written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
In a world where Overwatch dominates the arena shooter genre, can a new IP still manage to capture the heart and minds of gamers still playing Overwatch on the daily? Let’s take a look at indie gaming’s response to Blizzard’s powerhouse in Boss Key/Nexon’s LawBreakers.
I first came across LawBreakers at PAX West last year, they were still in alpha and in a post Overwatch world, the comparisons are definitely to be expected. LawBreakers is the first game from Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski’s Boss Key Productions, if the name sounds familiar to you… you may recognize CliffyB as the former design director of Epic Games, primarily he’s known for the Unreal franchise and Gears of War. With LawBreakers being his first foray outside of Epic Games, it makes you wonder if Bleszinski’s game development pedigree is enough to propel a new title.
First off… while I did mention Overwatch multiple times in this review so far, I feel we need to look outside of LawBreaker’s current contemporaries. To be honest, LawBreakers reminds me more of titles like Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress 2 than it does Overwatch. Upon first playing, I noticed how much faster LawBreakers felt. Matches are frantic and the map employs two forms of gravity. While some parts of the map employ standard gravity physics, what separates LawBreakers from the rest are the ZeroG zones. ZeroG zones allow you to jump around the playing field and participate in mid-air gunplay battles. Combat in ZeroG zones amp up the frantic gameplay up to eleven… forcing you to play smarter or watch yourself get shot out of the sky every time.
LawBreakers employs (currently) five gameplay modes. None of which involve pushing a payload, being king of a hill, or controlling/defending points:
Overcharge is a modified CTF (capture the flag) mode with a battery (acting as a flag) planted in the middle of the map. Teams must battle it out to grab the battery and take it back to their respective base. Now points aren’t awarded yet for just bringing the battery home, you have to defend it while it charges to 100% (followed by about 20 seconds after hitting 100%) to score. While you defend the battery, the opposing team can steal the battery if your team can’t successfully defend it… what makes defense even more crucial is if the battery is stolen the charge doesn’t reset. You could get robbed at 99% then wiped out… forcing you to watch as your opponents score on the backs of your hard work.
Similar to Overcharge is the Uplink game mode, except the battery is replaced with a satellite dish. Upload percentage is not linked to the dish itself but instead to the team’s progress defending the uplink.
Turf War is like a modified king of the hill mode, except instead of one point on the map there are three capture points spread out on the map. This mode requires constant communication, which points will you work on and who will be forced to hang back near the point closest to spawn. Turf War was my personal favorite game mode.
Occupy is what I guess you could call your traditional king-of-the-hill but like Turf War… with a twist. Occupy has teams vying over control of designated points on the map… the kicker is that each time the point is moved to a different area of the map. This forces players to stay cognizant during combat else they miss the chance to cap a point.
Finally, we have Blitzball… and no I don’t mean the mini-game from Final Fantasy X but the rules are surprisingly similar. Both teams must race to the ball in the center of the map, once a character controls the Blitzball, they must run it to a goal located in the enemy base to score a point. If the character carrying the ball is eliminated, the ball is dropped and can be picked up by another teammate or a player from the opposing team. If the ball falls off the stage or is not picked up after a length of time, the ball resets to the center… in a twist of hot-potato, if the ball carrier takes too long to score the ball self-destructs… taking the unlucky player with it.
As for the combatants you get to pick from, we get the following roles… currently LawBreakers features Assassin, Battle Medic, Enforcer, Gunslinger, Harrier, Juggernaut, Titan, Vanguard, and Wraith. Similar to how contemporaries feature the “red team” and the “blue team,” like in Team Fortress 2, you are placed on either the Law side (blue) or the Breakers side (red). Each role features a character unique to the that team. In Overwatch I’m a support main… I prefer playing support heroes so I was instantly drawn to the Battle Medic role. Law’s Battle Medic is Tokki while the Breaker’s Battle Medic is Feng. You can’t pick which one you get to play as since being either Tokki or Feng is based on whether you are on the Law or Breakers side. Both characters play identical since the skill kit is tied to the role rather than the character. While officially the game features 18 characters… realistically we honestly only get 9.
Unfortunately, though the cast may be robust… the characters seem to lack much character. What I loved about Overwatch was how each hero has a defined personality that made them feel unique. Differentiating between Tokki and Feng boiled down to one being a super cute girl in armor and the other looking like a bargain basement Raiden from Metal Gear Solid. The game seems to focus heavily on gameplay rather than telling a backstory.
Overall, LawBreaker’s gameplay mechanics are solid. At first glance you wouldn’t think this was an indie title… technically still in beta. Stepping in to a role isn’t as cookie cutter as one would expect. The Battle Medic is just as capable to rack up big kill streaks as the more aggressive roles. Each role has two standard abilities and one ultimate ability, standard fare in these shooters, what sets LawBreakers apart is in how this gameplay style is implemented. There is a balance to the madness, the ZeroG segments of the map lend to the chaos in the best possible way while the satisfying shooting mechanics felt tight and snappy.
Visually, LawBreakers looks great despite some slightly weird design choices and animations… I’m lookin at you Feng. Characters are modeled more realistically, grittier than the cartoon like style employed by the likes of Overwatch and Battleborn. The maps did lack variation and I found myself bored with the overall map design, it felt like each map was a variation of the entire library of maps. With this being a relatively new game, I’m sure they’ll pour more into the game in due time… but as of today, there wasn’t much to keep me playing for more than a couple hours at a time.
I do feel the need to point out the bugs, I play on PC and am contemplating picking it up on PS4 just to play a more stable build. My game crashed constantly, and even after employing all the steps suggested by tech support… the final consensus was to just keep an eye on the website for a future patch. I hope they can figure it out because honestly I did enjoy my time with LawBreakers.
I wouldn’t say this is an Overwatch killer, but it does bring quite a bit to the table for the genre. LawBreakers felt more like a spiritual successor to Unreal Tournament than a direct competitor to Overwatch. CliffyB did good with this, I just hope the community gives it the chance it deserves, as long as people keep playing the future of LawBreakers looks bright indeed.