Insert Disk collects Loaded for the Sega Saturn.
Today’s retro game review is Loaded for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic by Gremlin is a rather gruesome top down run and gun action game. Choose from one of six prison inmates and blast your way to freedom through a range of levels. Known as Blood Factory in Japan, Loaded offers face paced action and a memorable soundtrack.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s back to 1996 today and video games just got violent again. Join me today as we take a look back at Loaded for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. Now, Loaded is one of those games that may have passed many by at the time and it certainly doesn’t come up in conversation much when you talk about run and gun games these days. However, I think that it’s worth revisiting this one as it does have something to offer the retro and modern gamer.
The game was first released in December of 1995 on the Sony PlayStation and then appearing on the Sega Saturn a few months later. I’m specifically looking at the Sega Saturn version here today but from what I have seen the two versions are virtually identical. There is also a Japanese edition of the game known as Blood Factory which is arguably the cooler name and more appropriate, you’ll see why in a minute of watching the game footage. Before we even get in to Loaded it’s worth looking at the physical box. There’s some great artwork on the front cover. I’m informed that much of the artwork was created by Les Spink and Greg Staples, better known for their work with 2000AD. The game did also feature a spin off comic with DC comics which has now become quite collectable.
The back of the box is suitably murky and this clearly looks like a game aimed at the slightly older target audience. You will of course get a very decent manual as per standard with the Sega Saturn. Inside is the only place in the game where you will find anything in the way of a story line. In game it seems to be completely missing, which perhaps isn’t a bad thing. In simple terms you play as one of six inmates of a maximum security prison. It’s your mission to break out and defeat another crazed lunatic from destroying the world. It’s classic action game nonsense and never mentioned again. Loaded is 100% about the action and the gore. As the cover states “Body bag not included”. Choose your player wisely from the options available. You’ve got the classic payoff between speed, damage and special attack combination to choose from. Some will have great fire power, others will have speed at their disposal. I would recommend Cap’n Hands as a good all-rounder to throw yourself in to the game with.
So, here we are in the maximum security setting. At first the world will seem rather intimidating as there are not a lot of clues in the way of where to go but this does become apparent with some simple exploration. You’ll need to collect various colour keys to open the corresponding door colour. Think Doom but from a top down perspective. You’ll soon then be swarmed by guards, other inmates and various weaponry. In short, just blast everything. Your go to method of destruction will be the standard shot but when the action gets hectic its worth letting off you bomb power. Depending on your character this will destroy most items in the rooms with a single hit. The control method is particularly well realised for this type of top down game. As with Smash TV you can use the shoulder button to lock your players firing direction and strafe around the map, this is incredibly useful. The left shoulder button allows you to run. Using a combination of these techniques you can become a one man train of devastation as you sprint down long corridors taking down everything at will. Loaded is a bit of tough game at times. You’ll need to pick up health packs regularly, save the bombs for those special moments of destruction and never step out in front of the large cannons. It’s a decent challenge but will punish you if you try to rush through the whole level.
The levels themselves are huge, really huge and on a first play through can seem a little too complex. By the later levels these really do need to be memorised to stand a decent chance of survival. To help the game does allow you to toggle a map on and off. This is better than nothing but I dare say that it could have been made just a little larger to be of real assistance to the player. The controls also allow you to zoom in and out which is a nice touch. In full zoom don’t expect to see much of the playfield at all. Full zoom out is most definitely the way to go if you want to see the enemy coming. As you can see here the action is incredibly frantic, gory and I’m pleased to say that this does transfer in to a certain amount of fun. For a while… Whilst the game play mechanics are all very tight, a level of repetition most definitely kicks in after the first couple of levels. It’s one of the features of this type of game though.
What interests me about Loaded is how much it borrows from its predecessors. Its large maps and key system from Gauntlet. It’s more mature themes and cash collection from the Chaos Engine. The gore from Smash TV And of course the uncanny resemblance to an Amiga classic, Alien Breed. This isn’t a bad thing at all though, these are all fantastic games. Loaded manages to finely balance that precarious tightrope of all out copying and becoming a new concept in its own right. Whilst the inspirations for the game are very clear Loaded does stand out as a game that wanted to push the next level of this type of game with more gore and bizarre characters. As with many of these other games there are secret areas to discover giving you access to more fire power, bombs and life so there’s certainly something for everyone here. You can somewhat rush from key to key taking out certain rooms or you can explore all of the cells if you wish. Finding those keys can of course be a challenge. In general each coloured key is in its own area and somewhat linear to find. The keys themselves are held by the yellow guards. Take them down as quickly as possible to progress.
If you are prepared to go the alternative routes you will be rewarded though. Use certain teleports and you’ll reach areas laden with gold. In the sound department Loaded works really well. Tracks from Pop Will Eat Itself really bring the game to life. Whilst this wouldn’t be the type of music I’d listen to elsewhere it fits the high energy experience of Loaded perfectly. Graphically the game is a bit divisive. Whilst it is fast and fluid and with some great character design there are moments when there’s perhaps too much going on if anything. Levels where you have the checkerboard floor will leave you feeling dizzy as bullets and explosions endlessly flash around you. It’s mayhem at times which is both this games Achilles heal and also its saving grace.
Loaded certainly isn’t a game that will appeal to all retro gamers. If you have no love of dark environments, heavy mental soundtracks and over the top killing then this one will easily pass you by as a curiosity rather than go to game. If you do enjoy fast paced, gory top down run and guns then Loaded will really tick all of the boxes for you. Its high energy will really delight and despite the now aging graphics I really enjoyed playing this one recently. Fans liked it enough at the time for sequel to be made in the way of Re:Loaded. However, the top down run and gun formula never really saw a major mainstream revival after this. The genre does of course live on but it’s difficult to think of a major release that did top down gore quite as well as Loaded… and for that it at least deserves some attention from modern collectors. Until next time, happy gaming.