The realm of class-based shooters has become extremely busy in recent years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the crowded genre for novel innovation, and the latest to try its hand at this is LawBreakers. In the distant future, a catastrophic event known as The Shattering—involving the destruction of the moon—leads to planet-wide distortion of gravitational fields. It is this event that serves as the central premise for the game. While LawBreakers shirks the potentially interesting narrative for an exclusively multiplayer-focused format, it comes close to hitting the target it aims for, with only a few drawbacks causing it to miss its mark.
Thanks to the moon’s destruction, the multiplayer maps of LawBreakers feature zones of varying sizes in which the rules of gravity no longer apply. Objectives are often located in or around these zones, making them a near-unavoidable element of the game’s combat that players need to quickly come to terms with if they hope to survive. Controlling a character in zero gravity is simple in theory, but not always in execution, however.
To move around in zero-g, players must point in the direction they wish to travel and press forward to propel themselves through the space. Momentum will take over if the player stops pushing, allowing them to look around for targets, but this trajectory-based movement can be imprecise. Changing direction can be a huge hassle without the use of some kind of special ability, and it can be equally difficult to get going again if stopped dead, which gives enemies some easy pickings. These anti-gravity areas occasionally prove to be one of the game’s biggest headaches—particularly when trying to maintain specific altitudes—but they also offer the catalyst for the game’s most exhilarating fights, in which everyone is struggling in equal measure.
Whether in or out of zero gravity, LawBreakers is a fast-paced and highly competitive shooter. Hosting two teams of five, the moderately cramped maps keep the death toll on a constant rise. The game features a high time-to-kill compared to other shooters of similar speeds, but the replacement of health regeneration with health packs and terminals—on top of the combat’s tight control and precision in normal gravity—means the onslaught never lets up. While putting the maximum effort into a match from start to finish might leave one mentally drained from processing it all, the satisfaction will be that much greater if it nets a victory.
The combat may be swift and merciless, but matches demand more than just the demise of enemy players. The various multiplayer modes of LawBreakers have significant influence over the progression and flow of each skirmish, and they cannot be easily ignored, even if players rather focus on their K/D. This is largely due to each mode featuring a single-objective goal. With the more compact map design, firefights often occur around the objectives or on key routes to it. Objectives almost always are in the central zero-gravity zone of a map, giving the combat a twist before the intensity ramps up. As one team gains the upper hand and gets closer to scoring, the tug-of-war generally moves to the more grounded areas of the maps.
These objectives come in five mode varieties; Occupy, Uplink, Overcharge, Turf War, and Blitzball. All of the modes can, to a certain extent, be equated to the competitive modes of other popular shooters, but every single LawBreakers mode comes with at least one unique condition all its own. For example, Turf War will be familiar to fans of Domination-type modes, but capturing the points in LawBreakers prevents them from being immediately recaptured. Once all three points are controlled, they will reset after a brief intermission. The team with the most captures by the end wins, requiring some tactical thinking and positioning between waves. Blitzball is another example in that it is very nearly Capture the Flag, except that the target needs to be brought to the enemy’s base instead of your own, and failure to do it quick enough will cause the ball to explode. The drive to win is strong across all modes, and their designs hit an additive balance of ingenuity and simplicity.
The flow of LawBreakers also highly incentivizes seeking out these objectives over aimless killing. It is hard to play a match without gravitating in the direction of the objective simply based on the path of combat, and I found immersing yourself in your team’s common goal proves much more rewarding than idly hunting down hostiles. Players should be aware that there is no mode selection when jumping into matches, though. It is mildly unfortunate that players can’t practice their favorite mode in public servers, but this format does prevent any one mode from dying off.
Before players take on the modes of LawBreakers, they must first decide on a role. The game brings nine unique roles to the fight. The two teams (The Law and The Breakers) feature different designs for each character, but those in the same class play identically, regardless of the colors they’re wearing. The nine classes each support specialized abilities, weaponry, and stats that set them apart from their fellow operators. The abilities tend to follow a general theme, with the first based on movement, the second based on utility, and the third being a devastating ultimate attack.
Hidden among the core functions of these diverse abilities are more subtle effects that need to be taken advantage of in order to get optimal use out of a role. For example, the Enforcer wields a movement ability that speeds up the character’s sprint, fire rate, and reload, as long as he has fuel in the tank. It can be a good tool for getting around, but what may not be initially obvious is that dealing damage sustains the boost for longer. This allows the Enforcer to avoid fire and output damage for a greater amount of time, as long as bullets continue to connect. It also affects teammates in close proximity, giving it cooperative applications as well.
Similar nuances must be accounted for across each character’s entire loadout, as many support an alternate fire and/or secondary weapon that can offer comparably understated perks. Some are more obvious, like the Titan’s alternate fire which detonates rockets mid-travel for more accurate splash damage, but others are less overt, like how jumping in mid-air with the Gunslinger gives him a verticle teleport. The underlying complexity of each character was a welcome surprise, and gives the game a depth that warrants deeper investment than what may be immediately apparent.
Classes and their abilities subscribe to fairly deliberate themes and playstyles, and mode objectives may unite players in a common goal, but LawBreakers does not support the level of team synergy found in many other class-based shooters. Aside from the Battle Medic—whose capacity to heal is moderate at best—roles aren’t tied to any specific purpose. Put another way, players aren’t normally expected to take on key responsibilities based on the character they chose. This ultimately works out for the best, though, once the speed of the game’s pacing becomes clear.
LawBreakers generally moves a bit too fast to worry about anything other than yourself and the objective. It also prevents the game from withholding experience from players who just want to play it their own way. Leveling up with that experience will earn stash boxes that reward special outfits and cosmetic items. The game’s roster has a lot of identity competitively speaking, but few characters actually get their individual personality across. While unlocked customization choices don’t offer any gameplay impact, they help give LawBreakers’ players a chance to project a bit of personal flavor at least (and some of the outfits do look quite badass). If only the controls could be as customized as your character’s looks.
As previously stated, LawBreakers operates at an exceedingly fast pace, but the control options on the PlayStation 4 version do not seem to accommodate this. Even after maxing out the aim sensitivity, the speed at which one can acquire targets on Sony’s platform feels notably slow compared to similar games in the genre. This can throw more reactive players off their game. Additionally, button mapping is limited to preset layouts, restricting the flexibility of the player’s control over their avatar. This game demands dexterity, with many available actions all being somewhat useful depending on the scenario, but none of the present mappings allow for an optimal balance of everything the game puts forth.
A perfect example of this is one of LawBreakers’ most unique combat maneuvers: Blindfire. This ability permits players to fire behind them while moving forward. Blindfire essentially lets players provide their own cover fire and even create propulsion in zero gravity. The game’s standard button layout maps this function to the D-pad, making it near impossible to use effectively, and switching the layout to a different scheme to better accommodate this will always leave one or two other actions in less-than-ideal positions. Ultimately, it gives the sense that the PS4 version was a bit of an afterthought, not helped by the fact that the PS4 suffered from some major hitching issues at launch. This has since been addressed, but fans may still want to think twice about the platform they choose to play it on.
LawBreakers aligns with much of what makes class-based shooter’s popular, but the features that give it its identity are still the most predominate. The biggest issues with the game are generally exclusive to the PS4 version, and even have the potential to be remedied down the line. A learning curve must be tackled before LawBreakers can be appreciated for everything it is, but there is some serious competitive satisfaction to be had for those willing to meet it halfway.
|Publisher: Nexon • Developer: Boss Key Productions • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 08.08.17|
LawBreakers is a tight, comprehensive shooter experience that stakes its claim in the crowded class-based shooter genre with a fun anti-gravity gimmick, but occasionally frustrating gameplay and poor controls hold it back at times.
|The Good||Each character role is different, with unique abilities hiding deeper strategy for those who look for it.|
|The Bad||Limitations to the control of one’s character hinders the fast-paced combat that the game otherwise excels at.|
|The Ugly||If that’s what outfits look like in the future, maybe the future isn’t so bright.|
|LawBreakers is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Nexon for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|