LawBreakers PC Launch Review
After several beta tests, live conventions, media and press showcases, Boss Key Productions has unleashed their premiere FPS title to the public. Headlined by Cliffy B of Unreal Tournament and Gears of War fame, this new shooter is set to test how fast you can move and how well you can aim in a gravity-defying battle known as LawBreakers. While borrowing elements from arena shooters such as Unreal Tournament and team-based shooters like Team Fortress and Overwatch, LawBreakers mixes these elements together with a low-gravity gimmick and unique role based movement mechanics, creating a shooter that looks and feels similar, yet different, than what gamers are used to.
Interestingly enough: back in 2015 when LawBreakers was known as Project BlueStreak, Cliffy B openly talked about the game during the PC Gaming Show 2015 press conference, stating that they wanted to create an FPS that was accessible to an older gaming crowd. The kind of gaming crowd that didn’t have the speed and reaction time that younger gamers tend to have, all while having weapons and elements that allow both of these players to compete on equal footing with each other. Since then, the finalized product has taken a complete 180 from Cliffy B’s original plans, as LawBreakers has turned into a game where only the skilled can survive.
Those that have been following my beta reports on LawBreakers will know that I’ve been on the pulse of this game for quite some time, and now with the game now officially launched, it’s time for me to give my final thoughts on the game.
Movement and momentum are the core of LawBreakers’ gameplay. While LawBreakers uses a familiar control scheme for moving forward, back, left and right, as well as mouse control for firing, the most important thing to know about the controls is the lack of a crouch button. Normally mapped to CTRL or C key, this has been replaced as a blindfire key, allowing you to shoot directly behind you. On paper, blindfiring may seem fairly useless and to many other FPS games out there, it would be. However, the key to making use of blindfire effectively is that several weapons in the game have a momentum impulse when fired. This means when that blindfiring while in a zero gravity zone, you’ll be pushed forward. For most roles, blindfire will become one of your main tools for traversing maps in LawBreakers. It’s such a simple and satisfying game mechanic that comes with the price of using your weapon’s ammo, so players will have to think carefully when it comes to knowing when to shoot back at enemies or blindfire out of danger. Of course, it also possible to get kills using blindfire and while the chances of getting one is slim, it’s satisfying to achieve, so you better get that shot on video.
There’s more to the game’s movement than just blindfiring in zero gravity. Each role has their own way of moving through the battlefield: Vanguards can soar using jetpacks, Enforcers can activate fields that boost their base movement speed for themselves and their teammates, Titans can rocket jump, Assassins can swing using grappling hooks, Juggernauts can sprint and leap, Wraiths can slide, wall bounce and triple jump all over the place, Battle Medics can glide using hover jets, and Harriers can move in any direction with their jetpacks. Each unique form of role movement mixed in with classic arena style movement like strafejumping and bunny hopping creates a fast-paced and hectic environment where opponents can move into any position and attack from every angle possible. While some forms of movement are easier to handle than others, they all feel tight and responsive, and natural to those that are familiar with arena shooters.
As a mix between a team-based and twitch-based arena shooter, so many factors must be learned and mastered in order to survive in battle. It can be quite intimidating to play at first, and there WILL be lot of rage inducing moments for first timers where everything feels impossible to get a grasp on. Those that are able to tough it out will see that there’s a method to LawBreakers madness.
The significant learning curve of LawBreakers includes learning how to properly move in zero gravity, how to move effectively in normal gravity, close and long range gunplay, melee combat, skills, ultimate abilities and more. Even with so many intricacies, LawBreakers refuses to hold the player’s hand through it all, for better and for worse.
Those that have only ever played modern shooters like Overwatch or classic shooters like Unreal Tournament will have small mountain to climb before they can handle LawBreakers at a competent level. But for those that already have played both modern and classic shooters will be able to put their years of FPS experience together in order to become a dominant force of nature right out of the gate. I certainly felt that way as I was able to slay opponents left and right with my years of slogging through skirmishes in Quake 3 Arena and Team Fortress 2 while most players couldn’t figure out how to keep their momentum up in key moments where they really needed it.
While the focus on skill is nice, it’s also a bit discouraging as the game doesn’t do much to explain how important certain gameplay elements are to survive, and the lack of an interactive tutorials REALLY hurts this game’s appeal when more than half of the new players I see don’t even know that blindfiring is a part of the game. You simply cannot put up a bunch of tutorials on YouTube and expect new players to know how to play their role just like that. Boss Key really should have taken the time to add proper tutorials to the game, because as it stands, just having an open sandbox to experiment with can only teach a player so much.
Unlike similar titles such as Overwatch, the roles available in LawBreakers aren’t as cookie cutter in their gameplay design. Unlike Overwatch, where one player can pick a certain hero to counter another hero to great effect, all the roles in LawBreakers can be effective against all other roles. While the role balance isn’t perfect by any means, there are absolutely no hard role counters in this game, which is something that I absolutely love. I have seen completely outrageous team compositions such as three wraiths, an enforcer and a titan, or two titans, one juggernaut and two battle medics. Both of these team comps can be just as effective as any other, just as long as the teams are coordinated enough, which is something that one cannot say for the likes of Overwatch where team composition is everything. While I still feel that support classes should have been left aside for a game as fast paced as LawBreakers, the unimportance of having a “balanced” team is something that I welcome greatly.
And while being designed as a team-based game, it’s quite possible for lone wolves to hold their own in a skirmish. Many times I’ve seen single assassins, wraiths, and titans plow down their opposition with relative ease and with little to no backup. While it’s obviously better to have a team with you when a fight breaks out, it’s pretty clear to say that good players can absolutely carry a team on their backs.
The game modes available in LawBreakers take many tried-and-true elements from many other classic FPS game types while adding small twists. Take, for example, Overcharge and Uplink, which is like capture the flag where players have to defend their battery/beacon from opposing players for a certain amount of time to score points; or Turf War and Occupy where players fight over specific zones on the map; and Blitzball, which is basically just American football but ten times more violent. While each mode can be fun to play for the most part, Overcharge and Turf War do not feel very distinct from Uplink and Occupy, respectively, and as such, makes the game feel like it only has three game modes instead of five. While many more game modes are being planned as free updates in the future, the lack of distinction between the few modes we have now can make the game feel a bit lacking.
The maps in Lawbreakers, while having different themes to them, are all primarily designed in a very similar fashion: the middle of the map contains a huge zero gravity zone where players can fight over objectives while have a surrounding area with normal gravity and several branching paths to take. There’s also an emphasis on vertically throughout each map as players can either attack objective points from the above, from the sides or from behind while getting the drop on enemies. These normal gravity zones also tend to have tight corridors and spaces which at times can become a little frustrating to navigate through during game modes such as Occupy, where players have to fight over very small zones, forcing players to funnel through and causing matches to become a total mess where no amount of skill will really help in these regards. Outside of playing Occupy mode, it is fun to run through and take advantage of every corner you can see.
Also taking a nod from modern gaming conventions, LawBreakers features a fair amount of visual customization for your favorite roles and weapons, plus your player profile. It’s hard to deny that the stash box system has a very striking resemblance to how loot boxes work in Overwatch. From leveling up your player profile and earning stash boxes, players can unlock role skins, weapon skins, weapon stickers, and several decals to make your characters look slick on the battlefield. Of course, the stash box system also comes with the negative parts of Overwatch’s loot box system as well, where there’s a heavy chance that you’ll get duplicate items or items that have little interest to you as your try to earn enough compensation credits to buy that super legendary skin that you’ve been eying in the character customization menu for a while. Fortunately, players can earn free credits just by watching through the game tutorial videos once, as well as earn stash boxes for completing achievement goals, so there’s plenty of incentive for players to try to play at their best.
And if you have a real vanity obsession, they’ve even included a weapon inspection key that lets you stop and admire your weapon’s beauty. Just make sure you’re not standing around looking at your weapons while your enemies have theirs pointed at your head.
Visuals and Presentation
With a strong emphasis on mixing colorful effects with some gritty environments, LawBreakers presents a world that looks and feels believable despite the game having a sci-fi theme. Shopping malls, train stations, and security complexes are just some of the few areas that players will visit in the LawBreakers world, and they all look fairly impressive, although not quite as impressive as say environments in similarly themed such as Titanfall. This is due to the environments being more closely packed together instead of being wide open, so there isn’t much to take notice of after the first few playthroughs.
The character designs themselves, while decent in quality, lack any kind of flair that makes them memorable. This is a bit of a shame because Boss Key clearly wanted people to have some sense of attachment with characters they’ve created, having given short biographies for each of them in their role analysis videos. The amount of story and lore given to these characters is bare minimum at best and their personalities seem too cookie-cutter. As I’ve noticed from playing in-game and from watching the LawBreakers community forums, many players don’t even address the characters in LawBreakers by their names. Almost no one sees the Juggernaut role as N.A.S.H or A.E.G.I.S. Almost no one addresses the Enforcer as Agent Axel or Kintaro.
I think if Boss Key Productions spent more time fleshing them out a bit more so they would have something more interesting to remember them besides spouting cheesy one-liners, there could have been a better character presentation overall, but as it stands, there’s very little reason to care about any of these characters.
The lack of interest in the characters is also due to the lack of any real story set in the game outside of the initial reveal trailer back in 2015. Yes, I understand that LawBreakers is a multiplayer focused game, so story and lore should seem secondary. Still, games like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 managed to create a memorable world within their game’s story and characters that players love on a personal level, all without a dedicated in-game story, so there is very little reason that LawBreakers cannot do the same. Boss Key Productions seems to have only gone halfway with their story and world building efforts, and ultimately this aspect of the game’s presentation falls flat.
But to give some credit to the presentation… in terms of raw visuals, the game makes use of the Unreal 4 Engine along with all the bells and whistles that come with it. Solid looking texture work, choice lighting effects on specific maps and more makes the game look colorful without stepping towards a cartoony visual style. While there isn’t many other details that I can point out on a technical level, it is safe for me to say that LawBreakers looks like a game made for this generation. The sound design also works very well with distinct weapon sound effects, engaging music and smaller details like rocking guitar riffs whenever you manage to get a multi-killstreak going.
Conclusion: Great (4/5)
LawBreakers is a game that was made for gamers that want an FPS where skill is the dominant factor in their gameplay experience, which can be a make or break deal for many gamers out there. It’s uncompromising in its premise and demands that you either “git gud” or die trying. With that said: while I do feel that Lawbreaker’s focus on skill may turn more people way from it, I expect that it will find a very niche audience of players in the same fashion as Titanfall 2. The fact that they plan to add new modes, maps, and roles for free over time also helps to keep the game active and I certainly hope the game has many years ahead of it. Though the presentation could have been better overall, the gameplay is absolutely the reason you’ll want to give this game a try, and priced at only $29.99 USD, I personally feel that it’s worth the purchase.
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