A free to play third person shooter from Edge of Reality, Loadout is designed to be a manic, over-the-top shooting-fest where you get no time at all to pause and think. It’s free, it’s frantic and it’s fun, but will you spend time and, ultimately, money on it?
On loading up the game from Steam I was met with a powerful feeling: I’ve seen this before. I haven’t really, but the style of the game was instantly familiar. It strikes me as the result of some improbable conception in a love triangle featuring Unreal Tournament, Timesplitters and Team Fortress. The cell-shaded world is very reminiscent of the latter of those games, the fact it knows it’s around for fun and larger-than-life characters comes from Free Radical Design’s game, and the frenetic pace is inherited from the source of (arguably) the most used game engine in the business. Get past the menu screen and into the tutorial guiding you through the basics, and you find out there’s been an affair somewhere along the line with Borderlands! Guns are at the heart of this game, and lots of them.
Weaponcrafting is the key to your performance when you eventually hit the servers. It’s both simple and deep, allowing (the developer says) millions of combinations. Starting with a projectile type, you then build from there by adding modifications for the stock, scope, barrel, ammo, trigger and cooling. You can name them too. That’s before you get into the Tech Tree that takes the XP gained from using the weapons and allows you to upgrade the mods to make things more powerful. It’s quite nice being able to generate a powerful weapon from scratch, then add it to your custom loadouts to play with later, especially when you can test it first and see the devastating effects it has on the AI before you confirm the options. You need to check them out here because you won’t get much of a chance in live play.
Loadout is gruesome, no doubt about it. Ammunition impacts on the character models cause a real mess – everything from chunks being torn out of arms and legs, to holes where faces used to be. Get on the wrong end of a rocket and you’ll find yourself running along without a torso, and pick a costume without any pants and you’ll probably get your wang shot off (in full pixelated glory). It may sound childish but it’s tremendous fun to see the damage caused, mainly because this isn’t visible in most other games as they try to be realistic without portraying the horrors. Loadout makes no attempt to be grounded in realism, it’s all done to enhance the mayhem.
Initially, the game types come in 3 forms: Casual, Competitive and Custom. Custom is clearly marked locked at the time of writing, and competitive was greyed out and couldn’t be selected (without any obvious way to access). I presume it’s part of the progression and opens when you get to the right rank, it would be handy to know. However, Casual is where it’s at, and you get a choice of vs. Humans, or vs. Bots. Dipping into the game for the first time I was taken aback, the way things ran made me think of my time spent in Quake. I’ve been so used to careful and measured approaches to online combat recently that I’d forgotten the sheer joy of running headlong at the enemy, trigger on full auto, whilst jumping all over the place, knowing that you actually have enough health to survive more than a single pistol shot from half a mile away. Yes, I end up dying a lot, but I enjoyed it all the same because there’s a chaos here that I’d not experienced in a long time.
I’ve spent most of my time so far with other players against the bots, getting my ass handed to me. They are fast, accurate and quick to meet whatever objective is on offer, though don’t necessarily get frustrating. You don’t win many games initially, and will probably never win if you don’t work as a team, but it’s all about the levelling up and there are reasonable rewards to be had even if you lose. The game modes are standard fare with takes on capture the flag, capture the control point, capture the enemy’s Blutonium, capture the crystals. Quite a bit of capturing. It all works well and is reasonably simple, and I particularly like Death Snatch which is similar to the Thief game mode from Timesplitters. Map-wise there are only four on rotation and even though they have day/night options, there aren’t enough. All of them are designed to be the quick-play arena style so you learn them very quickly and can get into the action with little effort, but it would be nice to have some more variation. That’s not to say there aren’t good bits, you spot some interesting things when you’re whizzing past…
From a character standpoint it’s pretty basic. There are only three to chose from and the only differentiation for players is in how you dress them up. This is where the monetisation aspect comes in. Every piece of clothing and accessory costs you in-game currency (Spacebux) to buy, and the packs of these have to be bought from the store. 16,000 Spacebux will set you back £14, and where one clothing option costs 35,000 Spacebux, that’s an awful lot of money to spend on (literally) a non-outfit. Thankfully you don’t have to spend any money to progress with the weapons. Blutes are used to pay for upgrades and these are earned based on your performance, so there’s a low possibility of paying to win, or of locking off sections of the game until you stump up the dough. I say low probability because you can pay for XP boosts that last a prescribed time, and you can buy extra weapon and loadout slots. Again, these are expensive (63,000 Spacebux for the “all slots” version), but this is probably the best implementation of microtransactions I’ve seen, it’s entirely optional on whether you do it or not and it doesn’t impact your experience. Time will tell on whether it’s the right way to approach this highly contentious form of publishing.
I haven’t found anything I don’t like about this game, pretty much everything above this sentence should convey that it’s entertaining and worth playing. Matches are quick, waiting times are fairly low (even though you get a lot of impatient “PRESS READY!!!” comments in the chat log), and matchmaking itself isn’t a problem I encountered but has been widely reported as an issue. What I have struggled with is the desire to go back and play some more. Because it’s free I don’t feel an investment in it, even though it doesn’t at any point give you the impression it’s anything less than a fully fledged retail game. The development team have pedigree in their original games and their work on console ports (Mass Effect and Tony Hawks Pro Skater being two), and there’s a lot of effort gone into the limited characterisation and how the game is balanced (bots notwithstanding) which puts AAA games to shame in places. However, it doesn’t have a hook to keep drawing me back, and I think (for me personally) it’s down to the lack of variety in the maps and game modes. In an hour you might get through six games, and play the same thing three times, and at that point decide to go and do something else.
I’ll not be casting Loadout aside completely, I’ll keep checking in to see how it’s progressing (and for a quick fix of exploding heads), but I know I won’t be a frequent player. This means I won’t be contributing to the long term success of the game, and I feel a bit bad about that because it’s got a lot of potential. Find that hook Edge of Reality, then you’ll have nailed the perfect formula!
The PC review code was supplied by Edge of Reality’s PR company, Loadout is available now on Steam.