Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Aaaannnd in this corner! Loaded with 150 pounds of armor and equipped with a rocket launcher.... you!
The event at Ubisoft's San Francisco offices was lit and staged like the eSports arena, complete with bleachers and a PA system with color commentary. The speakers overhead thudded with every explosion and laser blast. Picking a seat on the red team, I felt like a total rookie.
Luckily, Shootmania Storm promises the excitement and competition of an eSports juggernaut, but layers in tons of friendly, welcoming mechanics for new comers. Built as a part of the ManiaPlanet platform, Shootmania Storm lets anyone in on the eSports phenomenon.
The first thing you need to know about Storm and the Shootmania stage is that Ubisoft has focused on an even-playing field. Your growth as a player is tied to your skill, not the hours you've languished in online matches. In fact, you don't even have to worry about picking a loadout or a primary weapon. Everyone gets a rocket launcher from the start, complete with the Quake-style splash damage longtime PC gamers have come to know and love. Landing a direct hit is incredibly satisfying, but not as satisfying as bouncing someone into a corner and laying waste to their remaining health.
That doesn't mean you won't find variety in weaponry. Depending on where you stand, your character will automatically change weapons to fit the situation. Explore a little and you might find an outlook that equips you with a sniper-esque railgun.
You'll want to explore the landscape in each map to discover the fastest route to the action or the best way to flank the enemy team. Points of light allow you to grapple-hook around the arena and bounce pads throw you to other points of interest.
Every point is balanced with a counterpoint in Shootmania Storm, and that's even truer of the wide-open maps. Camping that sniper position can get you into trouble when the enemy team activates the Off-Zone, an energy field that forces players into the center of the map (or else into the afterlife).
Shootmania Storm is balanced heavily in favor of fast-action, persistent fighting, and little else. Rounds are fast, scoring is fluid, and tournament-style matches can blow by in the blink of an eye.
Best of all? All the modding features from Trackmania are present and functioning as you'd expect in Shootmania Storm, which means the game already has a built in community of mapmakers.
When all is said and done, I felt like I had my teeth cut on the eSports scene even if my team lost the tournament. I walked away knowing I had room to improve. Shootmania Storm is set-up to throw the eSports arena doors open to anyone and everyone, even noob critics like me. We'll be sure to bring more in the lead up to the January 23, 2013 release.