Ubisoft has so many awesome games coming down the pipeline (did you see their E3 lineup?) that it would be almost impossible to keep track of them all. Between big series like Assassin’s Creed and new titles like Watch Dogs, a lot of their smaller endeavors can slip through the cracks. One such project is ShootMania Storm, the second in a series of games planned to be set in a new world called ManiaPlanet. ManiaPlanet will become the hub for all Mania games developed by Nadeo, including the popular TrackMania series. ShootMania Storm is set to be released later this year, but you can get a look inside the alpha after the break.
Ubisoft and Nadeo want the ManiaPlanet line of games have a few key elements in common: controls and gameplay that can be picked up easily by anyone, graphics that will run nicely on almost any computer, and a suite of creative tools included for each game. The result is games that are instantly fun, accessible by anyone, and constantly being expanded with new user-generated content. Don’t let that trick you into thinking that all ManiaPlanet games will be the same though; the first title, TrackMania 2 Canyon, is a racing game. ShootMania Storm, as the name suggests, is a first-person shooter.
Jumping Into the Alpha
As promised, the game is very easy to jump into. The controls are standard: arrow keys or WASD for movement, space to jump, left mouse shoot, and right mouse to perform special actions depending on the type of terrain you are. Once you’ve got those basics down, one of the first things you’ll notice about ShootMania is that for a game with “shoot” in the title, there’s a rather non-traditional lineup of weapons at your disposal.
You’ll come into contact with only two types of weapons throughout the various game modes. The first is a rocket launcher, which can fire off a respectable number of rockets before needing to briefly recharge, and kills in two hits. The second is a laser railgun. It only fires once before needing to recharge, but it also only takes one hit to kill. With everyone being a maximum of two shots away from death at any point in the game, ShootMania Storm is very fast paced. A number of different game modes will change just how quickly the action plays out.
Exploring the Game Modes
At this point in the alpha, there are six planned game modes that fall evenly into two categories: “Fun” and “Competitive”. Judging by what’s been playing on most servers, I’d say the three “Fun” game modes are the most popular. Melee, the first mode, is a basic free-for-all style game where players race to be the first to 25 points. Points are gained by hitting enemies with your rocket (1 point) or railgun (2 points), and lost by respawning or falling out of the map’s boundaries. It’s good for warming up and learning the ropes of ShootMania Storm’s gameplay, so it’s recommended for beginners to start here.
The next mode, Royal, adds a last-man-standing twist and requires more strategy as a result. Instead of just focusing on killing off the other players, you’ll also need to navigate your way towards the center of the map. Why? Because the play zone shrinks as the game progresses, and being outside of it results in an instant (and permanent) death. Having players shoot rockets at each other in an increasingly small field can result in some very intense up-close endings.
Battle is the last of the “fun” modes and my personal favorite. It’s a team-based capture-the-flag style match, with players alternating in the roles of attack and defense. The goal is to capture all of the opponents’ towers before they can capture yours. The first team to reach a capture point at the start of match gets the attacking role first. After that, roles switch according to a set timer: if the attackers go more than 15 seconds without reaching one of the opponents’ towers, then the teams switch roles. If they are able to reach a capture point, the timer resets and stops counting for as long as they are there.
The size of the teams in Battle mode are limited only by server capacity, and the maps change to accommodate the size of the teams currently playing. This results in a very different experience depending on the number of people in the match. Contrast the small match shown above with this larger one:
In addition to the three modes already covered, three more competitive game types are also planned. Joust is a one-on-one skill based game where two players with limited ammo go head to head. Points are given each time a player hits their opponent, and the first player to reach 7 points wins the round. Matches usually consist of 3 or 5 rounds. If a player runs out of ammo, it can be refilled at designated points on the map.
Elite is another team-based mode where the roles of attack and defense are alternated between two teams of three. The attacking team sends one player into the level with a railgun. His goal is to either eliminate the three defenders or to capture their tower before the round ends. If he succeeds, the attacking team receives a maximum of 3 points, with one point subtracted for every time he was hit. If he is killed before completing either task, the attackers get no points. A match consists of six rounds, ensuring everyone gets a turn to play as the attacker. There is a third competitive mode planned featuring 5v5 gameplay, but it’s still in development and not much has been revealed.
Beyond the Gameplay
As well as being able to play the game as is, Ubisoft and Nadeo want to give players the ability to make it their own. A built-in map editor allows you create your own maps for ShootMania Storm and other ManiaPlanet titles. Also included, ManiaScript allows the more technically gifted to write their own code to add new features to the game. Finally, the Media Tracker gives players the ability to capture screenshots and gameplay footage in real time, which can then be edited, shared, or even added as cutscenes to their created maps.
After creating new content offline, there is another suite of included tools to help you share your creations with the world. ManiaLink is the game’s content network, allowing you to list all of your shared content and browse through the creations of others. ManiaHome is an in-game social network, where you can introduce yourself via a public profile and team up with other players. The last of the online portals, ManiaLive, offers plugins that can be added to dedicated servers to customize the experience with anything from simple features like map ratings to completely custom multiplayer modes. Both the online and offline features are a part of the central ManiaPlanet interface, meaning that they will be shared between all ManiaPlanet titles.
Overall, Shootmania Storm is shaping up to be a pretty unique experience, even at the alpha stage. The short matches and fast-paced gameplay are a nice break from more “serious” shooters, and the emphasis on content creation and social interaction will lead to the same high level of community engagement familiar to other Mania titles from Ubisoft and Nadeo. The ManiaPlanet interface, which will span not only the Shootmania line of games, but also TrackMania racing games and eventually QuestMania RPG’s, can only add to the fun.