My first moments of Loadout could not have been more perfect. Entering a match, I found myself in a circle of players, made up of allies and opponents alike, staring each other down. As a disembodied voice began a five-second countdown, I quickly pieced together what would happen after it reached zero. The gruff, barbaric-looking horde that surrounded me equipped their preferred weapons, and as the timer stopped, there was a split second of deafening silence before the scene erupted in neon lasers, explosions, and showering viscera. This, in a nutshell, is Loadout at its finest, a game of occasional humor, immense violence, and things that go bang.
Loadout is a multiplayer third-person shooter that blends humor and comical, grotesque violence with a cartoony visual style comparative to Team Fortress 2 or Super Monday Night Combat, complete with vibrant graphics and character models with exaggerated features. But calling Loadout a clone sells it short. The game differs from its popular kin with new takes on classic game modes, and it eschews classes and focuses on what makes shooters so enthralling in the first place: the guns. Loadout features a deep weapon-crafting system where modular components are placed, swapped, or upgraded to create powerful firearms. Though the game lacks conventional classes, it lets you craft your own custom loadouts as you desire.
You can strap a sniper barrel and scope to a rifle chassis to create a sniper rifle, and perhaps upgrade the weapon later with a bolt-action magazine. Attaching a scatter barrel to the chassis along with a shell-loading magazine produces a powerful shotgun. Changing a weapon's payload further deepens customization options. The pyro payload sets enemies on fire, while tesla shocks enemies with electricity that arcs to nearby foes as chain lightning. Swapping the weapon's payload to health allows you to heal your allies and give them a health boost, if you feel that the medical field is more your calling.
The first weapon I crafted was a rocket launcher I dubbed Fallout, because I'm clever. I found myself growing rather fond of Fallout, and over time I upgraded to a pyro payload, and later attached a quad-barrel to fire four cluster-bomb rockets. The crafting is enthralling, and what started as a vanilla rocket launcher evolved as time went by, built from the ground up as my lovingly crafted personal weapon of mass destruction.
Sticking with a weapon build improves it over time. As you take your chosen weapon into battle, experience points are gained for each particular part that makes up the gun--for example, the selected gun sight, barrel, trigger, and ammo type. With enough experience points, you can purchase weapon component upgrades in Loadout's tech tree. Upgrades escalate the overall effectiveness of the components, such as increasing damage and improving reload times. The tech tree is used to unlock new components for weapons, as well as equipment, including grenade types, a shield, a turret drop, and a disguise option, which lets you play spy.
Finishing a match awards you with experience points and in-game currency called blutes, which are exchanged for new weapon parts and upgrades. Loadout is a free-to-play game, which means real-world money is involved somewhere. Luckily, the game doesn't charge for weapon parts or upgrades, but it does charge for vanity items like clothing and taunts. There are plenty of items to buy, including masks, glasses, hats, shirts, bling, and much more. Accessories are also unlocked via Daily Prize rewards, which give you a choice among three chests that contain either a small sum of blutes or a clothing item. You have to pay for more weapon and loadout slots beyond those available, but smart item management eliminates the need for them.
Despite its colorful design, Loadout is exceptionally violent. Bullets rip through flesh, degloving limbs and pounding gaping holes into torsos where bones and internal organs are clearly visible. Fire scorches flesh black, ultimately leaving a nearly skinless husk. Shots to the head have a delightful effect, removing most of the head and leaving the brain and bobbling eyes exposed. Viciously taunting your opponents is actively encouraged and often hilarious. You are granted four slots for taunts that, when activated, send your character into a stylized dance paired with an entertaining tune.
There are many taunts available in the in-game store, including an '80s dance number, a golf clap, and the invisible horse of Gangnam Style, if you feel it's relevant enough (it isn't). The violence and vulgarity can be turned off in the options menu, but I feel that would remove a large part of the game's personality. Of course, leaving that box unchecked does run you the risk of seeing a character with blurred genitals twerk in the middle of an arena, but that goes with the territory in Loadout.
The game's available characters are large and boorish, yet display uncanny agility in combat. Double-tapping a movement key sends your character leaping in that direction. Jumping immediately after the leap sends you into a super jump, capable of catapulting you over tall obstacles in the environment. The ease with which you maneuver inspires energetic acrobatic performances, where players fire over their shoulders while flying from flat ground to a high-rising platform and back again. The battles are exciting, and when multiple players enter the fray, things heat up, putting your skills and environmental awareness to the test.
Loadout is a team-focused game that features familiar game modes, some with a welcome twist. Team deathmatch, for example, is called Death Snatch, and plays out somewhat differently than what you expect. In Death Snatch, killing your opponent doesn't add points to the board. Instead, when enemy players are killed, they leave a vial of glowing blutonium that must be collected for points, and the team that gathers the most vials wins. The mode bears more than a little resemblance to Modern Warfare 3's Kill Confirmed mode, where players earn a kill only after successfully executing an opponent.
In Blitz, opposing teams rush toward specified control points as they come into play at various locations around the map. The goal is to raise a pair of boxer short to the top of a flagpole while fending off attacks from the opposing team. Among all the modes, I found Blitz to be the most brutal. The fight for a single point gets violently chaotic: a brief moment of calm is suddenly interrupted by incoming grenades, rockets, or other gunfire. The fight for a single point may last minutes as the tug-of-war between opposing factions continues. Some matches I've played have had only a few captures due to the length of time it took to acquire each one.
My favorite game mode, however, is Loadout's variation on classic capture the flag. It is called Jackhammer, and the object is to steal your opponent's hammer and carry it back to your team's base. The enormous red hammer can be used as a weapon, quickly turning enemies who foolishly challenge you into a cloud of discharged electricity and red mist. In typical CTF matches, a capture is awarded by a single digit. But in Jackhammer, you gain a large number of points, and killing enemies with the hammer grants a higher score after the capture. Getting even one kill with the hammer may mean the difference between victory and defeat, which means the hammer carrier must either decide on a quick capture or take the risk for a higher score advantage.
The maps in Loadout are not particularly well designed. Most lack memorable landmarks, making pathfinding a confusing ordeal. The game often chooses maps ill-suited to the selected game mode. Playing Jackhammer on Shattered is straight and to the point: your team spawns on one end, while the enemy is on the far opposite end. But in modes such as Death Snatch, where you are dropped on the enormous map, which covered in high ridges and large obstacles, finding your way around is a hassle.
Loadout is a game of occasional humor, immense violence, and things that go bang.
Since its launch, Loadout has suffered from unrelenting issues with capricious servers. I began playing Loadout soon after it entered the market, and since then I have downloaded many patches and hotfixes as the developer has been hard at work to keep the game stable. The efforts seem to be bearing fruit. I've encountered the dreaded server crash only once since I started playing, and it occurred eight hours into my play time; things were up and running again minutes later.
Server lag did rear its head, but it was rare, which is good news. The bad news, on the other hand, is that due to the game's prior instability, the developer has temporarily shut down the so-called Competitive Mode, where a game type called Annihilation resides. Another issue is something that didn't strike me until some hours in. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the customization options, from weaponry to character creation. However, in this, the game's pivotal selling feature, there is still vast room for expansion.
There is an unfortunate lack of weapon skins, with the default military green as the only option. Character creation is another area that needs attention. Currently, there are only three character models to choose from. While you can customize the characters if you desire a unique look, doing so takes either a lot of time, with clothing items coming in slowly from Daily Prize chests, or real-world money. But not all players are willing to shell out actual currency so their character can sport gangster pants or a mullet. Thankfully, the developer has recently revealed plans for weapon skins, as well as new character models. The release time for either, however, is still anyone's guess.
Loadout stands out against other shooters with its humor, entertaining multiplayer modes, and addictive weapon-crafting system. I imagine that the game may experience a life cycle not unlike my trusty rocket launcher. It's crude and blunt, and its name may not turn many heads, but underneath its blood-soaked surface lies immense potential. It is also free-to-play, so there's no reason not to leap in and bask in the chaotic frenzy with your personally crafted weapon in hand.