The world often runs in cycles, whether it’s trends in fashion, music, storytelling, or even in the world of first person shooters. Having had eras in which historical shooters, modern day and future settings have dominated, there’s a cycle of creative exploration and rebuilding that feeds into the core mechanics of the games. LawBreakers takes bits and pieces from across the spectrum of modern design concepts and uses them as a catalyst for a raw, electric and constantly shifting arena shooter that harks back to the classic games we’ve begun to itch for a return to.
At first glance, Lawbreakers seems like a hero-based shooter, with 9 different character types each equipped with a different set of abilities and a role in gameplay. Each character has a unique set of 1-2 weapons, as well as a unique combat ability and a special attack/ultimate ability. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that there isn’t the same focus on team composition and “playing a role” as there is in other hero or class-based shooters..
Each class in Lawbreakers is truly focused on diving straight into the action and causing mayhem. Sure, some focus more on mobility than raw power, but nobody ever truly feels like they fall into a standard archetype like a tank or DPS character. Even the battle medic class is on par with the others, as their healing ability simply requires a tap of R1 when your crosshairs overlap with a teammate to send an automatic healing drone onto them. Combined with the medic’s beefy sidearm and a versatile grenade launcher, a skilled player can provide a clutch heal to the team and clear a nasty chokepoint in the same breath.
A large part of Lawbreakers is the unique movement and speed of the game, which is partly down to the various zero gravity bubbles placed on each map. Most parts of the maps have normal gravity effects, but step into a bubble zone and you’ll suddenly be dealing with arcing leaps and wicked momentum. Lawbreakers could have easily given each character the same set of movement abilities and ended it there, but instead, each class has their own unique movement options, which help to even further diversify them all.
The Wraith can do a speedy ground-slide and lunge themselves forward with a knife-attack, while the Assassin can do lengthy bunny hops or utilise a grappling hook to capitalise on momentum. Even slow, bulky classes like the Juggernaut or Titan, who lack agile movement abilities, can use the momentum provided by their projectiles or melee attacks to fling themselves around in zero gravity.
All of this is meant to illustrate how diverse your play options are and the depth to each class, while still somehow managing to maintain a raw, arena-style gameplay feel that calls back to Quake III or Unreal Tournament. It’s a shame, though, that none of this depth is explained to you. Lawbreakers has no tutorials or introductions to speak of. The basics of the game and the game modes can be picked up after a few rounds, but a lot of the intricacies of the world and the game are left unknown, such as a blindfire feature that shoots your gun behind you and gives you a momentum boost in zero gravity, which I only discovered hours into playing when I mindlessly decided to press down on the d-pad.
Some sort of tutorial would also help solve Lawbreakers one massive issue, which is a lack of personality. Like many other multiplayer-only games, Lawbreakers features no story modes or story missions, which is standard fare. However, many other hero-focused games that do this, like Overwatch, Atlas Reactor and Paladins, have short movies, tutorials, and comics that expand on the game’s main characters. Most importantly, they also feature a distinct art style and vivid yet impactful character designs.
The overall design aesthetic of LawBreakers is muddy. Character models are sharp and detailed to a fault, but many of them have overly complex armour designs and colour schemes that end up making them fail to stand out, both as a character and in-game. I could rarely tell which class I was about to engage with until they began shooting at me. While the game tosses out some quotes from characters now and then, they’re all either cheesy and lame or quirky references, and fail to establish any kind of character personality or relationships between characters.
Map design suffers the same issues. For all the time I spent with the game, it was hard for me to believe that there are eight different maps available to play on, as most of them just feel a little muddled together. None of them have very distinct visuals, each one feeling like the same sort of “future robot factory facility” map.
The design and layout of the maps thankfully outweigh the visual shortcomings, with corridors and open fields that play into each character’s strengths in satisfying ways. A favorite of mine, Trench, features a small container in the middle of the map surrounding by huge amounts of open space, all on a floating island, which made for incredible moments of zero gravity navigation.
While the focus of Lawbreakers is on raw combat and second-to-second bullet trading, the five game modes on offer all focus on various capture-based objectives. For the most part, these game modes help give focus to the carnage. Most notable of them is Blitzball, a mode which features a talking ball voiced by Rick & Morty’s Justin Roiland.
Not so notable, however, are Turf War and Overcharge, which both feature some strange and infuriating design choices. In Turf War, there are three control points on the map that open up after a short countdown, and the first team to capture them automatically scores a point and locks the area until the next round. In every game I’ve played this devolves into a simple rush for the middle by both teams, battling to the death there while stragglers snag the other two points for their respective teams.
Overcharge sees teams fighting to grab a battery, bring it back to their base, charge it to 100%, and then wait 20 seconds to score a point. The charge, however, is shared between teams, which has led to many moments where the opposite team can grab the battery after reaching 100% charge, get it back to their base, and instantly turn the game on its head and score a point. It feels unfair when it happens to you, and cheap when you do it yourself, rather than feeling like an earned or fair comeback.
Despite my problems with LawBreakers, at the end of the day, the most important thing I can say about this game is that it is fun. Very, very fun. When I open the game, join a match and start playing, I have an amazing time. The raw energy behind the movement, the weight behind the weapons, the satisfaction of landing hits and bouncing off walls. It all comes together to create a unique, memorable FPS experience, and I look forward to seeing what Boss Key Productions does to expand it in the future.
Version tested: PlayStation 4