Platform: PC (free to play)
Developer: Edge Of Reality
Publisher: Edge Of Reality
Loadout is not what you'd call a subtle game. At all. But with over 44 billion weapon combinations at your disposal, it really doesn't need to be.
Electrified cluster rockets, burning laser beams and steely spiked balls fill the air as players bring crazy bespoke boomsticks to bear on each other in short objective gametypes, harking back to the all-or-nothing days of PC shooters. Instead of syrupy cover systems, we have slippery movement, circle-strafing and dive rolls. Sprawling maps are replaced by small, vertical stages with four players per side. And classy sophistication takes a back seat to flapping pixelated willies, Gangnam Style taunts, swearing, dick jokes and explosions. It's unashamedly old-school, a welcome shock to the system after years of shooters getting progressively more involved... and free to boot.
Edge Of Reality also aren't shy about their influences, proudly proclaiming that Loadout is the deranged third-person lovechild of Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands. Or more specifically, bringing TF2's objective gameplay and Borderlands' wild weapon creation together in a single package. Unlike most shooters that just unlock a selection of scopes and attachments, Loadout lets you build outrageous bastardised firearms out of dozens of separate components and ammo types, then scandalise your opponents with the resulting monstrosity.
This is my flame-gouting, six barrelled, bio-scanning, fireball-lobbing pulse rifle. There are few like it, and this one is mine.
Loadout hinges around short and hectic 4v4 gametypes, each of which adds a slight twist to otherwise familiar genre staples. Death Snatch is effectively Kill Confirmed, with players sticking together to collect resources from downed foes and deny enemy scores, while Capture The Hammer spices up the traditional CTF formula by increasing the score payout depending on how many opponents you kill with the massive mattock before running it home. Extraction tasks one player per side to collect crystals scattered around the maps, while their team-mates multitask between protection detail and taking down the opposing collector.
Though simplistic on paper, Loadout's smooth controls and brilliantly-designed maps (each of which has multiple levels and opportunities to exploit the geometry in surprising ways) make for a refreshing and focused gameplay experience. It's straightforward yet undeniably engaging and never less than thoroughly manic. Eight players is plenty when you're constantly funnelled into objectives and taking fire from all sides, while dodge-rolling and jumping like a certifiable loon. Mind you, things can get somewhat confusing when the rockets, electricity and wangs start flying.
Edge Of Reality could have easily licensed a third-party engine and slapped on some assets, but in a brave move they decided to keep things in-house with their own technology. A risky gambit, but one that has paid off spectacularly. Loadout runs at a brisk 90-110FPS on my GTX660, Core I7 test rig (hardly the most elite of gaming PCs), boasting some of the smoothest animations and softest character models I've seen in a fully-online shooter in quite some time. For a free to play title, it's seriously impressive and polished to a surprisingly impeccable shine.
Where Loadout really makes its mark, however, is in the Weaponcrafting.
Winning matches rewards you with Blutes: in-game currency to spend on a smorgasbord of barrels, stocks, ammo types, scopes, feeds and components to build your own bespoke armaments that suit your preferred play style, engagement range and role. Just mix and match the parts, try out the resulting disasterpiece in a bot-filled test chamber and bring the rain. I could bang on about this system for thousands of words, but since a picture is worth a thousand words by itself, here are some I made earlier...
This one's a rocket launcher that fires manually camera-guided rockets for massive damage. However, the twist is that it HEALS instead of hurts, letting me keep my team in the fight without exposing myself.
Here's an electric shotgun that fires two shells per blast. Arcs of lightning damage multiple opponents, effectively giving you extra value for money. It's a hot UK deal. [Groan - Ed]
I am firmly of the opinion that more sniper rifles should fire LASER BEAMS. Loadout agrees.
There's a gun for every situation, whether you want to spam cluster munitions out of a hex-barrelled rocket launcher or buff your team's damage output with a silenced SMG. When coupled with unlockable munitions, such as grenades, turrets and even fake deadly health kits designed to troll opposing players, you'll encounter no shortage of upgrades to spend your Blutes on. Mind you, the quoted "44 billion" figure is a little disingenuous considering that upgrades have to be individually purchased for each specific weapon class.
The catch being that accruing Blutes is a time-consuming affair, while you'll only unlock a maximum of three custom loadout slots by levelling up. Loadout is free-to-play, so naturally Edge Of Reality are keen to flog a few boosters and weapon slots on the side. Thankfully, though, weapon upgrades cannot be bought outright, meaning that the playing field remains relatively level. Effectively you'll only need to pay for convenience or cosmetics - a somewhat controversial sticking point for some, since almost every cosmetic option has an up-front cost, and a steep one at that. As an example, some of the more expensive animated taunts (such as the Gangnam shuffle and horrifyingly disgusting "Sumo Twerk") pack a premium price of around £8-9 apiece.
Optionally paying to look slightly different rather than paying to win can't be a bad thing, though. Remember that 'grinding' just means 'playing the game some more'... and if you play Loadout for long enough to crave a new look, it arguably deserves a couple of quid.
Loadout's personality is going to split players right down the middle. Sometimes literally. It's crass, lewd and profoundly immature; both in terms of gratuitous nudity, profanity, toilet humour and a shocking level of gore that sees players losing huge chunks of torso, cranium or limbs mid-battle. Saints Row looks like Journey in comparison. There are puerile laughs to be had, whether from obscenely pelvic thrusting after a successful kill or flipping off enemies as your burning corpse chars into ash, but Loadout's somewhat desperate attempts to plumb the lowest common denominator will likely overstay its welcome for many players.
A problem that faces the game as a whole, on a more fundamental level. Loadout packs more than enough carnage-fuelled content to last a weekend or more, but after a few hours you'll have experienced all of the maps, played all of the modes and face a long slog to get the next round of weapon upgrades - some of which might not actually improve your gun or fit your playstyle. The lack of unlockable cosmetic features and small scale of the gametypes can lead to a feeling of repetition that might see some players log off after 5-8 hours and never return.
BUT... even in this worst case scenario, you'll have still experienced several hours of bombastic, fun-packed, outrageous, OTT, polished ultraviolence without paying a single penny. Ultimately the core quality of the action speaks for itself, far outweighing any number of downloadable games on PC, XBLA and PSN, and you don't have to take my word for it! Free to play isn't your enemy, no matter what King might have you believe.
If Edge Of Reality make good on their promise of adding even more maps, modes and features over the coming months, then that's just gravy.
- Stonkingly powerful gunsmithing and weapon customisation
- Intense old-school action set in well-designed maps
- Sensational performance and sharp visuals
- F2P model feels fair, generous and balanced in the main
- Limited custom loadout slots, no cosmetic options and fairly slow progression without the occasional purchase
- Questionable long-term appeal: will need frequent content updates
- Divisive puerile personality, shocking gore (can be disabled)
- Server issues at launch - UPDATE: they've resurfaced
The Short Version: Loadout lets you create the ridiculous bespoke boomstick of your wildest dreams, but is far from a one-trick pony. Manic old-school shooting, tight map design and a superb in-house engine make for a seriously impressive F2P effort that surpasses any number of full-priced downloads.
A note on server issues: This review was originally scheduled for Friday 31st January at 18:00, but I took the decision to delay the article so that we could factor the launch into account. I'm glad I did, since the massive influx of new players led to several regions experiencing major matchmaking issues, and most players unable to connect for the first 24 hours. Thankfully Edge Of Reality have since redeployed and corrected these faults over the weekend, resulting in a solid experience. Game on.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, as of Monday evening, the party formation and friends lists have been taken offline to cope with an increased server load. This will likely persist during peak hours over the next few days.