General game information
Game name: LawBreakers
Release date: August 7, 2017
Price: US$ 29.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Multiplayer first person shooter
Developer: Boss Key Productions
Publisher: Nexon America
Cliff Bleszinski’s name has been associated with chest high walls and brown dystopias for the better part of a console generation, up to the point where most people would be hard pressed to remember anything else about the renowned American game designer. Luckily for us FPS fans, he hasn’t forgotten his Unreal Tournament past, and the first title he worked on after leaving Epic Games and establishing his own studio is LawBreakers, a hero shooter that is far closer to UT than to Overwatch, Paladins or Team Fortress 2, to name some juggernauts of this popular sub-genre.
Originally intended to be a free to play arena shooter, LawBreakers ended up as a US$ 30 release supported by cosmetic microtransactions after developers Boss Key Productions realized that they were spending far too much time trying to find a good monetization scheme that wouldn’t turn the game into a “pay to win” nightmare scenario.
While other modern shooters are more interested in building a cohesive cast of characters and elaborate backstories for them, Boss Key Productions‘ debut release seems to be all about the gameplay, dropping us into a selection of game modes after some light (and optional) video training on its nine character classes (or roles) and telling us to shoot other people and work together with our team to achieve a common goal.
As expected from a hero shooter, we’ll find different character archetypes such as support, DPS and tank, but interestingly, the developers chose to allow for far more flexibility than their competitors in the genre. For instance, the support-oriented Harrier class is excellent at keeping teammates alive, but can also take a beating and come out victorious, even when facing a pure DPS role. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any differences between each of the nine available classes, but it’s obvious that Boss Key Productions were far more interested in letting players have fun than forcing them to conform to a specific role.
Movement speed and airborne capabilities are where the real differences start to pop up, as some classes possess far more maneuverability than others, even going as far as being able to fly on any part of the map, as opposed to just running and floating in low-grav areas (we’ll get to this part later). Lighter roles excel at hit and run attacks, or at performing specific actions in some game modes, while stronger, ground based characters will be able to hold key choke-points and defend objectives with relative ease. The only movement-related ability that is shared by all characters is the blind fire key, which lets us do exactly that, fire blindly at whatever is behind our backs, also serving as a sort of jetpack in the low gravity portions of the map.
Aside from movement-enhancing abilities and the size of their health pools, LawBreakers‘ characters also differ in other parts of their skillset, as each role has their own weapon (with some of them even sporting a sidearm), grenade/support skill and an “ultimate” which can be used to devastating effect, but does not offer a “free” kill on a cooldown, unlike most videogame ultimates. Positioning and timing will usually be key when unleashing our abilities upon our enemies, and we must always manage their uptime/downtime carefully in order to avoid being caught with our pants down during a heated battle.
I particularly liked the maps featured in LawBreakers, as they were designed to make the most out of our movement abilities. There is a lot of room for vertical attacks, and parts of the arena feature a low gravity field that is perfect for dogfights and flanking maneuvers. Characters that are usually bound to the floor can take to the skies using their blind fire skill, finding themselves on relatively equal terms with classes that already had the ability to soar through the air.
There’s also a sense of freshness in Boss Key’s approach to map design, as they disregarded the industry’s fixation with lanes and choke-points, instead offering plenty of open spaces that place an increased emphasis on the player’s skill. Map awareness is key, and being able to find cover from our enemies’ unrelenting assault is as important as remembering medikit/healing station placement, since LawBreakers does not feature health regeneration.
Sadly, while LawBreakers‘ currently available five game modes are interesting on their own, they are all variations on objective based scenarios, with no room for deathmatch/team deathmatch. Cruising through the air while tightly holding a ball (which is also a time bomb) and then triumphantly scoring a goal is fun (and even more so if the ball is voiced by Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty fame) but sometimes we all want to kick back and shoot people in the face without worrying about objectives. Considering that all the characters are able to hold their own in combat, it’s strange that Boss Key left out two modes that are arguably a perfect fit for an arena shooter.
Moving on to the tech front, Epic‘s Unreal Engine 4 shines here as usual, providing a robust backend to support LawBreakers‘ fast paced gameplay and detailed textures/models. The art style might not appeal to everyone (it’s a very clean sci-fi look that I personally loved) but it does its job perfectly, letting us identify enemy characters during fights so we can deal with them accordingly. Killing enemies is usually rewarded with copious bloodsplatter and gibs, and the audio team was also on point with the game’s sound FX.
There is a lot to love about LawBreakers, with very few negatives knocking down the score. Cliff Bleszinski’s first post-Epic title successfully marries old school elements with modern hero shooter trappings without ever feeling like something we’ve played before. It may lack some personality when compared to its contemporaties, but that should not scare away potential players, considering the quality of the gameplay on offer.
8.5/10 – Great.