“Shooters need a stable structure,” said Guerrilla Games as they introduced Killzone: Shadow Fall. “Tactics will play a big role in each match,” said DICE, explaining Battlefield 4. “I want to use jump boots to fly over my opponent while I melt their face with a penta-rocket launcher that releases electrically charged flak grenades,” said developer Edge of Reality as the early notion of Loadout sprang to mind.
Loadout is a multiplayer-only third-person shooter, currently in early access on Steam. More accurately, however, is to call it an ostensibly uninhibited mix of player creativity, over-the-top weapon customization that would make Borderlands 2 green in the face, player movement that will force you to question gravity’s work ethic, and a pervasive humor that will make you cringe as often as it leaves you laughing. Clothing is optional, you’ll be left black and crispy after an explosion, and extreme gore follows every bullet taken. Its presentation is bombastic from head to toe, and is matched in color only by the many options available to you.
Let’s start with the game’s namesake—its loadout system. Upon reaching level 20, you’ll have a maximum of three separate loadouts available to you, with more available through the in-game store. Ordinarily, this would be the part where I gripe about basic features being placed behind a paywall; fortunately, the vanilla three are enough to ensure you always have the right gear for the map or game type you’re currently playing, as you can switch between them on the fly.
Each loadout consists of two weapons, a character, and a piece of equipment, all of which are completely customizable. Equipment includes grenades of many flavors, fake pickups (health and equipment refills) with which to trick opponents, and an array of gadgets ranging from a disguise to a deployable turret to the aforementioned jump boots. Character creation is equally varied with hair and clothing choices abound, as well as hysterical taunt animations, though you are currently limited to three base characters. While all three whackos are similarly built—forming a hulking, caricaturized, and cartoony lot—you’re sure to be able to find an appearance that suits you. (It took me all of five seconds to create a tuxedo-sporting avatar with mad scientist goggles.)
Backing the loadout system is Weaponcrafting. There are four core weapon types in Loadout: Rifles, Launchers, Beams, and Pulse guns. In order, these fire standard rounds, rockets, lasers, and spiked balls. Each weapon comes with its own playstyle, with rifles excelling at all ranges depending on their attachments, beams dealing high damage under the right conditions, and pulse guns mowing down everything in sight. Through weaponcrafting, you’re able to tweak each of these to suit your playstyle. Scopes, triggers, magazines, barrels, stocks and ammunition are used to manipulate damage dealt and damage type, reload speed, hip and aim accuracy, recoil and more. It’s a true armament candy aisle, and once you accumulate enough Blute (weapon currency), you can buy whatever odds and ends necessary to hone your shooting.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s an early access game with an upgrade system … it must be pay-to-win. Well know this: Money alone won’t get you far in Loadout. Every weapon upgrade can only be unlocked through play. However, note that even after unlocking, say, a new stock for your rifle, you’ll need to purchase the launcher version independently.
In spite of the diversity inherent in weapon and character design, the most striking feature of Loadout is its approach to movement. Gone are the days of running down corridors and clinging to cover. Instead, Loadout hands you a jump, a dodge, projectiles to avoid and geography to navigate. You’re able to create countless shortcuts by combining your movement skills into high jumps and the like, and crawling around the map is crucial, especially in objective-based matches. Invent your own cover and use altitude to your advantage—and do it all your own with no help from the game save for the raw tools necessary.
You’ll be taking these tools into four maps and the standard palette of game types, but with a Loadout twist to them. Capture the Flag is now ‘JackHammer,’ which is essentially the same game (steal object A, protect object B) with the added bonus of the flags being electrified hammers of one-hitting which become more valuable with each kill earned. Team Deathmatch has given way to Death Snatch, which hybridizes traditional TDM with collection (kills only count toward the match score if the vial dropped by the defeated opponent is collected), and Blitz differs from Territory War only in name (stay in area X to score points). Finally, we have Extraction, in which one player is randomly designated as the Collector and then tasked with gathering crystals while their teammates defend them.
Did I mention that it's really fun to have the Hammer?
Edge of Reality has said that other game types and maps will come in the near future, in addition to expanded weapon options. In any case, familiar as it is, the current gameplay palette will likely be more than enough to keep you coming back.
However, as you continue to come back to indulge in the vulgar and chaos, you’ll probably notice a disturbing trend, an annoying thorn in your side distracting you from an otherwise straightforward experience. Despite a refreshingly quick method of gaining access to new weapon types, upgrading individual parts—that is, levelling up a specific barrel or scope through use—is a painfully slow endeavor. After putting well over eight hours into the game, I was unable to upgrade a single piece of equipment, many of which had been equipped from minute one. This creates a noticeable disparity between new players and veterans, and makes getting into Loadout an uphill climb.
There is, however, a rather bittersweet answer to that grind. As an ironic side effect of its diverse movement, combat can become mundane, or more accurately, trivialized. Brandishing a rocket launcher and jumping like a madman is virtually uncounterable, and you’ll frequently see the tactic employed. At times, Loadout matches—particularly in the case of Blitz—can feel much like a beat-em-up, in which participants’ fists have been replaced by rockets. Aiming is nothing more than a novelty in a realm ruled by blindfire, which questions the accuracy of Loadout’s title of shooter. This undermines the expansive weapon system and simultaneously asserts launchers as the dominant class. The weapon system is in desperate need of balancing, seeing as how no matter what weapon is used, deaths frequently feel jilted.
Of course, there are worse things.
Although hindered by its lacking game type and map selection, as well as a handful of missing features (to be expected of an early access game) and balance issues, Loadout is an enjoyably hectic shooting experience with an unexpected dose of platforming that shines among today’s run-of-the-mill cover-based shooters. If Edge of Reality keeps the pace they’ve held thus far, then upon completion, Loadout will be more than ready to eat countless hours of every shooter fan’s time.