Speaking of multiplayer betas, I prepurchased ShootMania (TrackMania with guns and no cars) yesterday and had an absolute blast (no pun intended) in the few games I played against very skillful Frenchmen.

That game is surprisingly good — and noticeably different from the hordes of “me too” multiplayer shooters out there. I haven’t delved into any modes other than the free-for-all deathmatch yet, as that’s typically my favourite way to play multiplayer shooters anyway, but even that was fun.

The interesting thing — in that mode, anyway, I don’t know if it’s different in others — is that there’s no charging around the map to be the first to get a powerup or special weapon; it’s purely based on skill and tactics.

Everyone has just one weapon — a railgun-type thing that shoots a bright, colored laser beam that immediately gives away your location — and you score points for hitting people, not just killing them. Hit people repeatedly without missing and you get increasingly-large amounts of points — 2 for the first hit, 4 for the second, 6 for the third and so on — and no particularly special bonus for actually killing them.

Get defeated and you have a momentary overview of the whole battlefield, then the view zooms down from the bird’s eye view into where your character is respawning, so you know exactly where to head to get in on the action.

And the maps. Oh the maps! Because ShootMania has a focus on community-generated maps, just like TrackMania, there’s some wonderful creativity on display, leading to some first-person shooter scenarios I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. In one match, the whole map was just a very realistic, dark forest at night-time, with the only source of light being a large building in the centre. In another, it was a relatively small arena in which everyone started up high — ideal for attemping to snipe — but in which the real action was down in the “pit” in the middle. In yet another, Halo-style bouncy things flung people around the map with gay abandon.

Highly recommended if you’re looking for something a little different. Check it out here.

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