Boss Key Productions' Lawbreakers launched on PlayStation 4 and PC this week. Mike Fahey and Patricia Hernandez got together to discuss their first few hours in Cliff Bleszinski's fast-paced take on the hero shooter.
Fahey: So, Lawbreakers! Cliff Bleszinski's big post-Epic game. A hero shooter with a gravity-defying twist. Had you played any of it before this week's launch, Patricia?
Patricia Hernandez: Nope! First time going in. The learning curve is tough, or at least it was for me. Fast shooter with tons of smaller mechanics. No tutorial!
I'm also primarily a console player ... Unreal-style shooters are more of a PC thing, feels like, so that was part of the adjustment. (I'm playing Lawbreakers on PS4.)
Fahey: Well, there is that whole sandbox thing, where they teach you advanced mechanics like jumping, kicking and shooting. Not sure how it is on the PlayStation 4, but on the PC version there is also a series of really slow-loading YouTube videos embedded in the game that outline character tactics and match mechanics. I did not watch those. I probably should have.
Patricia: I'll have to dive deeper into the game to find that stuff!
Fahey: The learning curve really is a kick in the pants, though. At first I thought I was just a bad hero shooter player. But then I started looking at the chat between rounds, and there were a whole lot of people complaining that they had no idea what was going on or that they sucked at this.
Fahey's first win, even if he came in last.
Patricia: Yeah, it feels like every character has a lot of little nuances. What characters have you gravitated toward?
Fahey: Before I got the hang of things, I was just desperately jumping from character to character mid-match. I'd start with an Assassin (both sides, Law and Breakers feature one of each character type). I'd get torn apart trying to melee in a gunfight. I'd switch to the basic machine gunner, the Enforcer, and get stabbed to death by melee types. In the first round of live play I tried everything but the Battle Medic and failed miserably every time.
Patricia: Yeah, it was obvious to me from the get-go that melee characters were noooot my thing. I did try pretty much everyone, though!
Patricia: So far, I'm really into the Gunslinger — has a kind of SMG burst weapon in one hand, a revolver-like weapon in the other hand. Can phase forward quickly, and also has a knife that tells you where enemies in the vicinity are. It's the only character that has fully "clicked," but I do like the look of the wider cast. Very diverse!
I WISH some of the other classes meshed more with my style...I really like Sunshine, the Harrier (she's cute!) and the Battle Medic has this curious mechanic where you heal people by pointing at them from afar.
Fahey: The Gunslinger was the character I played in the first match I won, and I thought I found my guy, but that was just a fluke. I didn't feel really confident until I switched to Wraith, with an SMG in one hand and a blade in the other. Best of both worlds there.
Those early matches were the absolute worse, though. I'd get into long, drawn-out battles where it was obvious most people on my team were new and didn't have a chance in hell of winning. But they kept going. I've never wanted a round of competitive multiplayer to end so badly.
Patricia: Yeah, the matches feel a little too long. I don't know if it's people not knowing what they're doing right now that the game is new, or if that's just how it is. But when a game moves this fast, even a 15 minute match feels way longer than it actually is.
Fahey: You said it earlier: this is an Unreal-style shooter. It's speed and fury and frenetic action. What competitive multiplayer have you been playing lately? For me it's been Paladins and Splatoon 2, a pair of games where the competition is relatively tame and measured.
Lawbreakers is a raging beast. I played a half-dozen games before it finally clicked.
And then unclicked a bit towards then end, thanks to teams filled with brand-new players getting the hang of things.
Patricia: Yeah, it's almost borderline overwhelming! I think a lot of it is the mechanical complexity....you can do so many things.
Run, dash, use a lasso to latch onto enemies/walls, phase forward, use jump pads, shoot behind you, float around on zero-G areas ... just getting around in itself, and deciding how to shoot in different environments/situations offers so many different types of opportunities, never mind the hyper-specific stuff characters can do.
And I've gotten my arse kicked a whole lot trying to learn this stuff. But once it starts clicking even a little bit, it feels like a thrill. I hate sounding like advertising copy, but at its best the game feels like an adrenaline rush. At its worst, it's a frustrating wall of death. But the nice thing is, you can quickly get back into it
Fahey: Once it all comes together, when you slide into the zero-g portion of the Blitzball (a sports-style game type with a talking ball voiced by Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty) arena, launch into the air at high speed, twist around and stab-rush the enemy player that's been chasing you — that's beautiful. It's just a lot of work and pain to get there.
Patricia: Man, so, Blitzball. One of the things that I don't like about this game is the aesthetic. It feels really tryhard, like a step above edgelord but still hovering around that area. The thing is, the world feels a bit...sterile? The art direction doesn't feel inspired, even if specific character designs can be kickass.
It's just not a world that I super want to live in, you know? But at the same time you see these flashes of personality, like having the Blitzball talk to you, and I loved that. And I like that you can see the ball's expression depending on which team is carrying it. That's all great. But then you have shit like my first unlocked avatar was someone getting punched in the balls. It's that kind of game
And to be clear, I know a lot of this is literally superficial. But I do think aesthetic drives a lot of modern shooters. It's not enough to have mechanical depth. That's what people latch onto in stuff like Overwatch, Splatoon, even Destiny: the worlds, the character design, what it looks like.
Fahey: My current avatar is an animated "FUCK." The tone seems to be a slightly subdued Bulletstorm, another Cliff Bleszinski-involved joint. The man has a style, and he sticks to it.
The characters are well-designed but pretty sterile, like an Unreal Engine tech demo. You see the same sort of aesthetic in Epic's multiplayer arena game, Paragon. Look at the beautiful things the Unreal Engine can create. Beautiful, lifeless things.
Patricia: I like the Bulletstorm comparison because, like that game, you can also kick people in the face if they get too close
Fahey: And if you kill them, it leaves a footprint. And you can collect different footprints via loot crates!
Patricia: Haha, oh wow.
Also, I do love the idea of the animated avatars and wish more shooters had them. I haven't seen any in this specific game that I like, though.
Fahey: During my first hour or so with Lawbreakers, I absolutely hated the game. After one match my menu glitched out and I couldn't leave the lobby, so I turned off my computer completely to save myself. That's how bad it was.
Now, several hours and more than a dozen matches in, I'm actively enjoying myself. There's a good game here. There are just many obstacles to overcome before it all clicks.
Patricia: Yeah, my initial run with it was rough. It wasn't just the learning curve, it was technical issues too. On PS4, it had this weird thing where it would stutter mid-match, and suddenly your character would be in a slightly different place than you thought. For a game like this, that relies so much on precision, that's not great!
There was a patch this morning that smoothed most of it out, but I still see it every once in a while, what they're calling "hitching." Even just choosing between different characters, there's this pause as it loads. I'm hoping that's all stuff that is optimised with time.
Fahey: I got the stuttering text in prompts. Being able to switch characters on the fly is great, but as you mention, having to wait while the model loads is a pain in the arse. I get a little hitching on PC, worse when playing really fast characters.
Plus there's the fact that even though I've gotten a handle on how the game works, I am still getting into groups with people who haven't gotten there yet. You know pretty much right away — players ignoring objectives just to randomly kill each other — and you know you're in for a bad match.
Patricia: Do you have a favourite mode? For reference: Quick Play goes through an assortment of modes, it's not just standard TDM.
Fahey: It's all objective based, isn't it? Blitzball is the sports thing, Occupy has players holding points. My favourites so far are Overcharge and Uplink, both modes that involve grabbing a thing, bringing it to your base and defending it while it charges. I am not the best attacker, but I am a vicious defender. Just try me.
Patricia: Ha. I'm definitely better at defending than attacking right now — so far, my experience is that once the other team starts getting the objective, there's almost no chance you'll get it back. But I do love when I manage to contribute, though.
I just had a match of Overcharge where I grabbed the battery twice and brought it back to base, which let us win the match, and I got so stoked that we pulled it off. Especially, since as you said, people don't really work together right now. At best it seems like the objectives are like a flag for where people should try to get kills next ... or go die, I guess.
Fahey: To be honest, I know my paper-thin Wraith should not be charging into an occupied base alone trying to capture a battery, but I can't help it.
Patricia: Ha, yeah, I'm having a similar experience. I don't think the Gunslinger has much health but...starting to throw in a bit of strategy! See, I'll throw the radar knife in FIRST, see where people are, then rush in and die!!
Seriously about to just charge in and get killed.
Fahey: And I throw in my explode-y knife, imagining I will charge in and finish them all off, then rush in and die!!
It does sound like we're having fun though.
Patricia: So I think there's an elephant in the room here. With so many damn shooters out there, do you see yourself fitting Lawbreakers into your life? I was sceptical at first, and maybe it's too early to say right now — I have no idea how big the community is gonna be, or even what kind of attitude it will have — but I do want to keep playing.
Fahey: It's a tough call for me. I've only recently been getting into Hi-Rez Studios' Paladins, which is is on the more relaxed, Overwatch-y end of the spectrum. I do enjoy feeling like a whirling badass, but I am worried that once the community settles I will either get steamrolled or regularly cursed at.
I've already been in matches where people with offensive names spent the entire time complaining in colourful terms about how much everyone on his team sucked. Not sure I need that.
Patricia: Hey man. Maybe they were just #SkilledAF.
But yeah, I think I'm going to keep giving it a chance and seeing what it's like. The game feels mechanically ambitious, and I think that's worth exploring, but so much of a shooter's lifespan depends on the community! I hope it's not a ton of edgy jerks.
Fahey: I've come this far, seems a waste to turn back now.