There's not a single competitive shooter that can avoid the shadow that Overwatch has cast. As we were adjusting to the classes of Boss Key Production’s upcoming LawBreakers, we heard one of our friend’s remark, “Oh, the Battle Medic is a hybrid of Junkrat and Zenyatta.” At another point, we realised that one of the Titan characters, Bomchelle, reminded us of our favourite Russian weightlifter-turned-soldier Zarya in terms of her design and even her backstory. It's hard not to make constant connections – even when we don't want to.
That's why it’s better to focus on differences with a new title to see if they adequately distinguish it from the competition, but can the same be said for LawBreakers? Since it was recently announced for the PS4 and PS4 Pro, we decided to jump into the open beta for a couple hours and test out six maps, four modes, and eight classes to see if the game has smoothly touched ground on Sony’s consoles.
The basic premise is a near-future Earth where the Moon has imploded in an event called The Shattering, which has violently affected our planet's ecology and gravity. While society has largely adjusted to the changes that have come with this due to leaps in technology, two major factions have emerged over time: the Law and the Breakers. While the latter consist of a bunch of mercenaries and thugs intent on using breaking-edge tech and power, the former is concerned with maintaining order and ensuring everything falls into the right hands. It's a straightforward yet interesting premise, and while there aren't many obvious allusions to the lore, we hope the developer will further connect its world and the organisations more closely with its characters in the future.
You’d assume a tutorial would be mandatory for a 5v5, class-based shooter, but we encountered no such thing in the open beta, so we hopped into a custom game to obtain a general grasp of the characters and controls. There are eight classes (nine at launch) with mirrored characters on both the Law and Breakers sides. Each one possesses a primary and secondary means of weaponry, a mobility-oriented ability, a throwable, and an ultimate. For example, the Gunslinger duel-wields a pistol and revolver and can dash around the map with short teleports, throw an instakill knife, and send out a brief barrage of sheer energy from his pistols with the 'Enforcer' ultimate. Elusiveness and sporadic yet intense offence define this character’s role. On the other hand, something like the Titan class may be slow, but with a rocket launcher, close-range electricity rifle, and mine that slows down affected enemies, you can jump in their midst with a ground pound ability, go crazy with these weapons, and activate 'Berserk'. You'll be screaming “Poooweeer!” since you essentially turn into Emperor Palpatine.
Other classes like the Enforcer are more better-rounded with a standard assault rifle, secondary pistol, and sprint ability, whereas others emphasise defence with the brutish Juggernaut or long-range support with the Battle Medic. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that the classes do feel distinct in their movement and weapon loadouts. However, coordinating special abilities and formulating pushes aren’t really a part of LawBreakers’ DNA. Combat is sheer reacting in a somewhat organised group. It's a chaotic rush, especially with those mobility-oriented abilities that will have characters flying this way and that with their jetpacks, double jumps, and more. This erratic movement is made even more interesting with the “anomaly” portions of maps, which are low-gravity areas where you’ll move much higher and further. A lot of the game’s most intense moments, excitement, and confusion occur here.
You even have to account for weapon kickback in these anomalies, which can benefit or hinder your intended path in the air. In addition, a neat mechanic that plays into anomalies is Blindfire, which allows you to shoot enemies from behind or propel yourself forward by aiming your weapon over your shoulder. You can get some exhilarating kills and do some fancy manoeuvring with this brilliant move, but we were annoyed when we found it was mapped to the D-Pad with the default controls. While you can switch it to L1 with other control schemes, it points to much-needed customisable controls.
We wished that the anomalies were also spread throughout maps in pockets instead of being mainly centralised in one trafficked location. It would be incredible if the maps incentivised players to take a specific path that leads to a small anomaly in a corridor or unconventional shortcuts to different levels. Rather than simply being there, gravity could become a more integral part of maps’ designs by keeping players on their toes. Should you take the stairs back to your base, or would the low-gravity chasm to your right be a perfect escape route or way to disadvantage your pursuers? We'd love to see ideas influence maps on a micro-level like this.
In addition, we also felt like base movement could be faster. Despite some surprisingly small maps and cramped areas, the overall level layouts and mechanics beg for increased speed to match the game’s feel, especially with its four game modes. Battery, Uplink, and Blitzball are varying spins on CTF, whereas Turf War is like short bursts of Call of Duty’s Domination stacked on top of each other. We thought Blitzball was the most appealing out of them all with great twists like the ball exploding after being held for a certain amount of time. However, an annoying aspect of the mode is that a dropped ball can’t be picked up for several seconds, which will have players awkwardly hovering around it waiting until it can be picked up again. It somewhat goes against the game’s mantra of fast-paced gameplay.
On another note, what might be a major issue for LawBreakers is the art direction and character design. These are really fickle, unpredictable aspects to get right, and we don't think Boss Key has quite nailed what it wants to go for. The game already underwent a tonal shift toward "maturity" halfway through development with its realistic art style, so some lightheartedness lying under the surface with the dialogue and character animations end up getting partially buried by other elements. We can see potential for memorability in maps like Grandview, recognisable design with characters like Nash, and more lightheartedness with the talking ball in Blitzball since it spouts hilarious lines courtesy of Justin Roiland.
Half of the characters blend together in action since they all have similar body types and armour. A lot of the maps look like different shades of industrial facilities. The characters recite one-liners that come across as too serious, and the cast would really benefit from stronger, more unique performances to bring the characters to life. The sound effects and first-person animations have a lot of personality, but the music consists of a bunch of techno dubstep and rock that doesn’t coalesce well.
LawBreakers may struggle to grab us in terms of its art and tonal direction, but it makes up for these faults with eight distinct kits for the character classes that are fun to play as. The speedy, tight gameplay largely hits the mark, but could do with some adjustments and more creative, fitting map design that takes the anomaly concept to its fullest.
Still, the game does have an appealing pick-up-and-play nature that still provides tense moments and fun movement, especially for an agreeable £24.99. Will the game have lasting appeal exceeding its price point? We’ll have to wait and see if additional characters, content, and following updates will rise above our moderately positive impressions after the game's launch on 8th August.
Did you play the open beta for LawBreakers? Do you agree with our conclusions or have other concerns with the classes and balancing? Will the game only attract a faithful few or go on to be the next Overwatch? Shatter the comments section below to let us know your thoughts.