Loadout Review (PC)

Loadout is the latest free to play multi-player shooter clamouring for attention in a crowded market. Its particular brand of alchemy looks to take familiar concepts and shape them into a compulsive third-person shooter that has the player tinkering with weapon designs and customizing their characters when they're not laying waste to their opponents.

The idea at Loadout's core is an interesting one - as you battle against other players you earn currency that is spent on unlocking new parts for your weapons, allowing you to craft a unique arsenal for yourself. While your basic weapons take the form of either a traditional bullet-spewing machine-gun, a rocket launcher, a beam weapon and a spiked ball firing pulse-gun, they soon morph beyond these initial parameters and the options are pleasingly broad.

The old 'stand still and fire bullets really fast' technique in full effect

My weapons of choice were a long ranged beam sniper with an electric tesla upgrade that causes it to jump to other nearby enemies, as well as a close range incendiary gatling cannon. You even get to name your weapons - and so it was in an early match I was most displeased to find myself on the receiving end of a rocket launcher disturbingly titled the 'Pussy Hunter'. Weapons can be looted from the battlefield, so if you smoke a particularly enraging opponent, you can find out just what the deal is with that weapon that has been causing you so much aggravation.

Further diversification and team-play elements are on offer – you can upgrade weapons so that they heal your allies or provide them with a stat-boost in a similar manner to Team Fortress 2's medic and it does allow for tactical opportunities – you can essentially replicate the devastating heavy-medic combination from Valve's hat-laden offering, that said, the majority of players in Loadout at this point are more interested in killing than winning and finding such combinations are rare to say the least (despite their supreme effectiveness).

The game has a variety of relatively familiar modes, that are takes on fairly classic shooter archetypes. Blitz is a combination of Domination and King of the hill, with the two teams racing to secure objectives on the map. Death-Snatch is kill confirmed – you need to grab a fallen foes dog ta... err 'Blutonium Vials' to score for your team. Extraction sees one player on each team marked as a collector – snagging Blutonium from the map and dumping it into containers to score. Jackhammer is capture the flag, except the flag in this case is a powerful melee weapon in its own right.

The most intriguing mode – Annihilation promises to combine elements from all these modes into a tactical brawl, with its own in-game progression. Sadly at the time of writing Annihilation is disabled, a real shame as it promises to be the destination for most players in search of something more than a quick blast of mayhem.

It's a gun – if this screenshot holds no appeal to you, neither does Loadout

As with all free-to-play titles some consideration needs to be given to the micro-transaction system in place. Loadout's micro-transactions come in the form of boosts – allowing you to level and unlock further weapon and loadout slots more quickly, as well as gather currency for upgrading your weapons. Alongside that is a fairly robust character customization system, that allows you to tweak and dress one of the three base models on offer.

The characters in Loadout are a sort of hybrid between the cartoony Team Fortress 2 heavy and the disfigured combatants of Brink. Currently you can choose between a steroid pumped Rambo copycat, a Mr T lookalike and a sort of trailer-trash 'mom' type. If you want to change their look you're looking at a significant investment. Using the account provided to us by developers Edge of Reality I was able to take the Mr T aping T-bone and express his feminine side with a skin-tight pink vest, leopard print thong and delightful 'afro-puff' hairstyle. Topping off that look with a 'teabagging' taunt, set me back almost £16 worth of SpacebuxLoadout's purchasable currency.

While that might seem expensive (and it is), for the most part there isn't a real sense of pay-to-win on offer here. While faster levelling and the ability to accelerate your weapon progress is useful, players not wishing to spend won't be at any real disadvantage.

Perhaps the most important part of Loadout – the actual shooting - is entertaining in its own right. However, I'm not convinced it's something players would plough many hours into were it not for the feedback loop that means you're constantly working towards new unlocks for your weaponry and upgrading your arsenal. There's no real twitch-play to the shooting and foes generally take 4-5 seconds of sustained fire before they topple.

The character customization does allow you look pretty awesome – if you're willing to pay for the privilege

Parkour elements basically amount to being able to jump pretty high and spam dodges with a simple double tap. This adds to the frantic nature of the combat and if you're looking for a relatively simple chaotic shooter, Loadout provides plenty of bang for zero 'bux'. One of the best parts of Loadout is its dedication to ridiculous death animations as well as damage modelling on characters that can see you continuing to fire away despite your head resembling a pair of eyes on a stick.

The focus on unique weaponry and customization at the moment provides Loadout with a degree of compulsive appeal. But without Annihilation mode, it's debatable whether there is any long-term depth on offer here. Loadout is fun to play in short bursts and you can usually afford a significant upgrade to one of your weapons after every second match. On the other hand, the slightly floaty feel to the combat means that people who are serious about their shooters may find it doesn't quite scratch their itch for madcap violence. At the moment Loadout provides a diverting break from other titles on the market like the aforementioned Team Fortress 2 but it's difficult to see people choosing it over more polished rivals in the long-term. Annihilation mode could change that if Loadout finds a player-base willing to forgive a few flaws and buy into its silly yet appealing sense of humour.

Top Game Moment: Tinkering with a weapon, only to take it in-game and find you have a new favourite toy - whether that's a machine gun firing electric bullets, or a triple firing rocket launcher that delivers a cluster of bombs to the heart of the enemy team.

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