What do you get if you cross a Borderlands-esque promise of countless weapon combinations, a highly-stylised visual style akin to that of Team Fortress 2, and fast-paced action that rewards skill as well as reflexes, much like the arena shooters of old such as Quake and Unreal Tournament? You get Loadout, Edge of Reality’s entry in the increasingly popular free-to-play games market. Who are Edge of Reality, you may ask yourself? Well, to put it simply, they’ve worked on many large titles alongside some of the biggest names in the market, their portfolio includes Dragon Age: Origins, The Sims 3, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and many others.
So what is Loadout? It’s an arena shooter much like the aforementioned Quake and Unreal Tournament, though unlike those games, Loadout is played from a third-person perspective, with the game’s big selling point being the weapon crafting system. Unlike other games in the genre, where additional weapons are typically picked up off of the ground, Loadout, as the name suggests, allows you to enter the game with a loadout of two completely customisable weapons and a grenade, which can range from a standard explosive grenade, to a healing grenade or even an electricity-spewing tesla grenade.
Crafting weapons in Loadout is surprisingly deep and, most importantly, fun. Unlike other customisable weapon systems, such as Call of Duty’s, every last facet of the weapons in Loadout can be customised to your liking. You can change the stock, the scope, the barrel and the magazine, but Loadout’s system goes above and beyond simple modifications such as those, allowing you to change the ammo type and firing mechanism, you can add cooling systems to stop beam weapons overheating as fast, you can even change the way rockets behave, by making them explode on contact, having them detonate after a set amount of time, manually exploding them, or even turning them into proximity bombs, the possibilities really are endless.
The weaponcrafting system is slick and functional, detailed descriptions of every last gun part are available should you need them, and if you’re still not sure, at the press of a button you can test your potential new weapon out on a shooting range against both stationary and moving targets. Weapon customisations are unlocked with an in-game currency called Blutes, which are earned through playing the game. You cannot outright buy power in Loadout, however, you can pay for Blute boosts, which double the amount of Blutes you earn from matches. Fortunately, even without a boost, you get a good amount of Blutes simply from playing the game normally, and after around five matches I already had enough to create a semi-auto beam rifle with a 3x scope, as well as turn my assault rifle into a high-capacity SMG. Loadout also features a premium currency, called Spacebux, which allows you to buy XP and Blute boosts, as well as cosmetic items.
So we’ve pretty much determined that the underlying systems are solid, so now we get to the most important issue, is Loadout fun to play? I’m pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes. The action is always frantic and fast-paced, and despite its impressive and stylish visuals, the game still manages to run buttery-smooth, with the framerate not once dipping below 60 frames per second maxed out on my PC running an Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 and an Intel i7 950. Aiming and shooting are responsive and snappy, the servers are great and even when playing on North American servers from the UK, I still experienced no noticeable lag whatsoever. Movement is for the most part solid, you can roll in order to dodge projectiles, and sprint in order to get around the map faster, my only complaint is with the jumping, instead of jumping relative to your momentum going forward, Loadout seems to add some artificial momentum in, making your character jump far further forward than you'd expect, this can make things very hard to judge, occasionally resulting in missing jumps completely, though things do get better as you get used to it.
Loadout also features a large variety of modes to participate in, all with their own unique twist on genre favourites. First of all there’s Death Snatch, which is essentially Call of Duty’s kill confirmed mode, killing an enemy causes them to drop Blutonium, picking up this precious blue substance scores your team points, while an enemy picking it up denies your team from scoring. Next up is Jackhammer, a capture the flag style mode, with the flag being replaced by a giant hammer which the carrier can use to defend themselves. Then there’s extraction, in this mode, one member of your team is randomly chosen to be the collector, they must then rush around the map collecting and depositing as much Blutonium as possible while the rest of the team defends them and tries to take out the enemy collector, once a collector dies, the role is passed along to another teammate. Blitz is a king of the hill style mode, control points randomly spawn on the map and it’s your team’s duty to capture the point before the other team, with each captured point granting points. Finally there’s Annihilation, which combines Blitz, Jackhammer and Death Snatch into a single mode, in which you capture hammers, control points and Blutonium until one team hits 10,000 points, lowering the enemy’s dropship shield and allowing you to destroy it in order to attain victory. My only gripe is the lack of a standard team deathmatch option, however, that could well appear somewhere down the line, and if not, these modes are still a lot of fun.
As well as playing well, Loadout looks incredible, it has a very unique, stylised aesthetic that works brilliantly in a game like this, allowing things to look good, as well as run smoothly. Characters are large, detailed and fully customisable, making hiding extremely difficult, allowing the action to keep a good pace despite small team sizes of 4v4. Loadout is an exceptionally gory game, kills are accompanied by fountains of blood and flying body parts, chunks of bodies can be blown off, which ranges from flesh being blown off of arms, to leaving a gaping hole in place of a torso, allowing for a great view of your enemy’s insides. With all that being said, the violence is optional and can be easily turned off in the options should you find it to be too much. Speaking of options, this game has a lot, with one of the ones I appreciated most being the ability to change servers instantly. For those of you like me who live in one place but plays games a lot with someone elsewhere, this is great news, as it means you can play on your home server when alone, then quickly switch to another when a buddy joins, while retaining all of your stats, levels, Blutes and custom weapons.
Overall, Loadout is a stellar example of a free-to-play shooter done right. From the slick and impressive graphical style, to the addictive weapon customisation and fast, frantic gameplay, it’s every bit as good as a paid experience while costing absolutely nothing. With the promise of updates along the way, potentially bringing new weapon and character customisations, maps, modes and even new characters, Loadout looks to be a shooter with a very bright future ahead of it.