There’s a storm brewin’…

Looking to capitalize on the success of its TrackMania brand and expand their repertoire, developer Nadeo looked to put their unique spin on old-school first-person shooters. Thus, we have ShootMania. And we were able to go hands-on with Storm, the first maps of the first environment for ShootMania.

The main theme behind ShootMania, much like it’s sister TrackMania, is providing entertaining head-to-head competition by simplifying things in order to hopefully minimize time spent not actually in game and to make the games fast-paced with frantic action. There are several ways Nadeo is doing that with ShootMania, starting with your primary weapon. Described as a rocket launcher (although it looks more like a beam cannon of sorts), the weapon fires streaking blasts of explosive light and so all it takes is two hits to eliminate your enemies in what feels like laser tag on steroids. Players also can utilize bunkers that they would hole up in to use “sniper rifles” that really just focused their lasers to maximize their blast distance.

This was all we saw in regards to weapon variety, however. This is so that players wouldn’t worry about needing to customize loadouts or the like as everyone basically plays on an even level. This not only gets you into the action faster, but also ensures that the competition comes down more to skill, and maybe a little luck, to determine the outcome.

There were items that weren’t offensive in nature though that could also help to the strategy. Reminding me of Metroid, each player is equipped with an energy-based grappling hook that can attach to several points on each map and allow players to swing across gaps to hopefully set up better positions for later offense. There is a risk to the grappling hook though as you cannot fire while swinging.

If you don’t like the idea of being defenseless when swinging through the air, there is also the wall jump. Not easy to time considering the game is a first-person shooter, players who master this maneuver can completely change matches by luring unsuspecting players into coffin corners and then leaping behind them by bouncing up the walls.

In regards to game modes, we also played a simplified version of Team Deathmatch where there were only three players on each team. Again, this affords faster matches, but also gives you the chance to really gel with a particular group of guys and tests your skill as a group. To make sure you don’t spend a lot of time searching for opponents though, as a 3v3 match doesn’t usually last long, you play a series of games with the same people where the overall match doesn’t end until a team gets three game wins and are up by at least two victories. Should a pair of teams trade wins back and forth, then it is the first to five wins overall.

Another way to speed up the action we found was by activating a beacon in the middle of most maps. This switched on an electrical storm field that starts closing in around the beacon. Anyone hit by the field is immediately eliminated and so your surroundings start speeding up the competition as well until there is a small patch of safe zone left and you are left in a Mexican standoff with your opponents.

Of course, some gamers may not be all about competing with other players. Well, any players who are transition over from TrackMania will be happy to know that ShootMania will have a similar map editor so you can build your own nefarious mazes with Halo-like launchers or camper paradises littered with bunkers depending on your own personal play style and share these with your friends. And considering there is minimal customization you can do with your in-game avatar, putting a kick ass map out into the community might be the best way for you to stand out if your kill/death ratio isn’t up to snuff.

In the end, veterans of online first-person shooters should quickly be able to pick up and play around with ShootMania, but mastering it will prove a bit more difficult considering its unique take on map design and game play pace. If you’re a fan of TrackMania and what Nadeo has done with that community over there, you can expect a lot more of the same user-interaction and strong community to develop here. And then again if you’re just looking for a cheap way to shoot some giant lasers, ShootMania: Storm looks like it’ll be a worthwhile romp when it launches January 23, 2013.