The free-to-play market is the new hotness and no genre is shy about embracing the play4free model. Loadout is another competitor in this arena and it has a lot going for it. On the surface, it may appear like another clone of Team Fortress 2 or Monday Night Combat, but there’s a whole lot more going on in this game than meets the eye. We got to play the game at PAX East and we had a blast with what the developers at Edge of Reality created.

What sets Loadout apart from other free-to-play games is its focus on weapon and character customization. The characters in Loadout are modeled after real-world action stars/pop culture icons. During the demo at PAX we only had access to one, though during the open beta this summer, players will have access to three characters modeled after Sylvester Stallone, MMA fighter Kimbo Slice and a Norweigan woman from the Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Players can customize their characters with a wide array of hats, clothing, hairstyles, footwear and accessories. This also applies to the weapons of the game, where players can modify the way the gun functions to what it looks like with huge list of custom paint options.

Loadout PAX East 2012 Hands On Custom Paintjobs

The weapons of Loadout are broken down into three areas: rockets, beam weapons and pulse weapons. Weapons similar to assault rifles fall into the pulse catagory, with beam and rockets being self explanatory. Bullets won’t be your only option for ammo. During our demo we created a gun that fired balls of fire that bounce off walls. Players can mod their weapons and before going into battle, test them out on a training dummy. This is a feature found in Kid Icarus: Uprising and not dissimilar to the GunSmith mode shipping with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier – and it’s a small feature that is very welcome in Loadout.

Players will also be able to modify the scopes of the guns along with the rate of fire. All of these things can be tested in the training area until the player feels comfortable with their creation.

The mode we played at PAX was your standard control point battle, where teams would occupy a point until it changed to their respected color. Once a control point is captured a new one will spawn in a random location. The action is fast-paced and frantic as both teams make a mad dash to the objectives.

Loadout PAX East 2012 Hands On Beam Weapon

A future mode that Edge of Reality is working on is called Plutonium. This is a capture the flag mode with a twist. Teams must transport the volatile material back to their base. This material is explosive however, and can detonate in a player’s hands or can be used as a weapon and tossed at enemies. Gamers will want to think twice before stealing the “flag” from opponents.

The developers at Edge of Reality are big Team Fortress 2 fans and it shows in the design of Loadout. The game was clearly inspired by TF2, but there are some major differences. The action in TF2 can get pretty intense, but in Loadout things just get insane. Edge of Reality basically took the formula of TF2 and took it to a new level. There were instances where it would literally rain missiles. There is no respawn time so players are back in the action right after their killed.

Another area where Loadout excels is in the visuals. These are some of the most fluid animations we’ve seen in a first-person shooter. The characters themselves also have damage models. Many times players will have a chunk of their arm missing exposing the bone underneath. Other times players will get their torsos blown off leaving behind their legs still walking forward.

Loadout PAX East 2012 Hands Custom Weapons

Edge of Reality know that with a free-to-play model, having a pay wall is not the way to go. Players can play for free and see everything in the game. Players will be able to purchase cosmetic changes and weapons modifications. All the weapons in the game are designed to be balanced — there is no end all, super-powerful weapon. The modifications to weapons are only there to suit the playstyle of the individual and not increase damage. Therefore those who don’t pay can find mods to suit their play style and still be competitive.

Players will also be able to take part in challenges that reward random items, such as weapons mods, or cosmetic changes for weapons and characters.

Loadout is currently in closed beta for PC with an open beta scheduled for sometime this summer. The game will eventually make it to Mac users and Edge of Reality is currently in talks with Microsoft for an XBLA release.

Follow me on Twitter @Dwayne236.