I didn’t expect to love Shootmania Storm quite as much as I do. But, after playing the beta fairly extensively, I have news. This game is good. And as it’s freely available in open beta right now, you should at least try it.
Shootmania’s a first-person competitive shooter; a throwback to the hyperspeed deathmatch of Quake 3. But it’s even more stripped back than id’s classic. There are just a few modes, a handful of weapons. You can’t even crouch. It is, without question, the purest distillation of FPS competition I’ve ever played. And it’s superb.
It works because it’s so lean. Look at the weapons: a rocket launcher that fires balls of plasma, a instant hit rail gun, and a sticky mine launcher. That’s it. And get this: you’re not even free to pick up the weapons and switch between them: you’re automatically switched to a new weapon in certain areas - in tunnels, for instance, you’re forced to use the sticky launcher. It’s restrictive on purpose. But it completely levels the playing field for everyone. The only thing that matters is your aim, and your movement skills.
There are some complications to the mechanics. A railgun hit is an automatic kill. You can take three direct rocket hits before you’ll die. Your health can be recharged in certain areas. You score points for hits and kills, and chaining hits nets more points.
It’s pretty, too. The look is part Tron, part Medieval Europe, with rocky and overgrown arenas jazzed up by players bouncing plasma bolts around the map. The lighting helps. I’ve no idea what tech the Shootmania devs have buried inside their game, but it’s bright and airy and gorgeous, and absolutely flies. On my mid-range i5 powered PC with a Radeon 6900, it consistently hit 60+ frames per second on the highest detail settings.
There are three main modes in the game right now; Royal, Elite and Joust*. Royal is the easiest to understand: it’s a free-for-all deathmatch in which the final player alive takes the points. Players spawn on the outside of the map, and must work their way in, while fighting the enemy. The first player to reach the centre of the map can activate a pole which will spawn a hurricane that will gradually encircle the field of play, forcing everyone into the centre of the map. This is for more casual, pick up and shoot play. Winning a round of Royal is utterly thrilling, my first victory was punctuated with shouts and fistpumps.
Elite is more complicated, but weirdly innovative. It’s a 3v3 mode meant for assymetric competitive play: in fact it’s been promoted heavily in the IPL. On one side you have the defenders, armed with rocket launchers. On the other, you have a single attacker, armed with the railgun. The other attackers sit out and wait their turn. The attacker wins a round by either killing the defenders or capturing a flag. The defenders win by killing the attacker or running the time down. At the end of the match, victory is handed to the team that won the most rounds.
Think of Joust as table-tennis crossed with deathmatch: while the rest of the server watches, two players compete to score hits on each-other. The first to 11 wins. What surprised me was just how lovely the atmosphere was in each server: each round ended on a polite “gg” or “wp”.
So, what’s wrong with it? The intergame interface is a bit mad. Developer Nadeo are trying to build a platform that joins their Trackmania racing games with Shootmania and their upcoming RPG QuestMania. It feels clunky and odd. The server browsers aren’t brilliantly laid out. Someone, somewhere, will definitely complain that there isn’t a crouch button. And someone else will get angry and say it needs a perks system or more weapons or a vehicles or something.
They’d be completely wrong. There may not be many moving parts to Shootmania, but what’s there is near perfectly produced. It’s fast and fluid, fun and throwaway. It’s also freely available to anyone who wants to try it as an open beta right now. I think you probably should.
*It's just been pointed out to me that there are other game modes available, if you dig around the server settings.