Monday, July 30, 2012

Shootmania - Closed Beta Impressions

It seems like games with sandbox features and user generated content are becoming increasingly popular this generation, with such titles like Minecraft kicking off the trend. However, one developer in particular has been making games focused on user generated content BEFORE it was cool: Nadeo, a France based game developer better known for their ever expanding Trackmania series is now looking to give their same brand of D-I-Y with the FPS genre.

Shootmania is a multiplayer online first person shooter where players can jump, run and shoot in a futuristic virtual world, on several different maps and modes created by the players. It also features several tools for map creation, easy/intuitive gameplay and matchmaking features.

The most interesting premise behind Shootmania is that Nadeo plans to promote the game as an E-sport. Personally, I would have to say that trying to create a new IP with the full intention of making it a competitive E-sport is fairly risky. Only a few competitive video games have ever been e-sports, as those games managed to evolve with deep metagames over time as players discovered and developed play styles and strategies over time, which begs me to ask if Shootmania has enough going for it consider having such a competitive scene.

The closed beta was currently available only to a few early registered users and pre-order members, but I was lucky enough to snag a key for myself.

Shootmania uses a portal client called Maniaplanet, which allows users to access Shootmania, Trackmania and any other future Nadeo titles. When starting up the Maniaplanet client for the first time, players can create a profile to access several community hub features. Otherwise, players can skip logging in and stay offline.

The main promo for Shootmania was their ‘Storm’ game mode, along with Elite, Joust and Heroes mode off to the side.

Storm mode was the main gameplay mode I decided to spend my time with, so I jumped straight in, getting paired up against several players from around the world including France, Germany and the UK. Storm matches are your typical Free-For-All battles where it’s every man for themselves, but in this game, players can only take two hits before being defeated, so there’s a sense of tension knowing that you can get taken out quickly if you’re not careful.

My first couple of matches were pretty rough, as I was slowly getting used the game’s mechanics. Shootmania’s gunplay is very much labored with classic FPS mechanics: No iron sights, regenerating health or skill perks here. Players have to take on enemies with some old fashion run and gun, along with aiming and leading shots using weapons that don’t revolve around hitscan.

Gameplay also has this stamina system that lets players glide through the air and run on the ground at high speeds, provided that the player has enough stamina to work with (which isn’t a whole lot.) It makes players have to deal with some meter management in battle, but it also takes some practice work out of learning tricky movements like circle strafing and bunny hoping as a way to pick up speed in battle. For me, the stamina system makes movement a bit easier than it should be.

This isn't to impose that movement in Shootmania is flat out simplistic, however, as some of the maps I’ve played on had slide panels to rack up ridiculous amounts of speed, and ascend block platforms to cover vertical movement quickly, so perhaps a metagame of manipulating panels for movement may develop down the line.

There was one thing about Shootmania that did bug me, though: In classic FPS arena titles:  There’s an element of map control, where maps would have power ups and weapons spawn all over, and skilled players would count down the respawn time for these weapons and power ups, while timing their pickups so that other players couldn't get them. In most game modes and maps for Shootmania, however, there are no straight forward weapon pickups or power ups. Players will only have access to one weapon type at a time. These weapons include an energy bolt which fires like a rocket launcher without splash damage, a slow moving nucleus orb and a laser that fires like a railgun.

Depending on the mode, you either select your weapon type at the start or switch weapons by standing on a special panel on the map. This makes fire fights in Shootmania out to be fairly balanced, but also can seem a bit dull with everyone using the same weapon at most times. Of course, since Nadeo wants their players to customize everything from top to bottom, they could easily allow the option for players to have access to all weapons sometime in the future.

Map customization, the key feature of Trackmania, functions the same way in Shootmania. Players use a block system to create maps as simple or as complex as they want, along with having options such as setting the time of day.

The tools are really quite easy to use. With a few tunnels here and water traps there, I was able to create a map within a few minutes. After I was finished, I was able to get the map validated and uploaded to a global server for other players to try out.

Overall, I’d like to say that Shootmania has potential for fun competition, but the potential for it to become a full blown E-sport is questionable at the moment. Still, there’s plenty of room for the game to grow into something amazing. Plus: Having a shooting game where players can have a new map to play on everyday isn’t a bad deal.


Post a Comment