Hero shooters didn’t suddenly hit a boom period and emerge to dominate the current market a la Overwatch. They’ve been a staple of gaming since Monday Night Combat and Global Agenda. Boss Key Productions’ LawBreakers does fall squarely into the hero shooter genre but mixes in the arena combat of Quake with literal gravity-defying movement that’s seemingly more at home in Titanfall 2. However, if the hero shooter genre were like a school choir, then LawBreakers definitely feels straight of juvie – it’s loud, rambunctious and headstrong but lacks cohesion among certain elements. Plus, for all the noise being made, there isn’t too much of substance currently there.
“In many ways, LawBreakers is ingenuous in how it handles established multiplayer shooter tropes.”
Forget about in-depth lore – LawBreakers basically pits the police against criminals with a global event called The Shattering having brought fluctuating levels of gravity to different arenas. Each faction is represented by nine classes, each with a unique character. You have the Vanguard class, a mini-gun touting, jet-pack riding heroine with the ability to dive bomb enemies, represented by Maverick of the Law and Toska-9 of the Breakers.
There’s Deadlock and Helix, the Wraith class of characters that rely on slides, triple jumps and ballistic knives that can be shot and exploded for area of effect damage. Their key “Ultimate” is being able to slow incoming enemies, picking them off quickly with the powerful machine pistol. Kitsune and Hellion are the Assassins, capable of high damage melee attacks, grapples, a shotgun for mid-range combat and an Ultimate that triggers life-steal and increased damage for melees while revealing enemies through walls. Other classes have their own unique abilities and understanding the nuance behind them is essential to success.
In many ways, LawBreakers is ingenuous in how it handles established multiplayer shooter tropes. Maps are pretty much symmetrical with an objective at the centre, which is usually where the low-gravity portion also resides. There are outer edges that can be weaved around, usually by grappling with the Assassin or using the afterburners on the Vanguard. There’s no regenerating health but health pick-ups and stations are scattered on the map, provided you stop moving long enough to reach them.
“Even for those who do enjoy the high-speed combat and low time-to-kills, there’s something that’s just…weird about the movement.”
You’d think this would make the Battle Medics valuable but the very nature of the game is fast-paced and aggressive even for “support” characters. Objectives in Turf War, for instance, simply need to be captured to contribute to your score total. You’re always on the move, always flying high or falling off the map (like I did several times). The low-gravity pockets aren’t necessarily innovative but there is some frantic fun to be had while battling in mid-air attempting to one-up the competition. That is, until you’re insta-gibbed into oblivion by a Wraith or Assassin.
In this sense, while LawBreakers is very much about playing without much coordination and rewarding individual skill, the most effective players are those that team up and pursue objectives. You might not need a Juggernaut to create space for you like a tank would in, say, Overwatch so in this sense, hero composition doesn’t matter all that much. But then again, some abilities, especially the Ultimates, can turn the tide when guarding a battery on Overcharge. This doesn’t mean they’re unbalanced – at the end of the day, it does come down to your own skill but it’s far more chaotic and haphazard than you’d think. For some players, this will be great but for others who may want a change of pace from the high-speed, high-twitch action by playing a different role, some things may just not click.
Even for those who do enjoy the high-speed combat and low time-to-kills, there’s something that’s just…weird about the movement. This is no more apparent then when you’re in the low-gravity settings, as momentum can keep you going forward but also results in unwanted actions (like floating off of an objective when jumping). It takes some getting used to but it was certainly fun trying to apply the various abilities and weaponry to these portions.
When it comes to balance, it definitely feels like the Wraith may be superior to other classes in terms of damage. Regardless, each class has their strengths and weaknesses. The Assassin may have life-steal and added damage when Ulting but keep your distance and she goes down quick. Likewise for the Vanguard’s Starfall Ultimate where, like an Egyptian in the sky, she can be shot down before executing her attack.
“LawBreakers lacks any real personality in its settings and characters to really draw you in.”
LawBreakers ships with eight maps and four game modes. The maps are spread across intriguing locations like the heights of Vertigo or the décor of Promenade. Often times, there are few distinguishing factors in these maps. Sure, Promenade has a giant sphere with an opening in the centre and Vertigo offers way more places to fall haplessly. But you’ll be nonplussed about finding any interesting differences between Reactor and Grandview after a point.
The same unfortunately applies to the game modes as well – Uplink and Overcharge feel too similar as teams essentially guard an upload or a battery to score points. Turf War is also objective-based but there’s some fluidity to be had in how you capture points. Blitzball should be the craziest available option but again, it just feels like Overcharge without the actual charging battery. This isn’t to say these modes are bad or not fun – sometimes it’s better to keep things simple.
But LawBreakers lacks any real personality in its settings and characters to really draw you in. Characters don’t come across as all that interesting with a random voice line here and there to remind you of their respective nationalities and provide a bit of cheesy wit. There’s also the fact that LawBreakers lacks a number of quality of life features. You can’t set different sensitivities or control settings for each hero.
Trying to browse the customization screen while queuing for a match isn’t possible unless you leave the queue. Once a lobby has been queued up, it takes some time for map assets to load. Though tutorials and custom games are included, there’s no competitive or ranked mode (which will likely change down the line so sit tight). Currently, you earn XP, unlock Stash Boxes for cosmetics, equip character and weapon skins that range from cool to “meh” and repeat.
“As it stands there’s something special in the bones of Bleszinski’s latest epic – it just needs more meat and personality to fully take shape.”
Though matchmaking operates at a moderate pace, matches can sometimes be lop-sided as you wait for other players to spawn in. Since this was the South East Asia server, it wasn’t uncommon to leave a match and run into the same people again and again while re-queuing. Granted, this wasn’t at peak hours but with what’s already here, I’m wondering if Boss Key can actually build off of it and increase the player base in the long run. At the very least it would help to bring a wider range of skill to the basic quickplay.
At its price, LawBreakers seems to deliver just enough bang for its zero G buck to draw players in. The combat is fast and exciting, the addition of different abilities in low-gravity settings adds a lot to the crazy flow of matches and on PC at least, it runs fairly well. However, whether you compare it to other twitch shooters with crazy movement like Titanfall 2 or hero shooters like Overwatch, LawBreakers doesn’t seem to establish its presence as well as either of them, whether it’s in the game modes or the very heroes you’ll be shooting with.
For some fast-paced fun without too many hang-ups about compositions and teamwork, LawBreakers could be good for a few games but you might want to stick with the latest hits for the long run. As it stands there’s something special in the bones of Bleszinski’s latest epic – it just needs more meat and personality to fully take shape.
This game was reviewed on PC.