When the first person shooter was born, your Nazi/Demon/Giant Smiley-fighting character was restricted to walking down set corridors and firing right in front of them. Later shooters would open up to display Unreal vistas and open environments. Enemies came at you from all directions and you could load into a vehicle to mow them down. Of course, with this expansion of locations, the speed of the gameplay suffered, as a huge environment wouldn't feel so big if you could dash across it like a madman. This expansion continued year after year, and while you could aim up to look at the skybox, games rarely gave you a reason to keep your eye on the skies. In 2017, that law is being broken. After a decade of developers refining methodical multiplayer shooters, the day of the fast-paced arena has firmly returned, and few do it better than LawBreakers.
Like all the best arena shooters, you don't really need a reason to jump into the gameplay. If you go looking, you'll find a story about "The Shattering," a world-altering cataclysm that shifted gravity and sped along the invention of jetpacks. You take on the role of Law or the Breakers they hunt, with both factions having a representative from each of the game's nine unique roles. This is a five on five class shooter with a number of objective modes to learn, but don't let that scare you off. LawBreakers has learned from the likes of Overwatch and Paladins, so each hero has a set number of abilities, just one or two weapons, and a very defined place on your team. Each character is easy enough to learn that you'll really want to master them all in your first few hours with the game.
Of course, this isn't to say that each class is worth mastering. Try as they might, the developers can't really balance huge hulking tanks in a game about flying through the air at top speed. The Juggernaut and Titan characters do have their charms, but I never felt in charge of the battlefield while playing as them. Their heavy weapons work best in the limited spots where you're holding a base from an attacking onslaught but standing still is a death sentence the rest of the time. Of course, maybe that's the point. The best characters in LawBreakers are the ones who can move from one end of each mid-sized arena to the other in the blink of an eye.
LawBreakers really makes great use of its unique movement mechanics while not overwhelming players with too much information even when bullets (or laser beams) are flying at you from all angles. Floating through low gravity zones and dodging players with a knee slide or a boost comes naturally after just a few matches. This is good, as learning to use each classes unique weapons can take some time. I found myself wishing for a kill cam or some other sort of highlights system just for the on the fly hints it would offer. As it stands, there's a lot of trial and error, and you'll shift sides to the abuser of that system once you get a handle on things.
While chaining together headshots in low gravity can be just as fun as that sounds, the modes of LawBreakers sometimes try too hard to break the mold. Each objective you're given is going to sound familiar to shooter fans, but they are different enough in practice that everyone will be learning from square one. You have a Neutral Flag mode called Blitzball (featuring a guest voice by Justin Roiland), but the ball has a shield surrounding it preventing instant pickups and caps are scored in the enemy base rather than your own. There is Turf War, which is a round based Territories/Domination that ups the pace by having each zone lock once it's captured and no real break between rounds. In my time with the game after launch, players seemed lost in some of these modes, and the game lacks a real tutorial to show them the way. At least PC players can practice with a bot match, but those on PlayStation 4 only have the option to mess around in an empty custom game.
I was most disappointed to see that the game lacks any standard deathmatch options. While it's true that these types of modes can overwhelm a shooter, LawBreakers already gets around this type of issue by only having one hopper for everyone to jump into. Between the more team-focused games, a chaotic kill or be killed scenario could be a good palette cleanser, especially if the team at Boss Key bring the same originality they had when designing the rest of the gametypes. Still, the scope of the game seems limited in a way that I hoped would subside in the journey from closed beta to final release. The core gameplay is killer, but there isn't a lot of hidden depth here to keep players coming back again and again, and that could be a problem considering the stiff competition in the shooter space.
The one thing that does try to hook players into continued play is a slow drip of cosmetics. This is the same loot crate system that Overwatch pioneered, but I feel like there's a lot more trash than treasure in these chests. There are countless weapon stickers in the lower tiers, and these are so small that they're hard to see on the customization screen, much less while you're actually playing the game. There are also way too many custom boot prints in the mix. These only show up on a successful melee kill, which doesn't happen very often in a game based on going five hundred miles per hour. I've never been one to require trinkets to keep playing a fun shooter (Team Fortress 2 excluded), but I know I'm in the minority and I don't think that this collection of cosmetics is going to be enough to pull in the type of folks that pine after legendary skins.
Despite the less than ideal loot system, the characters themselves are enjoyably over the top and have come a long way from the earliest profanity-laden builds I played a year ago. To have a character say "You broke the law and the law won" with a straight face in a game called LawBreakers is some next level dumb fun, and I'm all the way on board. On the flip side, the LawBreakers roster isn't as well-defined as heroes from other games, partially due to the fact that each set of weapons is cloned for two different characters. This makes the heroes identities muddled in a game all about guns, and each classes' two heroes are ultimately interchangeable. If videos like this one were included in the game rather than off site on YouTube, it could go a long way towards world building.
Ultimately, LawBreakers builds a solid foundation for a unique and rewarding multiplayer arena experience. If you're a fan of bigger games with the need for speed like Titanfall 2 and DOOM, Boss Key Production's foray into the FPS market should be right up your alley. With a steady supply of new modes, maps and characters, this game could turn into a sleeper favorite, and it deserves praise for striving to innovate in one of the most crowded genres around.
Our LawBreakers review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developers. It is also available on PC via Steam.
LawBreakers innovates at every turn, backing up its demanding learning curve with rock solid gameplay that rewards skill and style in equal measure.(Review Policy)
- Frantic Firefights
- Over The Top Attitude
- Unique First Person Situations
- Lacking Tutorial
- Unimpressive Loot
- Sparse Worldbuilding