ShootMania is a multiplayer-only FPS that tries to also be an MMO/RPG of sorts. With a leveling system that rewards kills, surviving longer than others and wins with points that can then be turned into additional shots, quicker reloads, armor and so on. In ShootMania’s BETA, you have access to 2 game types with “Royal” (Free for All) and “Storm” (Capture the Flag).
In order to understand my preview a little better and get a glimpse into the gaming industry, it’s important that we define what a BETA really means. BETA at its most basic means that the game has its base functionality implemented and the developers are currently finding/fixing bugs that break the game and gameplay, while adding in some additional smaller features in order to maximize the game based on user suggestions. Now in this industry, it can go even further than that which you’ve seen in other games, but that is the basic requirements of a game being labeled “BETA”. Basically, it has to be playable and you should really be seeing a seriously close version of the finished game if maybe a little unpolished.
First, I had to download a separate launch client that would bring me into a main page where I could launch the individual game types and then find a server. This client is bulky and the GUI is horrible which led to a fair amount of confusion and needing to play with things in order to understand it, something a lot of gamers won’t bother with. Some buttons are too small while others take up far more screen space than would ever be necessary for their function. I immediately looked for some tutorial or opening screen to help me get used to where I was supposed to click or what the game was all about but it doesn’t appear to exist or be a current plan to implement. Unfortunately, since no one else in the industry uses the terms “Storm” and “Royal” as game types, it took me having to spectate a match for 10 minutes before I fully understood what the objective was. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as I routinely saw players entering servers, asking how to do things and what the game type meant.
I started off with “Royal” because it was the one most recently hyped by ManiaPlanet and was disappointed to find that the only current servers were in France. Upon finding the best of 5 total servers, I was immediately hit with a private server dialog box written in French that I can only assume was talking about how people could rent server space to host their own matches. Watching for a round, I quickly recognized that the levels would be a mediocre 1990’s level designer’s wet dream. The uninspired levels with terrible flow and few props immediately caused me flashbacks to my middle school FPS LAN days.
The graphics aren’t terrible, but for so few art assets in each level, they should be significantly better. Some levels showcase more foliage than others and can be a good indicator of what the game might be able to do with some imaginative design. Really, if I had to compare the level design to anything it would be immediately to a bad version of Quake 3 Arena’s levels. On the plus side, they have added in a level editor so you or anyone else can create your own level from scratch. While that sounds awesome, the editor is unintuitive and has a fairly large learning curve for something that works almost exactly like a Tony Hawk map editor. The current set piece list is pretty small and can only lead to so much variation, but that looks to improve greatly as the developers create more content for the game.
Getting to play the game itself, I found that the controls are really floaty which again brings me right back to Quake games. Personally, I could deal with controls if the gravity settings were appropriate as well but it feels like they need to tune that too much from where it is currently to get it right. I could see some really finding the current control type refreshing and comforting, but I just wasn’t one of them.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game that I think could work was the character loadout. Unlike other current FPS games, you can’t choose different guns but you were able to adjust things like reload speed and total shots. You start off with 1 shot before needing to recharge for about 2 seconds. It makes players put an emphasis on accuracy as the reload time can mean death if you miss a relatively easy shot. As you play, you get points and can buy additional shots per load, quicker reload time, armor and so on which adds some additional fun to the game with some on-the-fly strategy. There were a few times that myself and other players would mention a great shot or a tense exchange at the end in chat which was a seriously redeeming factor in me playing longer. I personally feel that getting rid of the leveling system and allowing people to choose their loadout from a preset number of points would be so much better and would take away any balancing issues that come for new players.
Another interesting feature in “Royal” is a tornado that starts out around the entire level and slowly encroaches towards the center as a round goes on. This killed campers and brought the action to a tighter area which led to more standoffs and tense firefights which again made the game really fun at times. The biggest knock that I have with that mechanic is that the levels are so poorly designed, you can often fall off and never be able to get back up which means a really slow death that completely takes you out of the game.
Overall, ShootMania just appears to be a proof of concept more than an actual game right now. It’s like Nadeo and Ubisoft are really only using this to script out a FPS multiplayer leveling system for a higher profile title later on. For being in its BETA, it should be much more thought out than it is currently and that worries me. Often times, I found the game to be gimmicky in its approach which would work quite well as a freemium release. While they don’t appear to have a price point on the game yet, looking at their other titles, we can expect between $20 and $40 which is far too much for an online FPS game with these types of issues. Hopefully the issues will be resolved throughout BETA and the game can go on to hit a niche market in the FPS genre with some interesting features worthy of its price.