Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Boss Key Productions
Publisher: Nexon America Inc.
Good grief I suck at this game! I can’t count how many times I’ve died or simply been annihilated by a much better player. But I want to get better. I want to keep playing and keep learning, and that’s rare in a multiplayer game. Underneath the chaos of 5v5 objective-based combat there’s a first-person shooter that places skill first, testing your speed, accuracy and spatial awareness. For some reason, LawBreakers is getting overlooked and thus low player counts are common, and that’s a genuine shame because there’s something bloody good to be found here.
The basic idea is familiar stuff which is why comparisons to a certain Overwatch are common and understandable in many regards, yet to wipe LawBreakers off as a simple Overwatch clone would be a huge disservice to LawBreakers fast-paced and often brutally challenging combat. Unlike Overwatch the emphasis isn’t on team composition as all nine of the game’s classes come combat ready. Even the medic has the word “battle” in its name and she comes packing a grenade launcher to augment her healing drones. No, the emphasis here is more on movement as all nine classes have different ways of getting around that must be learned. The mini-gun toting Vanguard has a hover pack that lets her jet around while another class has a grappling hook and yet another can warp short distances.
Once you’ve got the basics of each class’ movement sorted out you need to figure out how to use it in zero-gravity. All the maps bar one have a zero-gravity area, usually right in the middle, where you can merrily float around. This is the game’s unique gimmick and boy is it a good one. Learning to use momentum and how to effectively change direction and generally just navigate is key because a lot of the objectives are going to be in these areas. There are even floating balls with their own gravity which you can use as a slingshot to get around quicker as a slow-moving player is easy pickings.
This ties in with the blindfire mechanic where the CTRL key lets you fire backward. Now, actually killing someone or even just hitting them using this can be damn-near impossible, but the real trick of blind fire is that it can be used to propel you around, especially in zero-gravity. The most extreme example of this is the Titan, a RPG-wielding maniac who also happens to be the only class that doesn’t have a special movement power mapped to the Shift key. He’s kind of slow then, but his rocket launcher can propel him forwards pretty quickly and in zero-g a skilled player can use it to quickly shift direction.
These zero-g fights are, to me, probably the coolest thing in LawBreakers as it feels genuinely fresh and exciting. Aiming at someone normally in a game as fast as this is challenging, but trying to keep track of them in zero-g when they can be above, below or to the side of you feels like trying to navigate a street when you’re properly shit-faced drunk. When you throw in quick fast people can move around it’s probably one of the most manic FPS situations I’ve ever found myself in.
Getting a hang of the movement is only the start as LawBreakers has a hell of a learning curve when it comes to fighting over the objectives. Hitboxes are small, movement is fast and death comes quickly thanks to quite low health on even the toughest of characters. In fact I personally found health to be too low as it often means a fight gets one by whoever saw the other player first. I admit that it has taken me a long time to become competent at tracking enemies and nailing them, especially in the zero-g areas where a player who has really gotten the hang of moving around can be a pain in the ass to take out.
But once you do get the hang of it combat feels amazing. Aside from getting jumped from behind and summarily annihilated being killed never feels unfair. Instead, each death is a chance to learn from your mistakes and come back even better the next time around, and when you do start racking up the kills there’s an incredible sense of pride to be had. I had numerous exhilarating skirmishes where I came out on top by the skin of my pearly whites, the kind of battle that I haven’t had in a multiplayer shooter in a long time. And the more I play the more I feel as though there’s still a lot of little nuances to pick up on unlike Overwatch where the depth is pretty shallow. Which isn’t to say LawBreakers is an incredibly deep game, but there’s enough going on to keep dedicated players learning for a while.
So far so much praise, then, but LawBreakers has its fair share of problems holding it back. Firstly while I appreciate the nine different classes in terms of their abilities, weapons and movement they’re also a forgettable bunch who lack personality and have generic designs that make them hard to differentiate on the battlefield. They don’t even say anything particularly fun or interesting while they’re fighting.
At least they differentiate themselves more in terms of skills, weapons and movement. The Gunslinger, for example, can warp when he moves around and gets a damage bonus for the first shot of his Alpha pistol when he comes out of that warp, plus he also gets a handy throwing knife. Another character boasts jetboots that are used to fly around but that can also fire those beams toward an enemy while backpedaling, plus he has a laser rifle.
They’ve all got one other ability besides their movement skill, plus what is essentially an “ultimate” that takes a while to charge up. What I like about these is that they aren’t absurdly overpowered. In fact, the first few times I used these skills I don’t think I actually killed anyone with them, the exception being the medic who gets to deploy a shield bubble that heals and blocks all weapons for a short amount of time. These abilities are extremely useful when used at the right time but otherwise don’t dominate fights too much. A good player can use them to turn the tide of a fight.
That generic design I mentioned a few paragraphs ago pervades the whole game. It’s not that LawBreakers is ugly, it’s just completely forgettable. It looks like your standard first-person shooter with the occasional flash of something more interesting.
Map design also needs to see some improvement, largely because the developers chose to attempt to make all five modes playable across the nine standard maps that the game ships with and it simply doesn’t work. Take Blitzball, a fun mode in its own right but on a couple of maps it’s possible for a team to grab the ball and score in just a few seconds. Even ignoring the modes themselves the maps just aren’t all that interesting or memorable.
Speaking of the modes there’s four at the moment to pick from. Blitzball just has you charging in to grab a ball and then return it to base to score, while Turf War is a case of battling over three different areas that become active on the map. Meanwhile, Overcharge has you duking it out over a battery that must be defended while it charges up. The interesting catch is that the battery doesn’t lose charge when it’s grabbed, so an enemy team can storm in, steal your battery and then finish charging it up at their base. Cheeky sods. Finally, there’s Uplink where you grab the Uplink from the center of the map, charge back to base and then wait for it to download data to your….wait. That sounds a lot like Overcharge. Wait, it basically is Overcharge except without the progress being retained. Huh. Yes, one of the game’s problems is that out of the four available modes two of them are way too similar for their own good.
As all of this nonsense is going on you’ll unlock stash drops that can award you with new character skins, weapons skins, decals, stickers and boot footprints that flash up on the enemy screen if you kick them to death or off the edge of the map. It’s standard stuff and ultimately pretty boring. And yes, there are microtransactions so you can buy the game and then spend even more money on useless tat. The only saving grace is that the stuff you can unlock is purely cosmetic so nobody can pay for an advantage at the moment.
And for those wondering there’s no single-player mode, which I’m perfectly fine with. There’s no reason to tack on an awkward single-player on a game designed purely to be a multiplayer affair and the price-tag represents that with an asking price of about £22.
So here we arrive at the end of my LawBreakers review, and honestly I’m pretty impressed. It’s fast, frantic, fun and challenging with a roster full of interesting abilities and movement options. It just gets let down with boring character designs, maps that still need work and a generic visual style. Still, future maps, characters, and modes will all be offered free of charge in order to flesh out what is currently a fairly slim package, and as time goes on we may see the developers introduce a little more flair to their designs and start creating maps tailored toward certain modes rather than trying to make them work with everything. But sweeping all that aside I’ve been completely addicted to LawBreakers despite how much I so often struggle to keep up, and that’s a hallmark of a good game. It makes me want to jump back in and get better. It makes me want to keep playing, to find the time throughout the day to hop on for a quick match or ten or twenty. I can’t wait to see where the game goes in the future. It’s a recommendation from me.
Oh, and ignore the low-player count criticisms. The truth is I can get matches in a few seconds, and if you don’t buy the game for due to low-ish player-count then you’re going to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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