The arena shooter genre seemed doomed to remain a thing of the past. Some of our fondest FPS memories transpired in classic close-quarters shooters like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, with their blazing-fast pace and adeptly designed maps. Nowadays, though, most shooters (save for a few criminally underplayed titles) seem less about speedily zooming around the map with the stack and more about camping in one spot until you’ve earned your game-ending killstreak.
But Ubisoft hasn’t forgotten about the adrenaline-pumping shooters of old – with their new FPS ShootMania Storm, they’re crafting a shooter with the intent of fostering the kind of high-level, eSports-worthy teamplay of games like Counter-Strike and Quake. Not only that: They’re also emphasizing the community’s essential role in the success of any shooter, giving them the power and tools to create and share their own maps and modes. Then again, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise – developer Nadeo also created TrackMania, the do-it-yourself racing game that let you build outlandish tracks from the ground up.
At its core, ShootMania Storm is a highly modifiable arena shooter that encourages constant movement over humdrum camping. Firefights break out between a red team and a blue team (typically with five players each), with a multitude of customizable modes to choose from, including classics like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. But while the pacing of the tense shootouts captures the feeling of older shooters, ShootMania brings plenty of unique mechanics to the table.
For starters, the health system doesn’t involve 100 HP or regenerating shields – instead, the rule of thumb for survival is the extremely straightforward “two shots and you’re dead.” Weapons are location-based; you’ll fire shotgun-style spread shots when you’re in tighter areas of the map, while long-range sniping scopes are enabled in the spots you’d logically snipe from. Instead of ammo clips, your energy blaster can fire five shots at a time, slowly regenerating to prevent spam firing, but never fully depleting. These unfamiliar systems take some getting used to, but they keep things varied without demanding that you memorize a map layout for health and ammo.
If you’re familiar with the classic InstaGib mode from Unreal Tournament, where players spawned with one-shot-killing laser rifles and chaos ensued, you might think ShootMania would be a direct port of its riveting gameplay. Perhaps it is in other modes, but not in the one we played; instead of infinite-range lasers, our blaster fired glowing orbs that lacked bullet drop but floated sluggishly through the air. It required that we lead our shots while dodging incoming fire, and it’s no doubt skill-intensive – it just felt a little slower than what we’re used to.
Movement-wise, the stages we played were filled with wide-open areas and wildly winding castles covered in boosting jump pads. Crossing the wide expanse of a map was as simple as planning your jump pad path; experienced ShootMania players (like the Frag Dolls, who mercilessly murdered us again and again) could zip across the map in the blink of an eye. In place of UT’s sidesteps and dodging, there’s a sprint in ShootMania that activates in a most peculiar manner. Tapping space will jump, as in most any shooter; continuing to hold the spacebar down will then cause you to sprint. We’d be lying if we said it felt at all natural, but once you get some momentum going, zooming around the symmetrical maps can be a blast.
Ubisoft has made no secret that they want ShootMania to be the modern-day eSports FPS, where player skill and teamwork trump grinding levels for new gear. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but we’ll have to wait and see if ShootMania is really the pulse-pounding arena shooter it’s cracked up to be. That said, with all of its customizable features and literally thousands of player-made maps, it sounds like a little initiative is all it’ll take to change anything that doesn’t sit right with us.