Competitive gaming has always been a popular hobby that attracts countless fans from all around the world. Many games such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Street Fighter and Starcraft hold a particular importance for e-sports and find themselves dominating the competitive scene by offering an unbiased and balanced game. Ubisoft’s ‘ShootMania Storm’ has been designed from the ground up to join these titles and hopes to promote itself as the new staple in competitive gaming.
FPS games have changed a lot since the days of Doom and Goldeneye and many have become something that I struggle to fully appreciate. In an arms race of their own, developers try to load their newest games with more and more content in order to get a hand above their competitors. Fumbling through custom settings, characters and weapon types is something that we’d expect as a bare minimum for an FPS titles, but Shootmania takes a large step back and instead offers players a rather minimalistic choice; blue or red? With no perks and no load-out options, no air-strikes, radar or character traits, no cover system and no pick-ups, Shootmania removes any claim of bias weapons or over powered characters and pitches players against each other a battle that can only be summarised as fair.
The most unique thing about the game as far as I am concerned, is the rather unusual weapon system. With no pick ups and no load-outs, players couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Shootmainia only offers a standard single-shot plasma cannon. However, this isn’t the case and instead terrain, of all things, will govern what weapon you have equipped. Where as this may seem a little odd I personally found it very well suited, and after no time at all it felt natural. One fear I did have upon discovering this is that certain areas would be fought over in order to control a particular terrain, such as the rail-gun lending metal. Thankfully, each map that is currently available helps to prevent this from being the case with a clever symmetrical layout and instead forces an element of strategy and adaptivity to what would otherwise be a standard shooter.
Fancy terrain based weapons aside, you’ll find yourself using the plasma cannon for the vast majority of any game and much like any of the other weapons, the plasma cannon is void of ammo. Instead of limited rounds like we see in most competitive titles, the weapons have rechargeable shots, with a maximum number of charges dictating how many rounds can be fired off in succession. Where as this might remove any worries of running out of ammo, it does anything but make the game easier and instead forces players to shoot with more precision, as an empty battery can be easily described as a death flag. The stored charges of any gun are always limited to very few, the plasma canon housing a relatively large capacity with five shots. As you can imagine this slow paced precision fire can really slow the game down, especially if players are used to fully automatics such as Halo’s assault rifle or Call of Duty’s AK-47.
Limited fire isn’t the only aspect of the plasma cannon that forces strategy into the game at the cost of an intense pace of play. The lasers themselves seem to waft through the air at an irritable pace, which is particularly annoying when compared to the players above average movement speed. At first I found this nothing short of agonising and found myself cursing the game’s name as I missed time and time again, wishing that the beams would move just that little bit faster. That said, my opinion of this mechanic took no time to change and soon became a favourite aspect of the game. Encouraging more than simply aiming at the enemy and shooting, like a low budget point and click adventure, the mechanic instead forces players to apply a bit of foresight and tactically herd the opposition into unsalvageable situations.
With only five easily avoidable shots and a relatively slow recharge, it’s no surprise that two players can often find themselves manoeuvring around the other in some kind of John Woo stand off, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to fire off a laser. It’s situations like these, which are more than common, that really draw attention to the fact that Shootmainia is built from the ground up as a competitive title. Not only do the stand-offs and other such situations add a bit of extra fun and suspense to the player, but they really do a lot for the viewers, who are as important as the gamers as far as a competitive game developer is concerned. Questioning the intentions behind a lot of the unusual mechanics throughout the game is something I personally found myself doing as I played in my first few matches. They worked well and lent themselves to the game with a particular success, but that alone wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity. A lot of the mechanics still felt unnecessary and I couldn’t help but ask ‘why?’ and it was only when I took a step back that I really understood their intention.
For a competitive game to make it as an e-sports title, appealing to players with an enjoyable game and functioning mechanics is only half the battle. The game has to be enjoyable to watch, and more than that, it has to be enjoyable for a wide audience, it has to be something that can be easily appreciated by everyone, it has to build suspense, it has to deliver cinematic moments and it has to bring home footage that seems almost scripted in its perfection. Shootmania excels at everything listed above and where as the game play might work well, it’s the viewing pleasure that separates this title from the others and it’s the viewing pleasure that will encourage this game’s success as an e-sports title.
In the same way that Trackmainia was more or less a foundation in which players built the content on top of, Shootmania leaves its content doors wide open and allows the community to drag in whatever they managed to knock together in terms of maps, game types and even skins. The benefits of community developed content is almost not worth mentioning and although it does come with its own problems, it’s one of Shootmania’s most redeeming features as a game and as an e-sport. The most obvious of these benefits is the ever growing bottomless pit of maps that will find their way into circulation amongst servers. With a voting system in place to regulate the quality of the maps and to ensure the poorer of the maps fall off the roster, servers only ever present the best of the maps which the community generally considers fair and unbiased, leaving players with a consistent level of quality and competitive game play.
In addition to maps, Shootmainia lets you customise game modes to varying divergences from the standard game. An example of one of the many different modes is ‘Elite’, which is definitely one of the more spectator friendly game types. In this mode, one player finds themselves with an overpowered, one-hit-kill rail gun and is faced up against a defending team of three, each equipped with the standard plasma cannon. Another popular game type is the duel mode, or Joust, which, as you might have guessed, is a simple one on one duel between two players. The two modes harbour undeniable benefits as far as spectators are concerned in that all the action is easy to follow and can be found in one place. I could go into detail about any number of other game modes that I’ve played and/or heard about, but I think it’s safer to say that any game mode you might think of is most likely already playable or is at least in development. To give you a rough idea of what Nadeo’s Shootmania is capable of, serves can house up to 255 individual players in any game, ignoring any limitations that bandwidth might enforce. The realistic possibility of such a large scale game aside, this figure shows just how hard Nadeo have worked in removing any and all limitations in design, leaving content creators completely free to develop their ideas to the best degree.
As far as game play is concerned, Shootmainia offers something unlike anything we’ve seen for quite some time. Easily relatable to more classic titles such as Doom and Golden Eye and even more so to quake pro in terms of general game play, Nadeo’s newest title really offers something for fans of the genre who feel lost in the newer FPS titles such as Call of Duty and Halo. Intent on becoming the newest e-sports title, it’s no wonder Shootmainia focuses a lot of it’s attention on making matches enjoyable to watch not only for season e-sports fans, but also for a wider audience. The game achieves this goal at the cost of fast paced mayhem and instead forces a stronger sense of suspense. With a forever flowing stream of content, Shootmainia is a title that I personally feel will become particularly popular on the competitive side of things and will succeed in it’s goal of widening the audience for e-sports. In addition to the competitive side of things, Shootmainia offers more than enough to keep players enthralled with a lot of the mechanics offering gamers experiences they might not have found in other titles of the same genre. Whether or not Shootmainia Storm will achieve all of it’s goals, or just become another addition to the pool of first person shooters is something that only time will tell. I personally believe it ticks all the boxes in regards to content and I look forward to seeing how it progresses and expands over the next few months.