Accuracy. Speed. The ability to act on pure instinct. These are the qualities needed by gladiators in the bloodless arena games of ShootMania Storm. In this multiplayer-only competitive shooter, you move very quickly, and every hit counts. Its movement is reminiscent of competitive shooters from the era of Quake, but in this modern market cluttered with shooters in which characters move deliberately, absorb bullets, and regenerate health, the speed of the action and the stakes associated with every shot you take make ShootMania a refreshing departure from the current norm.
In ShootMania Storm, you move and you shoot. You don't swap between weapons or chuck grenades. There are only three types of weapons in the game at present, and which type you're equipped with is generally determined by the game mode you're playing, and sometimes by where you're standing on the map. Most of the time, you're equipped with rockets, which you can shoot four of in rapid succession, but since you must then wait for them to recharge, you constantly have to decide between firing off all of them when a promising opportunity to land a hit presents itself, or using them sparingly and keeping one or two in the chamber for emergencies.
You might also have a lightning blast (frequently referred to as a railgun) that, unlike the rockets, hits anyone in your crosshairs the instant you pull the trigger, but which needs a few seconds to recharge after every shot. And in certain tunnels on certain maps, your weapon changes to a grenade launcher of sorts. You never pause to pick up a weapon; you just know your weapon has changed because your reticle changes. (Unlike in most shooters, you don't visibly hold a weapon in front of you.) This keeps you focused on moving, shooting, and trying to stay aware of other players' positions, rather than on scavenging for ammo or racing to grab the most powerful weapon on the map before another player does.
It's a very pure, skill-based shooting experience. You and your opponents might each take one, two, or three hits, depending on the game mode and your ranking; there's no health regeneration, so each hit you score and each hit your opponents score on you is significant. Because each individual shot is visible and each weapon takes off a clearly delineated amount of armor with each hit, there's never the sense here, as in so many shooters, that you were shooting your opponent and that maybe you went down first only because he had a better weapon. There are also no perks to augment any competitor's abilities. It really is a level playing field, a pure test of skill, and that is a rare and welcome thing in a shooter today.
The skills that are tested go beyond just your ability to accurately target your enemy; you also need to move well. Movement in ShootMania is brisk and precise; it's exhilarating to zip across maps, perhaps spending some of your stamina to leap and run, moving along surfaces that automatically speed you up or letting a launcher send you soaring skyward to land on a higher surface. The need to stay evasive while also trying to hit your enemies gives ShootMania's action a dancelike quality as you and your opponents run and caper about, sending brightly colored energy blasts at each other and dashing out from behind objects to squeeze off a few shots before returning to cover. The speed and smoothness of ShootMania make you feel skillful when you score a hit on a moving enemy, and in the game's Elite mode, in which you're informed when you miss an opponent by just centimeters, you feel the sting of coming oh-so-close to hitting your target.
Elite is one of a few game modes getting a lot of play currently. It's an unusual team-based mode in which two teams of three compete, with just one attacker from the assaulting team going up against all three members of the defending team in each round. It's a great mode for testing the skills of each individual player. Royal is a less high-pressure mode, a free-for-all in which players race to capture a pole in the center of the map. Once this is done, a tornado starts closing in, drawing all combatants into an increasingly smaller and smaller space. Rounds often end with the last two remaining players dancing frantically around the pole, trying to use it for cover while dashing out from behind it frequently to take shots at each other. Battle is a pretty standard mode in which teams take turns defending their own poles and attempting to capture those of the opposing team.
There are other modes, and if you take the time to learn the ManiaScript language, you can design your own. Much easier than grappling with code to design your own mode is designing your own maps, a process made about as straightforward and accessible as you can expect it to be with the built-in tools. The potential is certainly there for players to make ShootMania thrive with a constant influx of exciting new modes and maps, but whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. Even as it stands right now, though, ShootMania is well worth the $20 price. It's more of a return to the past of competitive shooters than a step into the genre's future. But in a market crowded with shooters that involve classes and weapons and perks, ShootMania Storm's laserlike focus on quick movement and skillful shooting almost feels new again.