Within five minutes of launching Loadout, most of my head was missing. Someone from across the map must have landed an impressive shot, because all I could see was my brain and eyeballs amusingly situated on my tree-trunk of a neck. I wasn’t dead, though — not even close. I still had my barely scathed, and strangely disproportionate body to rely on. That, and a massive gun that fires lethal streams of electricity. I chased the bastard that sniped me across the map for a good minute before landing a series of shocks into his backside. And as I watched his oversized body convulse in hilarious agony, I suddenly exploded. I was too busy laughing to notice the grenade land between my legs.
My first hour with Loadout was peppered with such offbeat moments, most of which resulted in my character falling apart. Everyone was out to get me, it seemed. I would pause to chuckle after a particularly entertaining kill, and suddenly a karmic energy beam would wipe the smile — skin, flesh, bones and everything else – from my face. I spawned, and almost immediately started laughing yet again when what appeared to be a battle-turned-massacre left several teammates of mine shuddering in a pool of discontent. This also resulted in my face being repainted by a rocket.
However, it wasn’t more than a dismemberment or two later that I was hopping around the map like a tweaker that just discovered a warehouse of Tylenol Cold & Flu. I wasn’t relying on lucky strikes or assisted kills for my share of XP anymore; I was blowing people to bits with pure skill. Mother would be so proud. And that’s what Loadout is about, really; killing stuff with awesomely pieced-together weapons, and watching the comical results unfold. It’s a game that doesn’t just push the online-shooter envelope; it stuffs it with anthrax and straps it to a stick of dynamite.
Sure, on the surface it would be easy to simply dismiss Loadout as another Team Fortress clone. After all, it looks like Team Fortress — bloated character models and everything — and probably smells like Team Fortress, too. That assessment wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though. It’s actually more of a Frankenstein, you see, and while Team Fortress does lend its visuals and third-person perspective to its structure, Loadout borrows its inventive features from various other games, as well. The most prominent, perhaps, is Borderlands, which confers its nearly unlimited supply of weapons to its wares. The only difference being that Loadout allows for customization across the board.
There’s no formal introduction to the gun party, either. You’re essentially given the role of weaponsmith from the get-go, and the possibilities are mind boggling, with rockets, incendiary bullets and plasma beams making up only a small portion of the thousands of choices you’ll encounter. The only thing holding you back from crafting a fire spouting sniper rifle that also heals your teammates is your imagination, and some of the available options seem to have been pulled directly from the Acme Corporation catalog.
It doesn’t stop with the weaponry, however. I mean, what’s the point of killing people if you can’t have pigtails, a slick leather vest and some 80′s shades while doing it? The correct answer is that there is no point, by the way. It’s clear that weapon customization is the primary focus, but there are various attributes that can be tinkered with as well, such as scores of costumes, decorative items and equipment that can be purchased from the Store, and then piled onto your character in a virtual dressing room of sorts. There’s even a tree that unlocks much of your upgradables as you progress through the levels, and makes for a nice goal-setting driving factor while you’re dodging missiles and murdering peeps.
As with most free-to-play titles, the lazier — or wealthier — of us can opt for the pay-to-proceed method, and purchase some Spacebux to help with the unlocking of desirables and whatnot. Normally, I would have my reservations regarding such a setup, but the pay-to-win system is implemented quite nicely, and there didn’t seem to be any immediate issues with balance. Loadout is a game of swift-movements and fast-paced action; no amount of powerful firepower can make you less of a klutz.
Naturally, such power demands an ample playground in which to frolic. Thankfully, the Quake-like arenas are a blast to rush through, and they’re loaded with plenty of interesting exploits to discover and utilize through the various game modes. It helps that they’re fairly attractive, too. Although not quite as beautiful as the character models. Don’t get me wrong, Helga isn’t really my type — not while sober, anyhow. Neither are the other two available avatars, for that matter. It’s not really their looks that are beautiful, though, it’s the deterioration effects that affect their looks. You know, the same ones that left me hilariously headless. It’s a nifty feature that relieves a lot of the stress of being hit, as you never really know which limb will go where next, and the results are often as funny as they would be painful.
Nevertheless, playing with guns in interesting environments is only fun for so long. Eventually, you’ll need some sort of task to occupy your breaths. It’s good, then, that Loadout has a diverse cast of game modes that, despite not offering anything especially groundbreaking, are super fun, and make a perfect match for the over-the-top antics. There’s a version of capture the flag that has you running around retrieving crystals, a vial collecting marathon, and simpler, more death-count oriented modes to choose from.
Newcomers are also welcome to experiment with the Casual modes, which throw a bunch of newbies into an arena together for murderous learning purposes. Luckily I was smart enough to test the waters before jumping into the core-game. My inexperience with shooters couldn’t have been more obvious, and it took a while before I learned the ropes. In the beginning, my character could have just as easily been a gigantic target with the words “please” and “kill” spray painted on each end — it would have made no difference.
Loadout is an online-only game. This isn’t a bad thing, though, and the lack of any forced narrative is greatly appreciated. Frankly, I don’t want to know why a bunch of strangers decided to remove each others faces with bullets — I don’t think the conclusion will be as satisfying as my version, which involves missing limbs and screenshot posted to Facebook. What is important, though, is how well it functions with a handful of people raising ruckus across a sizable arena. And there, it succeeds in remaining a smooth, bug-free ride through every second of animated bloodshed.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Loadout wasn’t an ordinary shooter. It’s an amalgamation of sorts, melding comedy, cartoon violence and competitive multiplayer seamlessly. Edge of Reality seems to be well aware of the genres oversaturation, and contribute very little to the nimiety of mediocrity. Shooters may be all the craze now, but Loadout doesn’t take the challenge of being different sitting down — it stands, with a severed head and a badass rifle. There are few online-only experiences that offer such dynamic gameplay without developing some sort of genre-identity crisis. Hell, the fast-paced matches, alarmingly meaty weapon customization system, and visual hilarity are but a few of the features that make Loadout worth its weight in dismembered limbs. So why wait? There’s simply no better time to kill your friends than the present. Although the game modes may not be innovative, innovation doesn’t always spell fun, and that’s something Loadout has by the explosive crate-full.