Arena shooters aren’t all that common on consoles. Sure, we’ve had general examples like Unreal Tournament, Team Fortress 2, and DOOM land on PlayStation platforms, but these titles are best experienced and sometimes exclusively made for PC. LawBreakers was going to be no exception with its focus on insanely fast speed and chaotic combat. However, Boss Key Productions made one giant leap “for the players” and has brought its multiplayer first-person shooter to the PlayStation 4. Does it have the pizzaz and profundity to rocket jump over its competitors, or does LawBreakers barely get off the ground?
If we’re talking about gameplay, the title is all about soaring high in the sky with its smooth, frantic, hip-fire shooting. All of the characters possess some means of propelling themselves forward with jetpacks, sprinting, or sliding. You have to constantly be on the move because once you’re out of stamina, you’ll feel like exposed prey alongside enemies who are zipping around you. This is especially true in central locations of low gravity on every map.
Whether you’re securing a point or grabbing a ball, shootouts in these areas are a rush as you frantically move and aim every which way. There’s even a mechanic called Blindfire that lets you shoot backwards, and it’s instrumental in getting a heavy class like the Titan or Juggernaut flying, or guiding any character’s trajectory. You might just get a lucky shot, too, but you’ll need a prayer to manage that.
The characters in question are divided into eight classes on the Law and Breakers sides, meaning there are sixteen characters total. Many people have drawn comparisons to Overwatch since classes have a couple abilities with a charging ultimate, and since, for example, the Gunslinger teleports and duel-wields two guns, you can bet people say it’s a copy of Tracer. However, since this particular scribe is still obsessed with Overwatch, we can attest that LawBreakers has little in common with Blizzard’s title beyond base similarities like this. Whereas other arena shooters find diversity in pickup weapons or team composition pairings, LawBreakers is most like Team Fortress 2 with balanced classes that can all contribute equally without highly coordinated teamwork or heavily specialised roles.
Instead of particular classes like support characters needing to rely on tanks to survive, LawBreakers ensures that each class can put up a fight. The Battle Medic is a great example. You can send out a drone to heal a teammate, but you’re just as offensive with the rest of your team as you wield a powerful grenade launcher and energy pistol. The impact of group classes is present in the game’s balancing with some characters possessing more health, firepower, or speed than others, but no single one is so grossly powerful or defensive as to merit people demanding you play as someone in particular.
One of our favourite classes, the Titan, wields a rocket launcher, electricity gun, and mine that can slow down enemies. While it may pack a punch, the class is incredibly slow and ungraceful in anti-gravity fields. On the other hand, the Wraith can slide far and jump high, closing in for kills with his submachine pistol and deadly knife to surprise unsuspecting foes, but he's low on health and only good at close range. The playstyles are like night and day, but either class has a chance at prevailing over the other. This diversity and balance is an exceptional feat, and while we believe the Harrier class could do with a range reduction on the laser rifle and the Juggernaut a small buff with the shotgun, the game is off to a great start in this manner. Just be ready to have some patience as you adjust since there are sadly no in-game tutorials.
Modes do require a semblance of teamwork to get anywhere. Uplink and Overcharge involve both teams bringing an object back to base that must be defended for a certain amount of time. Turf War is a neat spin on Domination where players need to quickly secure three points. Once all of them are locked down, the process continues until the score limit is reached. Occupy is similar to Call of Duty’s Headquarters and Blitzball is akin to Capture the Flag, but again, both have slight twists like the latter having the ball explode in the player’s possession if they don’t reach the enemy base in time.
There are enough modes to keep things interesting for a good while with Blitzball and Uplink being among our favourites. While they don’t necessarily boast anything too unorthodox, you’ll have some exhilarating clutches where the odds can suddenly turn in your favour. The maps also complement the action with the low gravity areas being wide open that branch off to tight corridors and a fair amount of vertical levels, but we wish some maps were bigger to allow for longer chases and more pathways to get around. We think this would be helped by smaller instances of gravity anomalies spread across maps with dangerous pathways or shortcuts to specific areas. Moving platforms and gravity that shifts in intensity would also be intriguing; the developer would do well to further stress the “gravity-defying” part of the game’s combat.
There’s a plethora of unlockables ranging from skins to emblems that you earn in Stash Drops. They’re merely cosmetics and can be earned every time you level up like Loot Boxes in Overwatch, so they’re a welcome addition to incentivize play. However, half of them strike us as useless such as customisable boot patterns that enemies will see if you kick them. In addition, the characters aren’t as distinguishable and iconic as Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch’s cast, so the skins aren’t that alluring with the exception of a few that we’d like to get our hands on.
Overall, the realistic style leaves the character design and art direction feeling a bit conflicted with some characters’ voices and personalities not matching up or simply coming across as generic. This comes through with the music, too, which is wholly unmemorable since it’s more like noise punctured through with obnoxious dubstep and rock.
However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t admit that there are lines, characters, and details about LawBreaker’s world that speak for its potential to lighten up a bit more. In all honesty, this is best expressed through much of the animation, which is brimming with personality that sometimes tells more about the characters than when they speak for themselves.
Performance-wise, stuttering is still noticeable, but it’s hardly as jarring or frequent as it was before the recent patch went through. However, we’d like to see some of the menu navigation sorted out since it gets clunky and bogged down for no apparent reason. Besides these technical quibbles, we played LawBreakers on the standard PlayStation 4 and found that it ran within 50-60 frames-per-second consistently, though it does drop to 30 on occasion.
LawBreakers’ world and characters don’t carve deep impressions, but the experience itself exerts a strong pull with its diverse, balanced classes, solid selection of modes, and stellar gunplay. It’s more than a nice distraction from its looming competitors, and while the map design and implementation of gravity leave more to be desired, the game has the potential to further defy gravity and our expectations if it keeps shooting for the moon.