Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Maze Games #13

Loaded a.k.a. Blood Factory (1996)
By: Gremlin Interactive / Interplay Genre: Maze / Run 'n' Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation
Also Available For: Saturn


As should be pretty clear from the title screen alone, Loaded is not a game for children. Though certainly not the first game to feature blood 'n' gore in a remotely realistic way, it was probably the first such game I played. It was therefore also the first game to make me question whether the inclusion of so much crimson content added enough to a game to make it worth restricting the number of people that could play it. We'll find that out soon I guess! It's set in the far future and features a space-faring mankind who have colonised many worlds in all corners of the galaxy. One such colony is the Raulf maximum security prison planet where six psychotic mercenaries are among the inmates. They have more reason than the many other inmates to feel aggrieved, however, as they have all been framed for the crimes of an evil space pirate known as F.U.B. who is now warden of the prison.

Mind you don't slip on those entrails young lady...
Unsurprisingly, it is therefore your job (as well as a friend's if desired) to select a character and set your cross-hairs on F.U.B. (Fat Ugly Boy). The only trouble is, there are 15 sprawling stages of aggresive enemies standing between you and this vengeance-fuelled goal. These enemies presumably constitute the remaining inmate population of the prison but, whoever they are, I'm not sure how innocent our 'heroes' will be after committing murder in the name of revenge. Mass murder in fact, on a rather bewilderingly large and indiscriminate scale! The stages are viewed from almost directly overhead and generally consist of a series of large rooms, adjoined by a load of smaller rooms, and linked by corridors. Near enough every room and corridor has a locked colour-coded door which requires the right colour key-card, so the gameplay pretty much consists of 'find card, shoot everyone, find next card shoot everyone', etc.

Yes, indeed that is my head exploding...
Each of the six player characters has differing speed, armour, main weapon, and bombs, and it's worth experimenting with them all to see which suits your style of play best, particularly regarding the weapons, as there are no alternatives that you can pick up through the game. There are several other power-ups though. Your ammo is finite so replenishments are most welcome, and the same goes for your health, and the your firepower can also be increased which lasts for the rest of that life. Less common are extra bombs, speed ups, extra lives, temporary invisibility, temporary invincibility, and a clock which freezes the enemies. These items, rare or not, are invaluable too, as the enemies will swarm on you as soon as you approach. They are more varied than they initially appear as well. As I wondered earlier, they do indeed appear to consist of other prison inmates of several types and strengths at first (even psychiatric patients in straight-jackets), but later on they take even scarier forms.

Ambushed! No strategy needed in this room...
Unsurprisingly you'll also encounter some prison guards eventually who are often accompanied by pesky guard dogs. To the despair of all, however, there are also ogres, zombies, swarms of goddamn rats, and other kinds of enemies you might not have expected to find. Aside from the rats, most of these take a good few hits to put down too, and in most cases that just means standing in front of them and holding down the fire button for five seconds or so. Move to next enemy and repeat. Well, that is until they start regenerating in the later stages at which point it's no longer worth the effort of mowing them down unless you have no choice (i.e. they're in the way, which they often will be). And that brings me to the game's biggest problem which is its complete and total lack of finesse. Yes, I know it's still a shoot 'em up, but I think the term 'mindless button-masher' was invented for this game!

No time to stop for a tasty snack in this kitchen...
The enemies, you see, immediately rush towards you as soon as they are in range (which is just beyond the limit of the screen). This soon becomes irritating as it means you frequently have them on all sides and shooting them at such close-range isn't easy. You can't employ a close-quarters form of attack (like the 'fighting' in Gauntlet), and unless it's the lumbering zombies or something, it's usually pointless trying to run away and pick them off from a distance as many run at the same speed as you (or even faster) and will follow you too. So basically you have to frantically keep turning and shooting until they're all gone. Move on and repeat the process. Over and over and over again. If this sort of mindless charging around blasting everything in sight until you run out of lives is appealing to you, Loaded may well be a game you enjoy a lot, but it doesn't really make for a very enjoyable game as far as I'm concerned.

Outside at last, but don't think it's any easier...
You will of course be able to refine your technique a little but you will still frequently find it hard to aim accurately, get hit by many shots coming from off-screen, especially from the rotating gun turrets found in many larger rooms. A strafing button helps and your view of the action can be zoomed in and out a little which can give you a little more warning of upcoming dangers, but the end result is still a game that's damn annoying more often than anything else. It's not all bad I suppose - the aforementioned charging around with all guns blazing can also be pretty satisfying now and then and the graphics are pretty decent too. The stages are perhaps a little dark and dreary but, considering the set-up, there is a reasonable variety of locales and the lighting effects are superb. Gun shots, explosions, and occasional wall-mounted lights briefly illuminate the gloomy rooms with glowy colour and it looks great.

Locked door behind me. Horde of zombies in front...
The scrolling and movement is not exactly super-smooth though. The frame rate goes down as the number of enemies on screen goes up for one thing, and the audio is unremarkable too. The various gunshots and explosions are okay, as well as the many splatty sounds made as you turn all the enemies into piles of red mush, but little of the music is even noticeable really. Overall then, Loaded is one of many examples from this period of blood 'n' violence not making an average game into a good one. That's about all it was known for; that and its fancy lighting effects - little has ever been said of the game itself and that's because it's not particularly good. It plays a bit like a faster-paced Alien Breed, but without the atmosphere, intricate stage design, or strategic elements, and while that game was tough, it was usually at least your own fault when you died. Here, everything seems far more random - it's not one to plan your way through! Maybe that was the idea but, if so, it wan't a good one.

RKS Score: 5/10

Gameplay Video: here's a sample of the game being played by someone who isn't me. Credit to Mr. NutsGum who recorded (presumably) and uploaded it :)


 

6 comments:

  1. One of the first PlayStation games I ever played... I remember enjoying it at the time, but when I played it again recently I got lost on the first level!

    The soundtrack's still great though, by Pop Will Eat Itself. Mostly I just put the disc in my CD player and enjoy it that way.

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  2. Lots of people have praised the soundtrack since I posted this but when I was writing it I had to go back to the game to check because I couldn't even remember if it had any music during play. I guess it didn't leave the biggest impression on me! :P

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    1. Remember that song, "Gimme Big Mac, gimme fries to go!" - same guys who did that :)

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    2. I have no idea what you're talking about and, judging by those lyrics, I don't think I want to! :P I may check it out though, just out of morbid curiosity :)

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  3. Another one that's been on my "to play" list for a long while now - looks like a Smash TV clone inside a maze? The music is definitely interesting even if the gameplay looks nothing special but it looks old-school enough to make me want to play it.

    There's also a sequel called Re-Loaded if you fancy subjecting yourself to more :)

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  4. Hi Mr. DS :) Yes, I knew about Re-Loaded which, as I understand it, is even worse. I suppose the first game is worth a quick blast if you're into these violent games but apart from the splattery corpses everywhere, there's really nothing notable about it at all...

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