What am I playing this Week? A Month of Free-to-Play starts with Loadout!

I’ve covered a few Free-To-Play games in past reviews, but those are just a couple of the dozens of games out there that have discovered that free-to-play is the new model for monetizing content. First-Person-Shooters, puzzle games and MMORPGs in particular have jumped on the free-to-play model with both feet, to varying degrees of success. In many ways, the free-to-play model is very attractive for game makers and their audience. Players can enjoy content for what seems to be no cost, and contribute or pay for their game in small increments to build value, while game producers and developers can see a steadier if more trickle-form income from their game. If they manage to strike a chord with their audience, they can often also often see much more income from each player then they might otherwise see through single-unit sales. It’s not unusual for players to drop in excess of $100 on a free-to-play game that they enjoy. So, fewer players may actually pay for your content, but the ones that do can really put some coin in the developer’s coffers. This month then, I decided to take a look at a few free-to-plays I’ve tried out. A few have been hits, others misses, so let’s take a small sampling of ones I’ve tried.

Now, I’m not a fan of the modern FPS game. Conterstrike gets a “meh” reaction from me, Battlefield is under the auspices of EA, a company I won’t support, and Call of Duty has tried to combine run-and-gun gameplay with the dull grey and brown gritty ‘realism’ of modern warfare, which just makes me think I am trying to shoot other players through puke-colored environments. It seems you really have to go with the growing selection of free-to-play FPSes to find anything with a different approach or personality. So, when I saw someone do a quick review of Edge of Reality’s Loadout, and they espoused it’s old-school run and gun, colorful, and rather zany gameplay, I decided to take a look.

Now, one of Loadout’s big claims is that you will never pay cash to be competitive. You can unlock all of the upgrades to your weapons and designs, simply by playing the game. If you play enough, you can essentially unlock every variety and option for every gun in the game. This is where Loadout really worked for me. You see, your guns are really piece-meal assemblies of bits and pieces that let you change most of the gun’s type and aspects. Swap a barrel, switch the stock, change your clip, change what kind of projectile you fire, each little tweak makes your gun just a bit different and really lets you personalize your weapon for your gameplay style. Based off of four basic types, beams, rockets, projectiles, and spikeballs (lower damage, higher rate of fire then a standard bullet,) you can almost make any gun you can imagine from an old-school FPS. I love this mechanic, because not only did I get to make a ton of different guns and try them all out, if someone else had a gun they customized, and they died, I got to pick it up, try it out and decide if I wanted to make one like it. It was a delicious feeling to have these over-the-top weapons combined with the run-and-gun style of Loadout’s gameplay.

Where Loadout lacks originality is in its different game modes. Like most FPSes, it has your typical capture the control point missions, your deathmatches where you have to get the enemy’s tag after death, capture the flag…etc. These modes are pretty typical these days, though they do manage to put their own little twist on a couple of game modes. In the capture-the-flag mode, the flag is actually a giant hammer the flag-bearer can use to smash enemy players. They also added something called ‘annihilation’ mode, which combines elements of all of the other game modes combined. None of these really hurt the game though, because you really are playing Loadout for that old-school FPS mentality. The games are quick and brutal, and they just…work. Matchmaking leaves something to be desired, but it is something Edge of Reality is working on all the time.

Now, if this is all Free-to-play, how do they make any money? Simple…cosmetics. There are dozens, if not hundreds of pieces of clothing, accessories, hairstyles, decorations, etc. etc. for each character model. You can earn some of them by winning them as prizes at the end of games, but for the most part, you’re going to pay real cash to make your character custom. A lot of the custom looks have a distinctly crude feel that fits right in with the game’s aesthetic, but you can essentially make your character look as bad-ass, or as clowny as you possibly could want. Like many free-to-play games, Edge of Reality banks on players wanting their characters as distinct as possible in order to make their money…and it rather works. It’s easy to want to support a game like this, and at the same time show off to everyone else by having your own custom outfit.

Like most FPS games, I did eventually tire of the repetitious gameplay, but I certainly felt I got more than I expected out of this free-to-play. I had no problems dropping in a bit of cash to customize my character, and though the amount I kicked in was not in the hundreds that others sometimes pay, that’s only part of how that model works. For every one person that contributes hundreds of dollars, a dozen others drop in five or ten bucks. I definitely can recommend Loadout though as way to explore the free-to-play FPSes out there. They say you get your money’s worth, but with this free-to-play, you easily get more than that.

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