In a world filled with grey-brown military shooters filled with grizzled space marines that are trying to one-up each other in a stubble and jawline competition, Loadout is here to say, “Screw all that!” You won’t find bullet physics or a deep story about war and its moral implications here. Instead, you’ll find sniper rifles that shoot electric beams of death, rocket launchers that fire rockets that split into smaller rockets and shotguns that fire a spread of grenades that litter the ground with acid. It’s these wacky weapons that give Loadout its charm and set it apart from all other shooters.
At its core, Loadout is an arcade-style shooter, more Team Fortress 2 than Call of Duty. Instead of regenerating health and cover, you’ll be relying on circle strafing and scattered health containers. You can jump ludicrously high, lay dozens of explosive traps and fire rocket launchers recklessly without being labeled a “noob tuber.” There’s no story to speak of, just maps, you, your opponents and a whole bunch of guns. Your goal? Kill the opponent more than they kill you.
The coolest part of Loadout is its gun editor, which is where the game gets its name. You don’t just find or unlock guns, you build them from scratch. You can swap around parts like stocks, triggers, magazines and barrels as much as you like, and each part has its own unique properties. You can even customize your ammo by tweaking individual sub-properties. Mathematically, there are literally billions of combinations for you to fool around with.
There is a certain finesse to gun creation, which is what makes it so much fun. For example, you’ll quickly learn that a gun’s chassis determines its basic projectile. Rifles fire fast and accurate bullets, pulse guns fire slow but powerful fireball type things, beams fire high rate of fire lasers and launchers fire grenades or rockets. You can then use other parts to determine how these projectiles behave. If you want to make a shotgun, choose the rifle chassis and combine it with a barrel that allows you to fire a spread, a single-shot trigger and a medium size magazine. You can then turn that same gun into a sniper rifle by adding a scope, swapping out the barrel for a long range one and swapping out the magazine for something with low capacity but high power.
If you find conventional weapons like those boring, you can spice things up. Switch to the pulse chassis, add fire to your ammo and now you are firing a circle of miniature suns at your opponent that do damage over time as they hit. Use the laser chassis for your sniper rifle and add the lightning effect and you have just created a chain-lightning gun that would make Warcraft players jealous. Even better, you can just make something up. Combine the rocket launcher with healing ammo and you have a huge heal bomb that will defend your team against the deadliest of opposition. In fact, some of the coolest guns you can make don’t do damage at all. Proximity heal mines fired from a grenade launcher are pretty awesome. Of course, if all of this is just a bit too overwhelming for you, you can play with stock guns or just hit the gun randomize button.
Aside from guns, you also get to bring one item into combat. These items are about what you would expect, including grenades, shields and so on. However, Loadout does a great job of playing around with item conventions as well. Lots of grenades actually heal or buff your team instead of doing damage. There are also tricky items, such as the fake health pickup, that work great for setting traps. Heck, once you unlock the auto turret and the disguise option, you can basically recreate your favorite Team Fortress 2 class whenever you want.
As great as all that sounds, Loadout isn’t without its problems. All of these many options are locked behind a tech tree. Not only will you have to level up to unlock new areas of the tech tree, you’ll also have to spend “blutes,” the game’s currency, to unlock each individual gun part. What’s really upsetting is that for example, unlocking the burst trigger in the rifle category doesn’t unlock it in the launcher category. You’ll need to unlock every part for every chassis individually, which feels like a grind. Not to mention, many of these parts have prerequisite parts which need to be purchased, which slows down progress even more. Our review copy came with a built-in experience bonus and a bunch of in-game cash handed to us from the start, and it still felt like we were unlocking parts too slowly.
This all plays into Loadout’s free-to-play structure, which is better than many other freemium titles, but still feels crappy at times. You can’t spend real money to unlock parts or to insta-level. You can only spend it on multiplier bonuses to your XP and blutes that last a limited time. You can also use cash to get new loadout and gun slots, which is a bit more annoying, but really the slots that you get from leveling up are more than enough. Other than that, all you can spend money on is new outfits. That being said, we do not recommend jumping into Loadout without at least buying one of the starter packs. It’s very easy to build an insta-kill gun when you have the right parts and starting out at the bottom does make you feel like you are at a huge disadvantage.
That’s the last problem we have with Loadout, the gun creation system is too open-ended. Frankly, there are simply some choices that are way better than others. You are already finding people building bouncing-spread-grenade tesla-launchers, which cover a huge portion of the map and basically do insta-kill damage. The best sniper rifles in the game fire at amazing speeds across the map and kill in two bullets. There is already an established meta-game arising, and it takes some of the fun out of the game when you realize your dream gun just doesn’t compare to the spike-mine-launcher of death.
Even with these flaws, Loadout is simply a fun game. It turns a lot of shooter conventions on their heads. There’s just a lot of stuff you can do in Loadout that you can’t do in any other shooter on the market, which makes it worth putting up with some grinding and money siphoning. It’s fun, it’s frantic and it’s filled with the types of guns that you drew in the margins of your notebook in grammar school. It’s worth a free trial at the very least. The developers, Edge of Reality, promise tons of new maps, game modes and even gun parts will release in the future, and if that’s the case that Loadout might even give Team Fortress 2 a run for its money.
This review was based on a publisher supplied copy of Loadout for the PC.