by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
In sports, overtime is a heart pounding experience where you’re not sure which team is going to win. Everything is on the line, and both teams will be aggressively fighting for that win. It is an experience that LawBreakers recreates each and every match, creating an intense, adrenaline pumping first game.
Developed by Boss Key Productions, the studio founded by Cliff Bleszinski of Gears of War fame, LawBreakers is a class-based, multiplayer only first-person shooter that is reminiscent of arena shooters like Unreal Tournament. Two teams of five - known as the Law and the Breakers - face off across several different game modes with varying objectives. At PAX East, the mode I played was a capture the flag variant called Overcharge, which involved grabbing a battery from a central position on the map and bringing it back to your team's base in order to charge it and score a point.
The reason I said that there was overtime every match is that your team doesn’t score a point when the battery is fully charged. There is a 20 second window upon reaching full charge where the battery can be stolen and returned to the opponent's base for the steal. The last moments before scoring a point are intense, as bases erupt into a cacophony of rockets, gunfire and blades as everyone tries to secure the battery for themselves. It creates drama, making every second the game ticks down all the more tense and exciting.
For my part, I became my team’s battery carrier as the nimble Assassin, armed with a combination machete/grappling hook for tearing apart enemies up close and a chargeable shotgun that can fire three quick shots or one overpowered bullet. As the fastest class, it is also the one with the lowest health. I found myself dying quite often to a hail of bullets when I tried to run down a corridor. It wasn’t until a developer pointed out that my grappling hook could be used to jump outside of the map and swing along its edge to get behind the enemy that I truly started to feel in control of the frenetic firefights. Movement is key to survival in LawBreakers, and the moment you try to hide behind cover is the moment you start to lose.
A touch of class
The map I played is designed with that in mind. Called Grandview, the map featured a large gravitational field right around where the battery spawned. Low gravity sends you flying with little effort, creating a chaotic mess where everyone is trying to not fly head first into the nearest wall. The rest of the map featured tight corridors and rooms, helping some classes like the powerful Titan and hindering others like the Assassin.
Each of the classes has their own skills which help to keep them mobile. The rocket launcher wielding Titan, the slowest of the four classes, can perform a jumping ground pound. The chaingun toting Vanguard has a jetpack with the super ability to slam into a target at extremely high speeds. The Enforcer, the game’s jack of all trades, can use time dilation to boost her speed. Appearances differ depending on what side you are on, but each class plays exactly the same regardless.
This is important, because unlike other shooters, you cannot change loadouts in LawBreakers. What you see is what you get, which necessitates experimentation to truly see what each class is capable of. Skirting around the outskirts of the map with the Assassin is one such action, but she can also grapple enemies and allies to fling herself in for the kill or boost over an obstacle. The Titan can activate his special lightning ability to roast enemies caught in a tight space, while his rocket launcher can detonate in midair before it hits the target. It has a steep learning curve - I didn’t say I could zip around the outside of the map successfully - but it certainly left an impact.
Work to be done
LawBreakers is aiming for release later this year but there are some things that I saw that are cause for concern. One of the reasons I stuck with the Assassin was that I felt like I was dealing damage and hitting opponents when I used the machetes, as the guns don’t have much impact to them. Whether it was the chaingun, shotgun or assault rifle, each of the weapons felt light, and I couldn’t tell whether or not I was actually hitting anything.
In addition, the multiplayer only nature of the game, coupled with the lack of unlockable skills or items, means that you have to really work to make the most out of it. There will be cosmetic items purchasable via microtransactions, but LawBreakers feels like a game that you will either understand completely or look at once and never touch again.
That said, my brief time with LawBreakers was promising. It made an impression immediately, and I look forward to seeing how Boss Key Productions polishes it in time for its release.