In a gaming world that’s seemingly obsessed with modern-day or near-future military first-person shooters, along comes Nadeo to buck the trend and offer a throwback to old-school frantic-paced sci-fi shooters. Kind of like a watered-down version of Quake III Arena if you were forced to play exclusively with a rocket launcher, ShootMania Storm keeps everything simple to encourage players to just jump in and start fragging.
Except the opposite is more likely true the first time you fire up the game; expect to die a fair bit before getting into the swing of things. While the single-weapon approach and basic navigation controls mean there are few initial intricacies to learn, your projectiles aren’t instant-hit weapons, which means you need to lead enemy players or, gaming gods forbid, not even fire at all. This is because each projectile has a long, colourful trail, so if you’re taking pot shots from the other side of the map it’s not only unlikely to score you a kill, it also means that you’re more than likely to give away your position.
Couple this with the fact that you can only fire off four quick shots before you have to wait for your weapon to recharge (which, granted, doesn’t take too long), and ShootMania Storm’s combat is more interested in the risk/reward mechanic of asking players whether they want to fire off all four shots to try and score a kill or two, or letting their opponent/s spam shots and be left temporarily unable to attack, offering you the perfect opportunity to take your time with your shots.
It only takes two hits from your default weapon to dematerialise an opponent in the main play mode (Arena), which offers a tense feeling of digital mortality not unlike that in Unreal’s Instagib modes, where death could be around any corner. But given the way that enemy players have to be as accurate as you or risk giving away their position, you’ll soon learn that the best way to take down an enemy is to close the distance between you and them: it’s also where the most frantic firefights occur.
Of course, there are also some movement subtleties at play in Shootmania that stop defensive manoeuvres from feeling restricted and actually give you a fighting chance of both avoiding incoming fire and scoring a classy mid-air kill. You can tap jump for a smallish hop, hold it for a longer Halo-like jumping arc (albeit faster than Master Chief’s sluggish air trajectory) that doesn’t simply involve leaping in a forward direction. In many ways, the longer jump is kind of like performing a short-range rocket jump in Quake III. But if you do naff up a jump, regardless of its length and duration, it will make you easier to track and, thus, dispatch. You can also sprint which is great for closing the gap or getting out of Dodge, but it burns through stamina rather quickly to be used too frequently.
There are little quirks and tricks to each map and the various modes that help to keep everything fresh. You can perform wall jumps—a feat I only discovered by looking up gameplay tips on Google—while jump pads and certain obviously indicated paths offer a movement boost, with the trick being that some force you to sacrifice jump for speed. The included easy-to-use map editor lets you bang up a serviceable map in a short amount of time, and you can anticipate a lot of maps coming from the community not long after launch.
There are currently three modes on offer: Joust, Arena and Elite. Joust is an interesting hands-on/hands-off mix which works well for training, as you’ll spend more time spectating as two players duke it out; it’s a pity there aren’t more spectating options apart from fixed bird’s-eye tracking and first-person player perspective. Arena is the lifeblood of ShootMania: a free-for-all mode of up to 16 players that plays fast and forces players to converge around a central point to ensure that the emphasis is more on frantic action than hunting campers. Elite is an interesting point of difference, with a unique team mode that sees one attacking higher-powered attacker take on three defenders in the hopes of wiping out all defenders or capping a point.
Despite ShootMania’s simplicity, it did still feel like being thrown into the deep end when starting the game, with little guidance as to what I should be doing outside of clicking through the various menu ‘stations’. ShootMania loads quickly, alt-tabs like a champ and is a fantastic example of a game that can take five minutes to learn, but countless hours to master in its addictive gameplay formula.