Friday, July 6, 2012

ShootMania is Pretty Cool

Whenever I get an invitation into a private beta for some game I feel like the swellest dude in existence. All of sudden I feel as if this means I am some how important in the industry; as if I am being contracted to make games better with my betterness.

And then reason and logic return after a brief 30 second hiatus of fantasy and remind me that, "Oh yeah, I am just one dude of thousands invited to the beta because I put my email in some database. Huh."

I read on NeoGAF that the beta keys for ShootMania were being sent out and I vaguely remembered signing up to give it a try. I checked my email, found my key, wallowed in irrationality for a brief time span, and then downloaded Nadeo's latest.

TrackMania is one of the greatest things ever. To say it is just some racing game with a track editor is to miss the brilliance of TrackMania. It is a very pure experience and its design is almost of the quality of a good sport. The tracks themselves do not function like race tracks, but are rather intricate obstacle courses that test the player's understanding of technical driving. Each track then turns into a time trial, with up to over a hundred players on a server racing through a track in a set amount of time trying to get the highest placement. While it seems to me that most racing games like to focus on the vehicles, TrackMania stands out by focusing on the tracks (everyone races through a track using the same car; this is a very simple, but quite literally perfect balance). And ultimately, at least personally, tracks are far more interesting and worthy of emphasis. And then you add on to this the easy to use, intuitive track editor, the multitude of community features, the custom server features, the competitive scene, and the globally and locally ranked offline experience. I need to stop talking about TrackMania before this whole article becomes about how great it is.

But what if you had the same thing, but it was like Call of Duty. No, wait, I meant Quake and Unreal Tournament. You know, what if it had guns? What if it was TrackMania, but cool?

Well, then the result would be the inevitable ShootMania. Let me be clear though; saying that ShootMania is TrackMania with guns is doing it a massive disservice. ShootMania, like TrackMania before it, is important not because it whores the values of Web 2.0 (which it does, and gloriously), but rather because it takes a genre of game and tries to purify it. Especially with the onslaught of online shooters with leveling systems, customized weapons and abilities, and free-to-play money making machines of shame, the FPS genre could really use a detox.

In ShootMania, as in Trackmania, every player is on equal standing. There is only one default attack players have at their disposal and they all have only two health points. The orbs players shoot are slower than bullets and are designed to be dodged. There is neither ammo (ammo regenerates) nor health (death's only prevention is to avoid damage) on the field. While these two elements can go a long way in defining the flow of a map, the maps I played in ShootMania seemed to do fine without them. ShootMania very quickly becomes about strafing to defend and aiming to attack. I do wonder whether or not the bare FPS mechanics have as much depth to them as the bare racing game mechanics.

But considering that there is some added complexity in the way of game modes, this consideration is probably not all too important. There is the average death match ordeal, which is exactly what you might expect. Then there is some sort of attack and defend mode, which basically functions like KOTH with two hills, one for each team. I did not play too much of this variation, but what I did try was okay, though I really do not have enough experience to judge it properly. Then finally I tried a map where the game mode involved players rushing to activate a central pole, which created a bubble of death that slowly closed in on the map, forcing the players to tighten up their spacial relations to each other. The last man standing at the end was to be proclaimed the winner.

ShootMania is pretty cool. It reminds me of SRB2 in regards to how it handles combat. Which is a very, very good thing. Everyone seems to complain about the interface in Nadeo games, and while I do not think it is as bad as the hyperbole on the Internet claims, it could use some more clarity and polish. Unfortunately, the launch menu for ManiaPlanet, where one makes the choice between TrackMania 2 or ShootMania, is incredibly unwieldy. I played around with the editor and it is as functional and easy to use as it has always been. Visually I question whether or not the TrackMania art style is suited for a shooter, but I understand the pursuit for consistency. ShootMania is a great idea, which I hope sells well enough to be iterated upon. The industry is stupidly desperate for some freshness in its most popular genre, and ShootMania definitely delivers some fresh.

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