Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law
It’s great to see so many shooters making their mark on the industry again. I mean, they never really left, because right after Unreal Tournament stopped being relevant Halo roared onto the scene, but as a general rule there was only several “it” games at a time. Now we have too many to count as Overwatch has spurred a new development surge.
It’s a boon that’s led to projects like LawBreakers, Cliffy B’s new independent venture after departing the Gears of War series. And based on its launch it’s a gamble that paid off.
LawBreakers (PC [reviewed], PS4)
Developer: Boss Key Productions
Released: August 8, 2017
It’s weird to see how much LawBreakers has changed since its alpha. What was once a class shooter that was set to go free-to-play is now a premium hero jaunt with loot boxes. This might spring the Overwatch comparisons but they feel quite different (oh hey, hero/class shooters existed ages ago too).
For one, the game isn’t aimed at recruiting new players so much as it is grabbing those who pine for the old days of arena shooters. Sporting nine classes that run the gamut of damage-soaker, damage-dealer, and light support (that are still capable of offense), the delineation is less apparent than some of the drastically different playstyles that other hero shooters offer.
In theory, other than movement speed, everyone controls similarly, as they’re able to leap high into the air at a rapid pace and utilize the various zero-gravity swells within each map (one of the key mechanics of LawBreakers). As a result no one feels grounded or limited in scope, as everyone can pull off impressive rocket jump-esque plays of the game.
This is augmented by three abilities and two forms of fire for each class. One is typically a locomotion power, another is a grenade, and another is an ultimate. It’s not always that simple though, as certain heroes like Kitsune the assassin throw a wrench in the mix with alt-fire grappling hooks. My personal favorite is Faust the Gunslinger, who’s predicated on precise aiming with his dual revolvers and warp jumps, the latter of which can also be triggered by double-jumping.
A lot of characters share abilities like hovering or sprinting, which might seem like it takes away some of the uniqueness at first glance, but in my view it grounds the game as a whole. Heroes are different, yes, but they’re still cut from the same shooter cloth. This all funnels into my earlier point — no one feels particularly overpowered, they’re all formed from known shooter archetypes with a Boss Key twist.
The strong arena design helps facilitate their playstyles too. There’s plenty of open spaces, lots of vertical nooks to find, and room for tight-corners combat when the situation arises during an objective-based match. The best part is that Boss Key doesn’t relegate them to “three lane” maps like some Call of Duty developers would; they’re more fluid and reminiscent of an old-school shooter like Unreal (which some of the developers for LawBreakers have worked on).
Its five modes span existing ideas like domination, capture-the-flag, and football, but Overcharge is my favorite with a battery subbing out for a traditional flag. Having to charge it before scoring adds a lot of tension to a match, especially when it can swing so quickly after a good old fashioned killstreak. They were able to do all this without making the cosmetic loot box system feel scummy, too — I hope this is a proof of concept for Nexon, who typically crams “daily login” and boost bonuses into their games to the detriment of their development teams.
Boss Key’s philosophy allows for a more old-school arena shooter approach where skill-based twitch reaction is more important than team composition. That’s not a knock on any other game, it’s just a different feel that Boss Key was going for with LawBreakers, and succeeded. It might not have the flair of a few other games on the market, but it has strong bones that can grow over time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]