Why ShootMania is the smartest shooter of 2012


Mania is right. In the few hours I’ve been fiddling with the ShootMania: Storm alpha, the surprising lurch into the FPS genre by driving game developers Nadeo, I’ve developed a kind of need. It makes me angry, as all twitch games do, but instead of rage-quitting, I wait the brief moment it takes to respawn and get back to the fight. It turns out it’s lots of fun.

The one fact I know about cars is that they don’t circle strafe, so I approached Shootmania with some hesitation. Partly because I wanted to preserve my exceptionally fond memories ofNadeo’s Trackmania in my head. I didn’t want Shootmania to suck. It doesn’t.

It’s an extremely sparse shooter: there’s only one weapon, andno gun model. Shootmania is about exaggerated movement and precise shooting: the levels are often large, looming, hewn from ancient ruins; you’re crossing the huge areas in leaps, bunny-hopping through zooming enemy fire.

It only takes a few shots to kill someone (one to remove their sheild, another their life) and then you’re sent back to the spawn. That instant retry that’s part of Trackmania’s replayability is present, albeit with a second or so delay to punish the loser. With everyone looking the same and shooting the same, heated rivalries only really seem to last the moments your caught in another player’s orbit: you jump and dodge and fire, the surprisingly slow-moving projectiles hitting where someone was rather than where were. There’s no ammo or reloading: you have an energy bar that slowly regenerates, so keeping tabs of your firing finger is necessary if you don’t want to be left powerless.

In terms of balance it makes it mostly about skill, which is perfect for Nadeo to make a play for Shootmania as an e-sports title. Trackmania already has a huge following there, and Shootmania’s restrictions make it the perfect game to keep everything level.

If its sparsity isn’t exciting, you can change that. Like Trackmania, Shootmania is a framework for a community to take the editor and scripting language and build they’re own. So far I’ve come across three different modes: deathmatch with a shrinking, killifying dome (called the ‘offzone’) that contracts and forces the player’s closer and closer together. Jailbreak has team-based action: each death lands you in jail and the teams battle for control points that’ll let you escape. Time attack is Trackmania in Shootmania’s spandex: you race along the map, making impossible leaps and loads of mistakes as you try to beat the other player’s time. Whatever comes next will likely be from the community and not Nadeo.

Everything’s done in-game: building the levels, the promotion of what you made, the discovery, it’s all done from Nadeo’s launcher. There’s an in game currency called Planets that you gain from taking part, that you can use to buy game-modes, maps, maps, skins and, amazingly, you’ll be able to rent servers and place bets on on-going e-sports battles.

Battles like this.

You put your Planets down and cross your fingers. There’s never any real-world money changing hands; just hope and the digital currency everyone earns for taking part. Even if you don’t care about e-sports or betting, you’ll earn enough Planets to keep your game topped up with free content from Nadeo’s community, but all within the game. That’s really smart.