Republished on Wednesday 26th September 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of October's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
At first glance, Laser League bares little resemblance to Roll7's previous work, but the similarities are there if you look below the surface. Like OlliOlli and Not a Hero, the small developer's latest game is conceptually simple, rewards skillful play, and is dangerously addictive. The switch from pixel art arcade experiences to a frenetic multiplayer game is a bold move, but the result is robust, energetic, and not quite like anything else on PS4.
Laser League is a team-based multiplayer title that feels like it was developed with one eye on eSports. Two teams of two or three players face off in single-screen arenas that are dotted with laser nodes. Running across a node activates its laser in your team's colour, which you and your allies are safe to pass through, while opponents will be instantly killed if they come into contact. The goal is to eliminate the opposing team, so activating as many of these nodes as you can means you have more room to manoeuvre while enemies will be at a higher risk of defeat. The first team to three points wins the round, and the team to win two out of three rounds wins the match.
On top of this very basic setup are a couple of layers that turn it into a surprisingly strategic affair. Downed teammates can be revived by running over their icons, which is always a smart move if you can get to them. You can run straight through the sides of the arena; if you do, you'll emerge from the opposite end, which allows you to move around more unpredictably. Before a match starts, you must pick one of six character classes, each with its own ability that will determine how you approach the game. Once charged, these powers can totally change the outcome of a point if used effectively.
You can use a shield barge to send opponents flying with the Smash class, stun them with an EMP blast as Shock, or kill them instantly with the Blade's slash attack. Less offensive classes offer additional support. Thief can turn enemy lasers into friendly ones, while the Ghost class is able to pass through deadly beams unharmed for a brief time. Snipe is the trickiest class to play; its ability allows it to drop a marker, then teleport back to it. Any enemies that cross this path when you teleport will be eliminated. Part of the aforementioned strategy comes in how you compose your team, in that you want to have a spread of offensive and defensive classes that complement each other.
It's a well thought out selection of classes, and they all feel viable. What's more, the controls in Laser League are so straightforward that you can play the game with one hand. All you need to play the game is your choice of analog stick to move and your choice of shoulder button to use your character's ability. There are quick chat options on the d-pad and emotes on the face buttons, and that's your lot. It's incredibly accessible and, along with the simple ruleset, means that almost anyone can very quickly get to grips with Laser League.
The action is lightning fast, almost to the game's detriment. At times, there can almost be too much happening on screen, with six players running around and through a complicated grid of lasers that are coming and going. Throw in the various abilities, as well as power ups that emerge from time to time, and you have a game that can sometimes feel a little too hectic for its own good. However, once you find your feet and can keep up with the pace, Laser League is excellent fun, beautifully fluid, and feverishly addictive. It helps that the game runs perfectly and, very rare moments of lag aside, has beautifully smooth online functionality.
You can play offline too with up to three friends, and unsurprisingly, this has the ability to turn firm friends into vicious enemies within seconds, as all the best multiplayer games do. While you can play whichever maps you like offline, whether with bots or buddies, options for online play are more limited. Online arenas are set to swap on a weekly basis to encourage the idea of learning layouts and the best strategies. However, you can't take your local party online to play together, which is a shame. As the game is a single screen affair, it seems like a no-brainer. Hopefully this can be patched in at a later date.
As for the presentation, it matches the gameplay's simplistic nature, with brilliantly vivid colours and slick menus making Laser League a very easy game to read. The visual style won't be to all tastes, but it works perfectly for this type of game. The cosmetic items you earn through XP are nicely designed, though there's not a huge variety when it comes to character skins. Audio is strong too, with aptly electronic music and sound cues that are easy to understand.
When you find yourself in the zone, Laser League is a joy to play. Controls are as straightforward as they come and the game's rules are easy to follow, meaning anyone can pick up a pad and join in. However, the depth that comes with the various character classes, their abilities, and power ups is surprising. This is classic "easy to learn, difficult to master" territory, in other words, and whether you're playing online or offline, it can be excellent fun with a few friends. Ultimately, this is the sort of game that lives or dies on the strength of its player count, and we sincerely hope it remains healthy. Aside from the occasional bout of lag, fairly limited content, and one or two disappointing omissions, this is a unique multiplayer title that deserves your attention.