Take one part Tron, mix it with a spot of Rollerball, a dash of Rocket League and the classic Speedball 2, and you end up with Roll7’s Laser League. It’s fast, it’s brutal, it’s impossible to keep track of at times, and yet it can also be a deeply tactical game. Rounds can last a few short seconds, or they can last minutes as the arena gradually becomes more and more deadly.
The gold standard for fictional sports games these days is, of course, the aforementioned Rocket League. Games don’t come much simpler than that of cars with rocket boosters playing football, and while Laser League doesn’t come close to those levels of simplicity and clarity, there’s the same kind of multiplayer hook to it.
The first hurdle it has to overcome is teaching the player the rules. Played 2v2, 3v3 or in a manic 4v4, the goal is simply to outlast the opposition, trying to have a least one of your own team standing while the other team has been downed. Helping and hindering you in your goal are laser walls that sprout from nodes you capture. In a clear visual cue, walls that are your team’s colour are no problem, while making contact with the opponent’s colour will down you.
While avoiding those walls sounds fairly simple on the surface, Roll7 have wrapped further ideas around that core. For one thing, those laser walls change in configuration and layout depending on the level and they can move, spin, dart across the map and more, forcing you to learn and adapt to how they act. It makes the game one about controlling the territory, and trying to stay on top of the nodes as they eventually deactivate or new ones spawn in.
Further to that, the players can also sow the seeds of chaos. The arena walls wrap around from side to side and top to bottom, as though you were playing Pac-Man, and that means you can’t simply focus on what’s in front of you, because your opponents can be behind you again in a fraction of a second. Trying to guard a downed enemy is difficult because of this, especially as your class might not have an overt attack move, and so the battle can easily swing back and forth as players are revived or downed.
Whether you have an offensive or defensive ability to use is determined by your class. Each class has a single ability that can be triggered once the appropriate meter is full. These cover a broad spectrum, from Blade’s dash assassination and Smash’s charge attack that sends players flying, through to Ghost’s ability to walk through enemy walls, Shock’s area of effect stun attack (perfect for incapacitating an enemy in the area of a laser), and so on. Each also has a modifier, so you can tweak them ever so slightly to suit your skill level and style of play, perhaps rewarding a successful attack with a full ability bar, or reducing the charge time.
Knowing what the other team has and spotting the changing character models can really affect how you play, both consciously and subconsciously. I had a great time hounding the other team as Smash, constantly sending them flying, and occasionally smacking them into a laser wall. My favourite class is Snipe, though, which really messes with people’s minds. This class places a teleport point, but then wherever they move has a faint line leading back to this point and can jump straight back there, ignoring laser walls of both colours. However, it’s deadly to another player if you time your teleport just as they pass through the white line, which turns red whenever it will down a player. It’s a lot of fun to use, if perhaps a little overpowered, and really plays into the notion of controlling the territory.
A little work is definitely needed on the game’s presentation to make sure that all of this is clear and easy to understand. There are occasional pick ups that drop on the map, which could flip all the laser walls to the opposite colour, and so on, but they feature iconography that isn’t obvious at a glance. The game is so fast paced at times that it’s easy to simply end up focussing on yourself and trying to survive – a perfectly valid tactic, I might add! – which is both great and perhaps a little to its detriment when you want to be thinking tactically. We were only playing 2v2, but 3v3 and 4v4 will be considerably more chaotic.
One thing it does get right is the tennis-like scoring system. Matches are the best of three games, which are in turn best of five individual points. However, if you lose one of the games, you get to swap out your team’s abilities, while the other team is forced to stick with what they had previously. It’s a great way of trying to help the losing team regain the advantage, but it’s something that does require a little tactical thought.
After a few years making quirky but excellent 2D games with OlliOlli and Not A Hero, Laser League is quite a departure for Roll7, but it’s still got the same underlying focus on fast arcade gameplay with plenty of depth to it for those willing to find it. This is shaping up to be a lot of fun whether you sink your teeth deep into the tactical team play, or are simply looking for something to get the adrenaline pumping.
Of course, it would really help if they released a trailer that showed more of the game in action…
If all of that sounds great to you, you can sign up for the PC beta here. Laser League is heading into Steam Early Access a little later this year, before gearing up for a full release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2018.