Over the years, I’ve seen Roll7’s output grow massively in quality. From the promising foundations that began with OlliOlli, the dry wit of Not a Hero, and the excellent OlliOlli 2, Roll7 have certainly been an emerging talent and made a huge impression. Laser League is, once again, a completely different experience; perhaps their most ambitious to date by creating an esport/party game. If I may be utterly frank, it’s their most spectacular achievement to date.
The idea is wonderfully simple: make other players run into your team’s laser barriers while avoiding your enemy’s coloured laser gates. Think Tron’s bike scene mixed with Pac-Man’s maze, but with a lot more shoving, trickery, and moving parts. Each set is a best of three rounds, while each match is a best of three sets. As for the maps, each one governs how each the laser nodes activate and move around the screen, frequently leading to tense moments where you’re simply trying to survive the deadly pattern.
Each player has a few simple things they can do and they mostly involve running over things. Firstly, it’s worth pointing out the perimeter keeps the laser walls in check, but can be used to teleport to the other side of the map just as in Pac-Man. Running over nodes activates them for a short time to emit your team’s coloured walls, while power-ups can be activated by running over them, and teammates can be revived by, well, running over their marker.
There’s a good variety in class-like abilities available to you. Some are just a simple dashing slice or a rude shove to send other players flying, while others can emit a stun barrier around you for a very short time or change a node’s colour. Should your team lose the set, you get the option to change your abilities to counter the team’s choices, thus giving you a chance to fight back.
With such simplicity in its core design, it’s amazing how often a match in Laser League ascends into ferocious contests of skill, wit and trickery. Comebacks are always possible no matter how bleak things seem on the surface. It takes the essence of a real sport, much like the hugely popular Rocket League did. In a weird way, it’s a great game to watch, as well as play, and that’s incredibly rare.
What’s more, with the wide variety of maps on offer (and more to come later this month for consoles), as well as the option for local or online multiplayer, it’s a fantastic party game. With its neon aesthetic, it’s bright and dazzling, while its ambiance pumps you up just as the whirling frenzy of laser walls get your heart racing. Gathering friends, both offline and online, for a few matches is an incredible experience.
Those who invest in playing online will see that there are a few unlockables hidden behind level progression and class challenges. They’re restricted to minor cosmetics, such as different player models themed after different styles of tech and almost indiscernibly different skins, or switching out the pattern in the laser barriers you create. They’re certainly not what the game is about, but are a nice reward for those dedicated to playing, though it would have been nice for local multiplayer to also be rewarded in this way.
There’s one important thing to keep in mind with all of this though: the PlayStation 4 can only support four players locally, which is down to the console’s limit of only being able to connect four controllers at a time. Meanwhile the Xbox One has a cap of eight controllers and there’s no real limits on PC. The sweet spot for Laser League is six players, but local multiplayer can go up to eight players. You can fill the other spots with AI, which provide plenty of challenge, but they’re not really a substitute for real players.
Having said that, this is a minor gripe at best, since most people will just take to the two online modes of 2v2 or 3v3 – sadly you can’t mix local and online play, but can party up online. However, if you’re in that specific niche of someone who’s looking for a party game where everyone is able to play with their own controller and want either a 3v3 or 4v4 experience with no AI controlled players, the PS4 just can’t handle it!
At launch today, the console versions are a step behind the PC release, which has been updated with a third modifier for each class, two more arenas and seven new laser patterns, some of which could easily contend for being the best in the game. It’s a simple matter of having the update go through certification, but means these additions will be arriving on console later in May. It’s also at this time that a colour blindness option will also be brought to console, swapping out the more awkward colour pairings. If you are colour blind, bear this in mind until the patch has been released.
Just as with Splatoon, it can be a little confusing or disorienting when going from one match to another and starting with different colours, especially if a map repeats and you simply switch sides. It’s something that can catch you out from time to time and have you muttering colours to yourself.
Laser League is phenomenal. It’s easy to pick up, thoroughly appealing in its style, and dangerously captivating. It builds on the team game chops that made Rocket League so successful, yet turns it into something utterly unique and tense. The minor negatives outlined above could be fixed with a patch or two, while others are specific to the PS4 hardware limitations. Those looking for the next big thing in esports or a fun party game to play with a bunch of friends – look no further!
Versions tested: PlayStation 4, PC – Also available for Xbox One