Shootmania Storm [Preview] – Destruction through creation

23 Feb 2012  by   Paul Younger
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If Shootmania Storm is anything, it’s a wonderful attempt at compounding two elements – retro first-person shooter with modern, user-friendly creation tools. On paper it’s the ultimate blend between pure, perfectly balanced gameplay and today’s obsession with buying games to build other games.
It works in practice, too. At least, it does in the confines of a demo room filled with the slightly stale musk of other journalists, developers and publisher representatives.
This being part of the same family as Trackmania, the core gameplay is all about providing an even playing field from which to create your own masterpieces and abominations. Combat and movement are uniform across all players, bringing with it the kind of wonderful simplicity that is so rare in this era of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Furthermore, there’s no healing, melee or reduction of senses from stun/flash grenade type-gizmos.
How successful you are is entirely dependent on your own speed, precision and environment awareness, rather than which perks you’ve equipped or how many kills you’ve managed without dying. Some would call it bare-bones to the point of spartan; I’d call it a formula that works.

Like all games of this ilk, traversing the landscape is done within the body of an avatar that feels like a combination of Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis – allowing you to run and jump and jump-glide with super-human agility. Of course, that makes quick hands vital in the face of robust competition as the slightest delay will see your life ended.
The movement and aiming style and speed also means that it’s only on the PC, with its mouse and keyboard setup, that a game like Shootmania Storm could realistically exist. Trying to shoot a guy in the head using a gamepad while he’s jumping around the map at nearly the speed of sound is not going to be a fun experience.
What else wouldn’t work on a console, are the game’s extensive customisation and creation options. More than ‘just’ a map editor, the Shootmania do-it-yourself features allow you to conjure up game modes, team visuals, HUD design, power ups, lobby match-viewing rules… and, of course, maps.
Like Trackmania, locations can be designed in almost any way you see fit – you’re only limited by the memory each map is allowed to take up. At present, memory limitations have yet to be confirmed but the maps we’ve seen demonstrated a decent level of diversity and complexity for me to feel safe in saying that most designs will be actionable.

As is the usual fashion, maps are made by altering the landscape’s peaks, troughs and flats to your liking and then placing and altering different blocks and objects on/within it. The best of the ready-built maps that we played included a certain type of floor tile that would alter your gun when you stepped on it – step off again and you revert back to your default weapon. This is a great example of how creative you can be with your designs as that block doesn’t come with the weapon-changing feature in-built, instead it was assigned during level creation.
Over levels included one that was made up of three very high platforms that were reachable only by using one of the many jump pads that had been strategically placed on the map. Another had simply a long, outdoor corridor with walkways traversing the length of it – it was basically a kill funnel, but provided a simple, fun outlet for stress and concentration between bouts on more technical maps.
The game types that we played were all built from scratch. One was a four vs. four team battle in which each side was fighting to be the first to dominate the other team’s base. This was achieved by standing within a certain proximity of their flag and waiting until the counter hit 100 percent – the more people next to the flag the faster the counter would increase.
The other, and more enjoyable, mode involved only two players in a head to head race-for-the-gun showdown. On the map were two poles which, once activated by the first player to reach one, armed you with a weapon limited to five shots; once the shots were gone you had to race to the other flag and reload. Continue until one of you reaches eight points.
What was great about this was the intimate competition and originality – I have never played a mode like that in a shooter before now. And that’s easily the most exciting thing about Shootmania Storm, you simply have no idea what will have been created each time you log in.

Again, like Trackmania, Shootmania’s audience will likely split into three primary groups of users: those that specialise in play, those that specialise in design and those that do a little of both. The danger is that the community will not be large enough to support the ambition, as without both the first two player types the game would die a fast death.
But this is Nadeo we’re talking about and, more than most creation-specialist-developers, they seem to know what they’re doing and who their audience is.
For those of you with genuine programming skills of your own, you can access the code of the game and craft your designs with the kind of pinpoint accuracy and limitless boundaries that block based construction can never allow. We witnessed this in-game in the form of scoreboards customised to display only certain stats (for example, kills only, or kill and deaths, or captures minus kills) that have been deemed essential for the game type.
Code can also be written to alter the “blackboard” that you spawn in front of upon each death. The blank space can display a real-time map, the location of the person who killed you, it can be used as a replacement for a HUD-based scoreboard or it could simply show that picture of the ASCII dog you spent too long ‘drawing’. Pretty much anything you can think of, and are capable of building, can be implemented.
It’s Trackmania in first-person shooter format, then. Given the track record and expertise of those involved, that’s no bad thing. Shootmania Storm has just become one of the year’s most anticipated games for me, no matter which of its areas you decide to specialise in there seems as though there will be enough content to gorge heavily and constantly.
That’s if people buy it, at least.

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