If you can get past the obnoxious packaging, Lawbreakers is surprisingly good fun.
The latest shooter from Cliffy B and Boss Key Productions came out last week and, in between bouts of other games, I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected. Part of the fun is that Lawbreakers doesn’t really have a standard mode, instead acting as a platform for two teams of five to battle it out across various modes.
The how’s and why’s don’t really matter. What does matter is that LawBreakers blends the high movement speed from games like Quake and Unreal Tournament, mixes it with heroes that act as soft counters to each other (insert shooter-inspired MOBA here), and pulls a bunch of different gameplay types from everywhere. Not quite as many as, say, Battlefront, but you’re starting to get the idea.
Of course, that’s a long way of saying what the game really is. Which is to say: you fly around a lot.
Lawbreakers is one of those games that you enjoy for the mechanics, more than the messaging. Every map essentially mixes two sets of zones: regular areas, often indoors with lots of tight-knit corners, where gravity applies as you’d expect. The second, typically in the centre of the map, is a zero-g area, where players float around a little more freely, allowing for sequences like the one above.
When you fire up the game, you’ll be presented with two options: either quick play, which runs off dedicated servers (there’s one in Australia!) balanced via matchmaking, or custom games where you choose the rules. There’s no separate playlists for ranked matchmaking or extra competitive elements at this stage. I’ve only had to wait a minute or two at worst for games, however, with matches coming together a little quicker in peak hour.
It’s really just about the variety you get from quick play, which is pretty good. Rather than basic deathmatch/TDM offerings, Lawbreakers rotates between four modes. Uplink is basically zone control mixed with capture the flag, where teams carry the Uplink to their base and hold it until it completes a download. Turf War is a twist on Domination, where teams get points for controlling three zones spread out across the map. Zones reset fairly quickly, and the first team to 16 points is the winner.
Blitzball is more or less Bombing Run from Unreal Tournament 2003, where players try to carry a ball into their opponents goal. Finally, Overcharge is another spin on Uplink where players carry a battery to their home base, but the battery retains its charge as the game progresses. That means you can have instances where the battery gets to 99%, but the other team steals it and ferries it back – although there’s also a small delay after the battery reaches full charge, allowing teams to fight it out at the last second. Rounding it off is Occupy, which is basically Domination where you hold a single zone that randomly spawns on the map, resetting every 30 seconds or so.
Below you can see how Turf War plays out, with me showing off one of the eight character classes. Harrier is great because the class showcases how unlike Overwatch Lawbreakers actually is, a comparison that makes less and less sense the more you play it.
Of course – and Quake Champions has this problem as well – the problem with adding movement as a barrier to entry is that you need to have sufficient tutorials for new players. Learning the ins and outs of a game is enough of a time sink, and games and game engines have advanced far enough that all the resources necessary can be built directly into the in-game client.
But if you don’t know squat about fighting in zero gravity, the best Lawbreakers has to offer is a set of YouTube tutorials:
There’s a sandbox mode, which drops you into any of the game’s maps to run around at your leisure. But you’re not given any basic or advanced tutorials there on the ins and outs of your character.
People can learn as they go, of course, but it’s not until you get the hang of zero-g and how each class moves that you’ll actually be able to start fighting on an equal footing. It’s worth noting that each of the modes benefits different characters: the tankier classes get a lot more purchase out of the zone control modes, especially the Juggernaught, which drops a temporary shield that blocks all damage and can’t be passed through. (On some of the zones, the capture points spawn in small corridors, so you won’t even be able to jump over the shield in some instances.)
While that oversight is a touch annoying, it pales in comparison to how painfully obnoxious the overall presentation is. In a typically 90’s way – and much like Quake Champions in this regard – the characters are loud, brash, and generally unlikable. The only character in the game with a personality that doesn’t scream “fuck you” is probably the ball in Blitzball, which is voiced by Justin Roiland of all people.
Beyond that, most of the characters are pretty forgettable. The fact that they’re split into generic names – Law and Breakers – doesn’t help. There’s no overarching story or lore to give players a reason to care or connect with their characters either, beyond what they can do in-game.
Fortunately, what you can do in-game is fun as hell. I found myself putting off finishing Pyre after a few tense rounds, all of which were decided in the last few seconds or with the last zone. I’m not sure if it’s a case of everyone still learning the game, but most Lawbreakers games have been tight-knit affairs, decided by only the thinnest of margins.
It’s been a blast, and I haven’t had a trouble getting a game either. That’s a relief, especially with stories flying around last week how Lawbreakers was performing worse at launch than Battleborn. That’s true – Battleborn launched with a much higher player count – but the audience dropped off rapidly. It’s worth noting that Lawbreakers has a much smaller marketing budget too: you won’t see any cinema ads with Blitzball.
It wouldn’t be the first time a multiplayer game picked up steam post-launch. Rainbow Six: Siege is often upheld as an example of what good post-launch support can do for a game, but it’s worth remembering that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive wasn’t a huge success when it first launched either. It took a while before casual and ranked matchmaking was patched in, a change that has impacted the game’s longevity immeasurably.
And that’s what I’m quietly hoping happens for Lawbreakers. There’s plenty of variety to keep people going through quick play to keep things fresh, and Boss Key are working on releasing another mode and a couple of extra maps in short order. That’s part of the problem arena shooters have faced of late: they don’t offer enough variety in gameplay to keep newer players interested, instead catering too much to existing fans, content to play the same game over and over again.
Lawbreakers is a bit different. It’s not Quake, it’s sure as hell not Overwatch, and it’s not like Titanfall either. But it’s fun, more so than I expected, and that’s always a good place to start.