Developed by the same group of people responsible for the TrackMania franchise, ShootMania Storm promises to bring back the glory days of online fragging. While current-gen gamers are focused on things like Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Halo 4 for their multiplayer fix, older PC gamers will remember the original Quake with great fondness. Doom may have been where the deathmatch craze was born, but Quake was where it first hit maturity. Matches were characterized by fast movement, map domination and, after the first CTF mod, mastery of the grappling hook. Quake may not have been a direct influence for the ShootMania Storm team, but after sitting down to play a few rounds, it sure feels like it.
The throwback to a simpler, more direct, style of online play is a good thing. The developers over at Nadeo crafted ShootMania Storm with e-sports competitions in mind and, as such, needed to distill the gameplay down to its core concepts. Features like kill streaks and crazy weapon loadouts may be fine for casual players, but when it comes to pure competition, you don't want the outcome of a match to rely on luck. It has to rely on skill.
What's good for e-sports is also good for recreational players, as ShootMania Storm is very easy to pick up and play. You might not be very good the first time you pick up that mouse, but the controls immediately feel natural. After running a few rounds and getting a feel for the maps, getting into the ShootMania mindset should be second nature for any first- or third-person shooter fan.
We had a chance to play the Beta 2 version of ShootMania Storm, which highlighted a few new features. The two biggest ones are the grappling hook and the wall jump. As used in ShootMania Storm, the grappling hook is a context-sensitive thing. You don't pull it out or select it manually. Instead, you simply shoot at a white grapple point, and it automatically fires. Yay for context sensitivity. Releasing the grapple is done by releasing the button. Momentum carries you along when using the grappling hook, so there is a bit of timing involved. Mastering it means massively increased mobility, giving players a huge advantage on maps that use it.
Also in the mobility camp is the wall jump. As direct as it sounds, the wall jump allows you to repeatedly jump between two close walls in order to gain height. It's the same sort of thing that players have been doing for years in platform games. The wall jump skill isn't that useful on wide-open maps, but in areas that feature a lot of narrow masonry, it adds a powerful movement option.
New to the weapons in ShootMania Storm is the charge shot. We're not sure how useful this will be in an actual match, but it's the kind of disruptive thing that will probably rear its head at an unlikely moment. What's cool about the charge shot is that it allows you to bank your shot off a corner. Think of it as pool, except with bullets.
Map design is an important part of any competitive multiplayer game, and in ShootMania Storm, that hasn't been forgotten. Players can battle it out on Nadeo-crafted arenas, but the map editor promises full freedom for the creative mind. We didn't get the opportunity to dive into the editor (all of our time during the demo was spent fragging other players), but one of the new map editor features is worth noting.
In addition to the standard blocks, ShootMania Storm also features a 3-D importer that will allow map creators to craft custom objects and bring them into the game. It's not something that average players will care about, but professional map designers are likely to be excited. The importer will also be a bonus for anyone who wants to craft a themed map.
At a time when many shooters seem to be taking the "kitchen sink" approach to online play, it's refreshing to see a company go back to the basics and focus on the core gameplay. ShootMania Storm is lean, but from what we saw, it seems incredibly focused on delivering a fast-paced, competitive environment. There are still a few unknowns, such as how the game deals with Internet lag (our demo was done on a LAN), but overall, initial impressions are good.
If competitive deathmatch is your thing, then ShootMania Storm is a game that should be on your radar. Look for it to hit the PC in early 2013.
Editor's Note: Do you want to get your hands on a copy of ShootMania Storm right now? Then head on over to the official WorthPlaying Twitter feed. We're giving out copies of ShootMania Storm Beta 2 today (12/21/2012) as part of our regular #FreeCodeFriday promotion.
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