-for-all where players are attempting to capture a central tower on the map. Once activated it ushers in a blistering, all-enveloping storm that narrows the focus to a central playing area. After this sequence is activated, if your knocked out you must watch on from afar as the other players on the server scrap it out until one combatant is left standing and the winner is declared.
Battle is a team orientated game, where opposing forces must attack and capture three towers located on enemy territory. Only during one side's attack phase they can capture the required towers, so finding a balance between offence and defence is essential. If a team begins capturing a tower they remain in attack until they've been pushed back for 15 seconds - getting back to a capture point restarts the timer and buys the attackers more time. It means both landslide victories and incredible comebacks are possible, depending on how the teams are weighted and how well they work together.
Melee was a favourite playlist of ours, but it felt under-utilised by the community during our time played so far. It's a simple free-for-all mode, but it's fast and frantic and fun. Time Attack and Siege are two more neglected game modes. Time Attack is a novel way of spending some time with Shootmania; it's effectively a race around the map, and requires an entirely different type of precision to the more traditional shooting. Timing jumps and taking corners accurately is key to success here. Siege provides longer games, with one team set to defend as a weaker attacking team tries to capture a target. If the offensive team is wiped out play switches over with the shoe then on the other foot.
For those seeking games with a more competitive edge, there are three playlists suited to task. Joust is a 1v1 mode where two players charge at one of two capture points. Reaching one activates a limited amount of weapons to fired at the other player, with points accrued by hitting your opponent. Players either run for the same point, each charge followed by a short scrap and another jaunt cross the map, or they head to opposing towers, taking potshots at each other as they cross paths between capture point.
Elite pitches two teams against each other, but players take it in turns to be the attacker, one in the thick of the action while the other two watch on. They're armed with a one-hit laser and an additional shield, and must either take down their opponents, or capture the goal. Though we weren't able to sample any games, Heroes is a 5v5 team game, where only one designated player is able to score a goal, while the defending team must try and take them (along with the rest of their team) out. Teams swap over, designed to instigate a constant back and forth as both sides push for the win. It sounds like good fun, so it's a shame we weren't able to try it.
That's a lot of different game modes (and more are being created by the community), so there's plenty of different flavours on offer for those who pick up the game. On the whole they're good fun, but for newcomers certain playlists will mean a lot of time spent watching on the sidelines. On games like Siege, Elite and Royal, if you're taken out of the game you're left gazing at the action from afar (or, on some modes, from the perspective of a teammate), and if this happens regularly it can be quite disheartening. This issue is further compounded by the fact that there are already a lot of people playing the game thanks to its lengthy open beta, so if you're coming to it fresh you may well want to find your feet in some of the more forgiving playlists before you venture out into the more competitive wilds. That said, if you enjoy watching others play you can spectate and capture gameplay footage using the replay editing tool.
But competitive gaming is only one side of Shootmania; creativity and fun are the other facets to the game, and if you want to avoid staring at other people play it's more than easy to accomplish. For those who like to build, there's a comprehensive map editor, meaning there's a constant stream of new and interesting environments to play in. You'll regularly discover fresh new maps as your cycle through the servers, and some of them are incredibly well designed.
Post-launch we'll also be able to start creating weapons, and more technically minded players will start to be able to get really creative, whether that comes in the form of adding textures to create colourful environments, or even scripting entirely new game modes. For dedicated fans it promises to be a huge time sink. Weapons, though a little further off in the distance, will be made using in-game tools, meaning the three we've currently been using will one day be joined by many others. There's huge potential here in terms of longevity.
Overall Shootmania Storm is a decent, enjoyable shooter. It's community driven so content is never in short supply, and the sporty feel to the action is a breath of fresh air in a genre crowded by gritty modern-day shooters and fantastical sci-fi sagas. The floaty movement and style of weapons won't be to everyone's liking, some of the modes don't get nearly enough love, and the aesthetics are a little on bland side, but if you can see past these minor shortcomings and get your eye in the game, there's a huge amount of twitch-based enjoyment to be had on Nadeo's servers.