LawBreakers Review – Expertly Crafted, Innovative Hero Shooter
LawBreakers is an expertly crafted and deep hero shooter that’s an original alternative to the existing crop. The FingerGuns review;
It was a game of Blitzball and I’m playing as the Titan Cronos. As I enter the zero-g area where the ball had spawned, I saw an opponent Gunslinger about to pick up the ball. My Titan moves much slower than the guy in my sights so I have to get creative. I jumped into the air, started to float forward and then backfire with my rocket launcher. Because of the zero-g, this propelled me across the map at speed but I’m out of ammo and need to reload. The Gunslinger has seen me and is taking pot shots in my direction – I’m getting hit but I’m hanging on and I’m coming for him and i’m coming fast. I reach him and I do what comes naturally – I kick him in the head. Because of the zero-g, he goes flying off the platform and into the air but he recovers by warping closer to the platform and tries to land on the area beneath me. By this point, my rocket launcher is ready to roll once again and I pop one off at the ground beneath him, forcing him back up and away from the ground. I watch in amusement as he sinks lower and lower, falling off the map to his death. In that moment, I inadvertently let out a giggle similar to that of a school girl who has been told she was cute by the boy she had a crush on. It was in that moment that I fell in love with LawBreakers.
While most of the big FPS developers are touting the virtues of “boots on the ground” and “having a more grounded experience” for their next game, Boss Key have gone exactly the opposite way. They’ve left left the ground entirely, casting off the shackles of gravity while screaming “Fly, my pretties. Fly!” like the Wicked Witch of the West. Similarly, while many publishers are sending their franchises “back to their roots”, Cliff Bleszinski has returned to his roots with LawBreakers which feels more like the evolution of Unreal Tournament than a competitor with the Hero Shooters it is unavoidably being compared too.
So let’s get this out of the way with now – LawBreakers is a “hero shooter” but its similarities to Overwatch, Paladins and Battleborn are only skin deep. It’s an online only, objective based FPS with 18 characters spread out across 9 different roles – 1 hero (part of the Law) and 1 villain (the Breakers) per role that are only cosmetically different. The character select screen looks almost identical to that of Overwatch and the pre-game Warm Up, the Role “Ult’s-by-any-other-name”, cosmetic loot crates, and in-base Role Swap are borrowed from Blizzard too. That’s where the similarities end.
The actual game play is an entirely different beast.
It’s faster with more verticality than any of its competitors and, dare I say it, is more tactical. LawBreakers doesn’t feel like a game where you develop a “main” and only stray from it when you’re getting curbstomped. Sure, you can have a favourite role that fits the way you want to play but, more so than other Hero shooters, you’ll get the shit (literally) kicked out of you by a good crew if your team isn’t balanced properly and evolves during a match. Getting beat down with your Titan? Switch to a Harrier and take the objectives with speed rather than force. Need to hold that objective? Switch up to a Juggernaut and wall it off and then beat the other team with stopping power. While you’re playing, you can see the moments when a deliberate design choice was made to encourage competition and reward skill and the understanding of each role.
These deliberate design elements permeate the 8 map designs too. The “unique selling point” of LawBreakers are the zero-g areas. Inside these areas, you can zip around unhindered by gravity whether you’re playing as a nippy blade wielding Assassin or the sluggish but powerful Titan. Momentum plays a huge part in these areas, blasting you forward or back when you fire your weapons depending on their fire power. This adds yet another layer of strategy to the learning curve. As you might expect from a game that encourages flying around like a bat out of hell, the maps accommodate this. There’s wide open spaces with doors and entries at every elevation mixed with closed-in corridors, both of which offer advantages and disadvantages to the role types. The maps were designed to be even too, favouring neither team from spawn point to objective.
The maps do take some time to learn because a). The PS4 version has no tutorial mode and b). Perhaps too much time was taken to making the maps look sci-fi and feel like they’re part of something bigger. There are locked or malfunctioning doors around the external walls of some of the maps and, during my first half a dozen Quick Play matches, I had to feel out which doors opened and which doors were just superficial extensions to the map theme. This is a short lived frustration which subsides over time and you’ll soon have every nook, cranny and fastest route to the objective memorised.
Talking of objectives, LawBreakers boasts some inventive reinventions of classic FPS game modes. The most by-the-numbers is the Occupy, a variant of King of the Hill which changes location every so often. Then there’s Uplink and Overcharge. Both modes require you to reach an objective, capture it and then return it to your base but with one small but vital difference. In Overcharge, you’re charging a battery and the battery can be charged at either base – but the battery retains the charge and points are awarded to whoever has the battery when it passes the 100% charge mark. This means that if you steal the battery from the enemy base when it is at 100% charge and return it to your base, you can steal the win from the clutches of defeat. Cue utter heartbreak/jubilation depending on which side you’re on. The feeling of stealing a 100% charged battery from under the noses of the other team and then scoring at your own base is electrifying. In Uplink, the antenna objective fills up a bar specifically for your team when it’s installed at your base. This is a “Capture the flag and keep it for as long as you can” mode that’s more forgiving than Overcharge but is equally as tense. There’s also Blitzball which is similar to both Overcharge and Uplink but instead of returning the objective to your base, you have to take it to the enemy goal. This is the mode that emphasises the uniqueness of LawBreakers more than any other with mid-air tussles for the Blitzball and American Football-esque tactics by powering over the opposition that’s guarding the goal or by sprinting the whole map in seconds to take it home. Oddly, the Blitzball has its own personality and is voiced by Justin Roiland (the voice of Morty from Rick & Morty). It’s pretty funny to hear Morty shout out “Uh oh, I’ve been dropped” and “It’s time for BLITZBALLLLL” during the match, at least for the first few times. My favourite mode is Turf War which turns the classic Domination mode on its head. The map has 3 objectives (1 at each end and one in the middle) which are captured by standing next to them. The twist – once they’re captured, the objective is locked and the point is yours. The rounds are also separated by a playable intermission in which you can also kill off your opponents. This is such a wonderful and inventive way to reinvigorate a game mode with a whole new level of strategy to consider.
Now, let’s talk about the characters. The cast of LawBreakers all carry off that sci-fi aesthetic and have highly detailed models but, when compared to the characters in Overwatch or even Battleborn, they lack that colourful, whimsical charisma. They look like the finalists in a Starship Troopers cosplay competition with shades of Gears, Killzone and Batman’s rogues gallery thrown into the mix. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (they all look badass) but they’ll be difficult to fall in love with like you would (and probably have) with the Overwatch personalities. Some models are a little samey too, which means that in the heat of battle, it’s often difficult to see whether you’re facing off against a Wraith or an Enforcer which require a different set of tactics to take down. What they lack in Pixar-esque charm, however, they make up in attitude and aggressiveness. Boss Key have done a good job of making the Law the “good guys” and the Breakers the “bad guys” and this comes out in the one-liners they drop on the battlefield. When the Battle Medic Tokki screeches out “At least it doesn’t hurt anymore” when she kills a Breaker or when Enforcer Kintaro yells “I can smell cheap cologne. There must be TASC agents near by” when he spots a member of the LAW, their personalities really start to shine through. This won’t be enough for some players, but for me, this all ties into the Law vs. Breakers theme and spurs me on to kick more ass. This good vs. evil archetype is missing is from the other Hero Shooters out there. Here, it gives the game more of a purpose and drive.
The future of LawBreakers will be determined by what content there is in the pipeline as well as what type of players it can attract. As of right now the 8 maps, 5 game modes, 18 characters and 9 roles should be more than enough content to keep the game populated for at least a few months, especially when you consider how original and exhilarating most of that is. As a game play experience, LawBreakers stands alone. It’s faster and more intoxicating than Overwatch, leveraging everything that was positive about Unreal into a well crafted, cleverly designed and innovative package. The lack of outward eccentricity of the characters aside, It’s one of the most exciting, competitive and lively shooters available for the PS4. If LawBreakers can overcome its slow start and bring that “waiting for players” time down from 30 seconds to single digits, it’ll be a classic.
LawBreakers is available now for PC & PS4 (review version).
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of LawBreakers in order to complete this review. For more information on our review policy, click here.