Nadeo can make a fine racer, as evidenced with the TrackMania series. In an unorthodox approach you are never racing opponents in a literal sense, rather their top time set for the match. This bare-bones approach eliminated any sort of random chance that has a tendency to occur in most racing games. Nadeo’s approach to how the racer should operate keeps the playing field even at all times. If someone beats a personal time, they simply were better than you; it’s a motivator of sorts. You want to improve your time, you want to work the kinks out of a racing line and make the wide turns or wall collisions disappear entirely. This sort of approach is carried over to ShootMania: everyone is on an even playing field and if someone manages to beat you, it’s likely because they’re just more skilled.
ShootMania plays like a homage to the arena shooters that once dominated the first person shooter scene from the late 90s to mid 2000s. A genre that seemed to peak with Unreal Tournament 2004 and then took a quick and less than graceful nosedive into obscurity. ShootMania is able to perfectly realize the speed that games like Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 captured. Every movement feels fluid and the action never stops; you’re left constantly moving unless you’d like a quick ending to your round. Unlike the aforementioned games, there are hardly any different choices in weapons. Unless standing on a designated platform for a sniper weapon or underground for a spread weapon, the game pits you and everyone else with the same weapon: rocket gun. Limiting every player to the same weapon allows for a truly balanced playing field in turn. There’s only one way to gain an advantage of sorts and that’s being able to maneuver quickly, using terrain to your benefit or simply being a better shot. It eliminates any feeling of a cheap loss which can be an issue with games with a great deal of weapons scattered throughout.
While the idea for one type of weapon is fantastic for a more competitive environment the concept falters when one craves for more than the homogenized, static arsenal. Using the same weapon time and time again can become tiresome, leaving one wanting more. The fact that the weapons offered by default aren’t interesting adds to the issue. The vanilla approach to combat leaves a lot to be desired in the end. Nadeo’s intentions are wonderful, but what it translates to is gameplay that can only be described as banal.
As of now ShootMania has four game modes widely available, the most popular of them being Royal. With a pole in the middle of a level in a free for all environment, players are allowed to freely respawn until the pole is captured. Once the pole is captured it becomes a game of single elimination, as well as a ring of wind that destroys any player that touches it. The ring becomes smaller as the round continues, eventually forcing any survivors into the center of the level with nowhere to run. These moments are the ones I had the most enjoyment, frantically scrambling from one thing to another in an attempt to dodge an errant rocket. The frenzy of action leading to, and including, the ring of death around the central pole makes Royal a well thought out and executed gameplay mode. There are other modes such as Joust, a duel environment where two players are enclosed in a small area and try to knock each other out, and Elite. Elite is an interesting spin on team based combat, where one attacker is given 3 hit points and a sniper to go up against three defenders with rocket guns. It’s an interesting mixture of the Assault gametype in Unreal Tournament and Counter-Strike, and was quite a bit of fun to play and watch. There are other game modes floating around on the servers but they were all but empty aside from the self explanatory “Obstacle Course” mode.
The playerbase in North America seems very slim, as I consistently had trouble connecting to populated servers in North America or Canada. The French servers had a bit more life to them, and I had to spend the majority of my time playing on those and other European servers to try other game modes. Lag became an apparent issue as it obviously would when movements would stutter and the once fluid motions became sluggish and slippery, making it much more difficult to play effectively unless one develops the appropriate timing. A great deal of custom levels are found on these European servers, not to mention the majority of the custom content will come from Europe. A similar problem could be found in the original TrackMania games, the difference between those and ShootMania, however, is the simple fact that lag does not make a difference as to how well you do. In an FPS, lag means just about everything because of the changes it forces the player to make in order to compensate. If lag is something that you absolutely cannot tolerate in any facet, it will be difficult to garner much enjoyment out of ShootMania.
For a first time FPS? Nadeo did a decent job realizing the genre in their own, unique way. Everything feels well put together. It leaves me waiting for how Nadeo decides to follow up their first foray into unknown territory. While scaling back the gameplay to allow for a balanced experience was a nice thought, what it fails to realize is that an FPS needs variety in the form of unique guns that feel nice to use and, most importantly, fun to use. Instead what we got are rocket guns, firing into the distance. While a very pretty sight, it doesn’t leave for much else. While I would love to see what Nadeo has in store for ShootMania down the stretch the first few weeks have been disconcerting. The Mania series lives and dies by the modding community, and time has yet to see if that modding community will even surface. Sure, one can just mod new types of guns, varieties of game modes, and new levels into this game, but there isn’t much of a point if there is no one playing the game. For a throwback to old arena shooters, ShootMania does well, but as it stands that’s the only way it works. If anything, it makes me want to reinstall Unreal Tournament 2004 and Quake Live to toy around in. These at least have a larger American population and executes the arena shooter much more effectively. The biggest disappointment about ShootMania is how confused the game is, and the lack of direction will almost assuredly be the death of it.