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Wot I Think: Loadout

Pay To Trousers

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It’s time to look at Loadout, the cartoonish free to play arena shooter. What manner of computer japes might be had within?

Let’s see wot I think, below.
I like it. Very much. It plays well, and I will even forgive it for being third-person. I like that the capture the flag variant is a hammer, which you can use to brutally smash people into gore. Now that’s a fresh take.

And it’s refreshing to see an old-fashioned arena shooter, I have to say. Browsing the forums and so forth it’s clear that for a number of people playing Loadout this is their first classic-style deathmatchian multiplayer game, which is a thing that makes me feel wistful, old, slightly nauseous.

Yes, Old Men, Loadout is a run and gun of the Oldest Skool: crazy weapons, leaping about in broad and circularly connected maps. Chasing after a dude and landing a rocket at where he is going to be a fraction of a second from now. Yeah, that good stuff! You can practically smell it. These Loadout level designers are making like it’s 1999, and the consequences of that are entertaining in a way that echoes Quake, Unreal, and their many imitators of miscellaneous quality.

“Boom!” I say. It’s fast, there are a lot of particle effects flying about at any one time, and it’s not shy about gibs. In fact it’s not shy at all: you can run around with your (pixellated) cock hanging out, and you can get shot up so badly that your guts slop out of a gaping hole in your back. It’s all cartoon slapstick, of course, so don’t worry about the body-horror. The game modes, too, hark of an old era, with “DEATH SNATCH” attempting to jazz up the trad formula of just trying to kill as many enemy players as possible.

Fortunately for 2014, Loadout doesn’t ever feel less than modern. The distinction between “Casual” and “Competitive” game styles (with the latter closer to organised teamplay, and with one melting pot mode of play) gives a formalised nod to how people play these games. With many such options, it’s a surprisingly slick game, glossed with contemporary design flourishes. That’s perhaps due in part to how much inspiration the game takes from Team Fortress 2 (it even has the female announcer, albeit rather more deadpan than Valve’s war matron). This connection means that it stands squarely in the realm of cartoonish combat and pacey, flagrant physics-bending. That’s not to say it’s a Fortress style game, no, because it does not have a class structure. Instead it relies on customisation. And that’s a formidable aspect of the package. Indeed, it’s in the name.

Each player packs two or more weapons in combat, and you’ll be required to knock them together out of a number of prefabricated parts before you jump into the fight. There’s a fair old range of possibilities here, with different stocks, barrels, magazines, ammo types and so on for the selection of different weapon types. This has a sort of do-it-yourself Borderlands MILLIONS OF GUNS effect, where players are able to create a vast range of stat-driven weapon instances, with a broad range of effects and, consequently, applications in combat. The components for these are unlocked with points derived from playing, to avoid the ol’ pay to win.

Characters can be customised too, leading to a tonne of possible expression for creative types. And, hell, customisation is always entertaining, so why not?

Well… There is an issue. Or two, actually. The first is that to get at all the cosmetic customisation stuff, you’re going to have to spend some serious money. Sure, there are some options that come with the free build, but the game is also not shy about asking for your dollars in the form of game cash – which you’ll need to access anything more than a handful of haircuts. Let’s be clear: I don’t have a problem with the free to play model, at all. I think it’s given us some awesome free games lately – Planetside 2 has been a particular pleasure – but I do think a couple of quid is too much for imaginary trousers. Especially when there are so many I could buy. That means I just won’t spend money at all. Perhaps that doesn’t matter to the devs, but I like spending money, so it matters to me.

And then there’s DLC. The starter pack, which contains a few extras and some additional game cash, is £15. Perhaps unsurprisingly – that’s about how much you’d be expecting to pay for a game of this kind, in the current market – however a new suit pack, which is purely cosmetic, is £30. And that’s the current cut price. It’s normally £68! Boom, indeed. A bundle currently allows you to pick up the both DLCs for £40. So that’s £40 for the “entire” current game. Except there are loads more ways to spend currency in the game itself. Yes, F2P is clever, it is allowing ways to spend money. Except that pyschology seems to be having a reverse effect on me. If I can’t see a limit to the spending, I don’t want to spend a penny.

That’s clearly a subjective quirk, or the free model wouldn’t be booming.

The second issue is that the weapon customisation is such a huge part the game, but in truth only seems to have a limited window of success. Presumably there are, as with so many such systems, a very small number of optimal weapons and tactics, however, even though people claim to have found them, it’s impossible to tell whether that is simply Best For Them. Due to the sheer number of possible builds, given the massive gun Lego you are provided with, you are best off not really experimenting, but instead getting really good with a couple of standard setups. You might come up with some comedy weapons, but the funny isn’t going to be fun for long, because you just end up losing.

In a very real way this weird counter-intuitive skill vs build thing doesn’t matter, because there’s still a large red barrel full of entertainment to be had through the doors of Loadout, but it feels like a design failure of some kind. It’s almost as if having a bajillion different weapons is counter to how this kind of game should work. I rather feel like I just want a couple of weapons I can get good with. And I can do that, if I don’t experiment with the loadout. But experimenting with the loadout seems like the main event, so… Gosh, that’s confusing.

Any other weak grumbles? Well, I’ve also experienced a few problems with matchmaking. It takes ages to set up a match, and then there’s no modifier for experience, so newbies get thrown straight in with people who have 500 hours on their timer. It’s a small issue, really, but a genuine one, particularly while there is no custom game option (that’s in the pipeline). It won’t affect you getting a game, however, because Loadout is constantly packed, and there are even bot options. Regardless, the freeness and the general mayhem of the game means that there’s a tonne of people playing at any time of the day – it’s riding high on the Steam most played lists.

In conclusion, then: Loadout is a riot. Loadout is free. It does not, however, provide a model that is conducive to me wanting to spend any money on it. The loadouts of the name are fun to make, but ultimately lack the variety they believe themselves to have. These things seems like a failure for a free to play game, but perhaps I am simply not its cash audience. Perhaps I am just one of the players it wants to come aboard for no pennies, to fill its servers and to talk about the game to the people who listen. Maybe that’s you.

Is that you?

Loadout is out now.

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Jim Rossignol

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