Loaded (PlayStation) review
"Picture in your mind the arcade classic Gauntlet. Now remove from the game the wizard and his friends. Replace them with escaped mental patients who are criminally psychotic. Travel to an outer space penal colony of the future, splash buckets of gore over the whole enterprise and inject some black humour of a decidedly British flavour: You have just conjured up Loaded. "
Picture in your mind the arcade classic Gauntlet. Now remove from the game the wizard and his friends. Replace them with escaped mental patients who are criminally psychotic. Travel to an outer space penal colony of the future, splash buckets of gore over the whole enterprise and inject some black humour of a decidedly British flavour: You have just conjured up Loaded.
In spite of its distinct adult grisliness, Loaded is probably the most straightforward top-down shooter you are likely to find on the Playstation. The gameplay isn't even as sophisticated as Gauntlet's 1985 vintage. It just involves blasting your way through enemy-filled maze levels (with a friend, if you have one), collecting colour-coded keys to open doors en route, and eventually escaping through an exit. There are no generators, bonus levels or other incentives to get too excited about.
On the one hand, it's great to have such basically satisfying action given the 32-bit royale treatment. Seductively dark and detailed graphics are thrown into illumination by gunfire and explosions, and the gory sounds are fun too. On the other hand, after fifteen very long (and very uneven) levels of this unchanging gameplay, I expect that any player will have grown weary of the experience. I certainly did.
The background story to the game is long-winded and implausible, even on its own terms, and is mostly an excuse to present us with sentences like the following one:
'He cooked and served up his legs in a rich broth.'
FUB (Fat Ugly Boy), the man who cooked his own limbs in the previous line, is the psychopathic head warden of the meanest jail in the universe. As one of six inmates, your goal is to bust out and KILL that FUBwit, along with anyone else who gets in your way.
Loaded presents you with arguably the most original range of characters on offer for play in a shoot-em-up:
1. A flame-throwing cross-dresser named Butch.
2. A psychotic clown with the colourful title of FWaNK.
3. Cap N Hands the cyborg pirate.
4. Mamma the obese and mentally challenged young man.
5. Bounca who is a bouncer.
6. Finally, Vox, an icy cool woman who... seems to have nothing wrong with her at all! What is she doing in this game, then? She must be the token female, fast but with a weak weapon.
The characters bring different weapons, speeds and armour ratings to the party, and there is decent gameplay differentiation amongst them. The flamethrower has the shortest range, and the pistol-packing characters can't see their shots travelling along the screen for aiming purposes, they just see the muzzle flashes. Strafing is about the only 'trick' you have up your sleeve. Combat skill hangs mostly on reflexes, interspersed with bouts of moving carefully enough through the environment to be able to pick off foes before they swarm you. Oh, and using screen-clearing smart bombs when a situation looks overwhelming.
Graphically, your character is the most pixellated entity onscreen at any one time, but that doesn't matter when the scale is so vast. Loaded's best achievement is superb visual detail. You can see the tiniest cracks in the walls of dingy prisons, the pulse of neon lights and the individual chess-board tiles on a kitchen floor. The overriding style of the game is 'darkness', and lighting effects are brilliantly used to throw the shadowed scenery into relief. Gunfire skips off walls, the furniture glows from the heat of battle, and individual fragments of destroyed objects bounce across the ground in clouds of dust.
And so we come to the infamous Loaded grisliness. When you shoot marauding prison criminals, they don't just fall down, no sir. They literally erupt into bright red gore which is pasted to the floor at a speed defying analysis. If you have a massive propensity for violence which is likely to be your undoing one day - as I do - you will be impressed throughout Loaded as you wade through the blood and listen to the wall of SCHLOP sounds. If you can't imagine even letting out the odd appalled laugh at this spectacle, I think I can safely say that you will never be on the same wavelength as this game.
It's in broader terms that Loaded falters. The interplay of some tedious level design and the obnoxiousness of certain enemies results in a game with some levels you'll love, scattered amongst too many you'll hate. Most of the problem stems from the fact that key-finding is paramount and the mazes are big. Venturing deep into a network of corridors, only to realise that the next key you need must be at the exact opposite end of the level - with a hefty walk and battle inbetween here and there - is a tiring experience you'll go through far too often. The wind-about gameplay style can make any level a chore if you're unlucky enough to go the wrong way. Ammo, health and weapon power-ups must also be maintained, and as you eat these up you'll have to backtrack further and further to find fresh supplies if you're playing with a serious eye for surviving to the finish. Loaded is a stiff challenge even if you bump up your lives and credits, but not always for the right reasons.
The incarcerated criminal enemies you face for most of the game are great fun to fight. They duck and weave amongst the furniture and return fire whilst screaming and yelling. There are some wicked jokes here too, like the straitjacketed inmates who just fling themselves at you (what else can they do?). The animal foes, however, are a dire presence. The rats are cheapo enemies who will give you a terrible case of Playstation thumb, as you're forced to swivel madly trying to hit the one rodent that's doing a 360 degree chew on you. Scorpions and dog-beasts pour over the rises in red desert levels, a brilliant visual effect which reminds me of great moments from Starship Troopers, but they glom onto you like leeches, and there's the little issue of your weapon losing ninety percent of its power at close range. Hence you can be repeatedly fenced into useless situations and killed.
Symptoms of the aforementioned problems: Any level featuring rats is a pain to play, and any outdoors level where clear areas are lacking is also a pain. Game goals in the outdoor levels compound that pain. You might need to find four fuel tanks for an escape car in a huge maze of some very samey terrain, and the game doesn't indicate onscreen how many you've found so far, or even mark on the map where you picked up the ones you've got! At this point I realised how annoyed I was, too, that I could not view the map and my status at the same time. Hitting Circle spins the display around to reveal one or the other.
For two players at once, fun is stung (mildly) once again by the heavy navigational emphasis. If you find it hard enough deciding which way to go on your own, imagine coordinating with a friend who must keep within a screen's throw of you as you both argue about where you should hunt for the next key. Which is a shame, because the two-player splatterfest is mightily impressive in all other ways.
Sonically, Loaded is held together by variable techno-metal tracks and some guest appearances from Pop Will Eat Itself, whose snarling punk style turns out to be a strikingly good match for the game's outlook. The track with the chorus of 'HERE TO KILL YOU!' is especially funny in context. PWEI aside, I believe that it's also crucial that Loaded has a superb musical track behind level one. I'm a big believer in first impressions, and just as a ripping credits sequence can lift you up at the start of a film, the cool electronica mantra which kicks off Loaded manages to define the atmosphere for the game. The soundtrack is in redbook audio format so you can enjoy it outside of the game.
FINAL WEAPONS CHECK
- Inspired, freaky take on ultrabasic shoot-em-up gameplay
- Weird characters, well differentiated
- Superb dark graphics and luminous lighting tricks
- Truly impressive gore
- Music is on the money
OUT OF AMMO
- Unvarying gameplay and key-finding is monotonous
- Cheap and obnoxious animal attacks
- Some levels are completely hateable
- I need to see my stats and the map AT THE SAME TIME!
I like Loaded for the distinct universe it creates out of black humour and pasty gore, and for its clever visuals. But the tedium really soils the overall experience. Hours spent wandering around after keys, too many enemies you can't do anything about... You'll find there are some levels you'll never want to play again, which will drive you to use the Skip Level cheat. So it's hardly the best playing title, but it's fine for episodic blasting, and just fun to own if you've an eye out for weirder Playstation efforts, as I do.
-- Loaded -- 6/10 --
Bonus value-added section
How to exploit Bloomer's 'Brained Corpse' Bug
Dig up the cheat for a health restore off gamefaqs. Now, enable the cheat, get yourself killed, and at the moment of death (as your health is moving from 'alive' to 'dead' status), pause the game and restore your health. Return to the game. You'll find that you can now PLAY AS YOUR CORPSE! Yes, you can now slip and slide your corpse, complete with spray of pasted brain matter, all over the place. You can't shoot anyone or open any doors, but it sure is funny. Come to think of it, you'll probably need to Quit or use the Skip Level cheat to get out of here...
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.
If you enjoyed this Loaded review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!