So, did ya hear they did a LawBreakers closed Alpha, only open to those lucky enough to get picked after applying on their website? Did you know there isn’t an NDA attached?
You did? Phew, because I snuck into said Alpha and here I am to talk about it.
If you’ve been creeping around with your head in the sand, LawBreakers is the arena-shooter being made by Boss Key Productions. “You say that name as thought it means something to the FPS savvy individual that is I.” Well yes, imaginary friend, as one of the main folks there is big-name designer Cliff Bleszinski. Best of all, said big-name designer hit the big leagues as lead designer of the classic arena shooter Unreal Tournament.
I guess what I’m trying to say is LawBreakers is a big deal in the same way that Koji Igarashi (Castlevania) working on Bloodstained, Julian Gollop (XCOM) working on Phoenix Point and <insert 80s action hero here> being in The Expendables films are all pretty big deals.
“So what’s the big thing about LawBreakers though?” might be a question on the tip of your tongue, weighing up if you should just play Unreal Tournament instead.
“Well it’s how suddenly you’ll be in low-gravity, as though your reduced-gravity aircraft just levelled out, in small sections of a map” I’ll respond, showing noticeable confusion with what I’m saying.
“But Kailan, that’s like a level feature like icy-surfaces or ceiling running, rather than a mechanic to centre an entire game on. What else is there?”
“Well, you can also press a button to blind-fire behind you in case someone is slapping you in the back of the head.”
“Again though,” you say, beginning to sound more agitated, “that’s not a feature to base an entire game around.”
Then I’d shrug and stumble off (likely to attempt journalism via rolling my face along the keyboard), as herein lies the issue constantly pounding me in the face while playing LawBreakers.
In the current alpha stage of the game, I struggle to see a defining element that’ll draw the crowds. The verticality seems to be interesting, but as you have to wrestle with the nature of low-gravity (rather than abusing things like jet-packs) it could end up frustrating to those who haven’t poured hours into the arena-shooter genre. This is made worse by how some classes seem to get the opportunity to boost off the floor enough to do something interesting, while others you may as well be a target ready to have your face shot off as you struggle to dodge mid-gravitational-leap.
Yes, you did catch me there–“classes.” I guess LawBreakers distinguishes itself against the classical FPS form, as rather than scavenging guns to render your opponent into chunky-salsa, you spawn with two guns and some abilities. Although the Law and Breakers versions of the classes only differ by your character’s skin, with abilities left identical. This symmetrical element allowed it to be fair, not forcing players to be on sides with certain skills they prefer.
The skins for each class/side (one per combination) are, fortunately, excellently designed. Each one fits wonderfully within the grim universe LawBreakers seems to hint at. I also have to give credit to Kintaro’s voice acting in his taunts, as his psychopathic nature bleeds in wonderfully in a rich-kid sort of way. The type where I half expect him to start stabbing hobos in his free time because “poor people aren’t real people.” The others, well, just felt like different degrees of being angry with each other. There was a range in fury-delivery, but they were all just stuck on that same emotion. So, I often stuck with Kintaro.
The mode I got to try was Overcharge, a simple capture-the-flag mode where you bring a battery to your base, charge it to 100% and then have to hold it for 20 seconds. While I do dig the idea of reinventing the wheel (with it being better if it is familiar to veterans), it does create the odd conundrum. Since the battery charge is the same once charged in either base, nothing really matters until the battery hits 100%. I had hoped holding onto the battery further on your side would be rewarded, rather than just progressing the game up to the point when it begins to matter.
I think, walking away from the alpha, the theme of most the aspects that I hope could be improved is “progression.” I really hope Overcharge is tweaked to reward holding onto the battery more than your opponent. Especially as once it hit the point where anything mattered the game would quickly collapse one side or the other with a whiplash-inducing suddenness. In addition, too many times I found one side crushing the other with no sign of a catch-up mechanic in sight or a way to turn things around. This part could be intended, but I believe it could be fury-inducing for more casual players.
In the more miscellaneous category, I did find the characters too similar in personality– beyond Kintaro–as simply angry people shooting people they hate. Although, considering there are currently 8 characters about and hints that there will be more (including the hidden 5th class beyond Enforcer, Assassin, Titan and Vanguard, spotting that sneaky locked category), I’m not concerned in this area. I’m also worried about how low-gravity will influence what’s going on, as right now it seems like a petty annoyance designed to trip casual players and particular classes rather than the centre-stage that it should be.
Overall, my first impressions with LawBreakers are that it seems to serve a very niche audience. I think casual players may have a hard time wrestling with anti-gravity and the unforgiving nature of its old-school ideals. However, for the same reasons it’ll be right up the streets of fans who dug Unreal Tournament. It seems like it’ll live or die based on if they can execute the level and class designs. When I tried it, it seemed to be faltering, but patch notes suggests some heavy tweaking is occurring (including getting rid of Enforcer’s ability to use iron-sights). And finally, it is in alpha. I’m currently not convinced LawBreakers will be the game crowds will be rushing out to buy, but then again I could just be a casual FPS scrublord of the USS Noob Enterprise.