I’m slightly infatuated with Loadout. It’s a crass, stupid, brilliant little game: an arena shooter with its roots in Quake and Unreal, but viewed from the third, rather than first person.
It stars men with legs like tree-trunks, wide grins and ludicrous weapons. It is free-to-play, but with a sense of humour. It’s also slightly deeper than you might expect thanks to a novel way to keep you playing. Weaponcrafting.
Loudout’s core is just like Unreal Tournament or Quake: it’s a four vs four arena shooter. Don’t panic about the third person viewpoint – with a mouse and keyboard it plays nearly identically to the shooters of the PC’s past. It has slightly more movement options (you can double tap left and right to dive, for instance, and you can climb the scenery a little easier than you could in UT or Quake) and yes, you can see your arse… but that’s about it.
Combat is fast and frantic; informed, I think, by Call of Duty. Players die fast, but there’s enough time within a one-on-one encounter for you to make a few tactical decisions, or retreat if you need to. The maps are tight, and the gamemodes familiar. There’s a king of the hill, a capture the flag, a knock-off of Kill Confirmed and a neat addition that sees you running around picking up bits of loot and dropping them into a compactor. Match timers count down from 10 minutes, but they’ll be over in five.
Loadout isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen arena shooters attempt before.
It does everything with such confidence and panache, you can’t help but fall a little in love. There is some absolutely sublime mechanical and visual design in Loadout. It’s also deeply hilarious.
Take Loadout’s CTF mode. There isn’t a flag, there’s just a hammer: the equivalent of Halo’s Impact Hammer. Players with the flag are as dangerous as anyone on the battlefield. Take the way Loadout display’s how healthy you are: great chunks of your body are shot off as you lose health. You’ll see holes in player’s arms and legs, and occasionally, their face. The first time I saw a man running around with his entire skull missing, with his (tiny, tiny) brain held on a little stalk, with eyeballs attached, left me crying on the floor. Take how it displays overheals in-game: players run around dribbling abandoned bits of medkits.
Weaponcrafting is a little slice of genius. In Loadout, you can carry two guns at any one time. You build them between matches, mixing and matching items like stocks, barrels, ammunition, and bullet types. From basic templates, can emerge really quite odd combinations. What’s clever is that all the items apply across all weapon types. A gatling attachment can be bolted onto a beam or rifle. Healing ammunition could be put into each. You could turn a rifle into a shotgun by changing the type of barrel. Or apply the shotgun barrel to your electric plasma rifle because…
Rocket launchers can fire clusters or single rounds. They can detonate on impact, or on a trigger. They could bounce, or not. Be laser guided, and deliver fire damage.
The flexibility is just fantastic. By thinking about how I like to play: mid-to-close range, with friends, I was able to craft a set of personalised set of weapons. A very high powered, high rate of fire, and high ammunition for combat, with a healing beam weapon, with a scope that allowed me to see relative health levels of both enemies and friends in reserve. It felt unstoppable. Moving as a team, healing between engagements (note that healing a friend also increases your own health – like I say – Loadout features some sublime mechanical design) was as thrilling as any match in big games likeTF2 or Modern Warfare.
Weapons can also earn XP separately from your character, but progress here is extremely slow.
Loadout is free-to-play, but the model feels fair. Progress up the tech-tree, and earning new items rest entirely on grabbing “butes”, the free currency that’s doled out between matches. Real money (in the form of spacebux!) gets spent on XP boosts, and (the brilliant) costumes and clothes you can buy for your avatar. In a world of increasingly aggressive payment models, Loadout feels… responsible?
You’ll probably want to buy something, though, because Loadout’s sort of cartoony art style is justsmashing. It looks a little like Team Fortress 2 but with more muscles. The costumes are just ridiculous. I’m still giggling that the most expensive item in the game lets you take your trousers off and run around the battlefield stark bollock naked. And yes, despite the pixellation, you can see it bobbing away as you rotate the camera.
I think it’s that attitude Loadout that made me fall a little in love. It’s run through with a kind of “we don’t give a shit about what came before” crowd pleasing mentality. “Of course,” says Loadout, “we’ll let you unlock cocks. Of course the flag carrier should carry a hammer. Of course we’ll let you craft a rocket launcher that spews health. Of course one of the taunts you can buy is the Gangnam Style dance.”
Loadout is throwaway, silly entertainment. It gets you into a game, raises a smile, and spits you back out again. It’s scrappy, with a few rough edges in the level design and art. But it’s endearingly dumb, and I really think you should, at least, have a try. It’s available to play, for free, on Steam.