Available exclusively on Steam
Cliff Bleszinski is dissatisfied with the current landscape of shooters. Speaking to a group of journalists gathered at Boss Key Productions – the studio he built after coming out of retirement in 2014 – ‘CliffyB’ bemoans the amount of “damn colour” used and character casts targeting a younger audience. Lawbreakers hopes to offer a “Quentin Tarantino-like sensibility as opposed to a Pixar one”. While some of the Lawbreakers’ attempts at maturity border on juvenile, as a game, it has the potential to stand out from the crowd.
Lawbreakers has a similar setup to Overwatch: two teams face off in numerous objective-based battles, with each character class possessing unique abilities. Where Lawbreakers deviates is in its manipulation of gravity. A section of every map will allow players to duke it out in zero-G. Once you pass through the barrier, traversal in any direction is possible, which at times can get a little chaotic.
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Traversing in zero-G works by holding W and using the mouse, to pick the direction you want to move. Momentum allows you to move in one direction while shooting in another, but to try and do anything gracefully is tricky. Several attempts to land delicately on a rooftop to gain a vantage point over an enemy ended with me landing inches in front of their ready-to-fire rockets.
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The other key feature is the ability to blind-fire weapons. Shooting directly behind you at first seems like a great way to get kills on chasing enemies, but in actuality it’s more a useful way to get around in zero-gravity. Firing a rocket launcher behind you, for example, propels your soldier much faster through the anti-grav space. Any blindfire kills were incredibly rare, and thanks to the lack of a minimap, were more luck than judgement.
Lawbreakers currently features eight characters split into four classes, with more to come in the lead up to launch and beyond. Each character offers a different realisation of Bleszinski’s “more mature” vision. A DEA agent, an assassin, shady syndicate operatives. While some characters do certainly intrigue, others fail to capture the mature-feel and simply devolve into childish.
Kitsune, an assassin, will utter intriguing quotes after kills. “That’s for what you did to my brother” suggests a deeper narrative arc between her and the victim, I was curious to delve deeper into the lore. Kintaro, on the other hand, is a cocky Vanguard who’ll spend most of the time telling the world how awesome he is along with a few expletives. A few f***s and g*d d***s a mature game does not make, and it devolved ‘maturity’ into an easily-dismissed buzzword. It’s a shame that such a one-dimensional character exists when clearly there’s potential to do better.
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The teams – Law and Breakers – will feature the same class types, each with matching weapons and abilities, meaning contests are defined by player skill rather than ‘who has the better gun’.
Jumping into a match, it’s immediately clear that the classes have been balanced to a fine (and very violent) game of rock, paper, scissors. The assassin class is incredibly fast and agile, equipped with a limited-use dash to get around the map quicker and dodge projectiles. Kitsune and Hellion (the Law’s assassin class) also have a grapple hook to zip around or bury into enemies and zip towards them for devastating kills.
While the assassin is great at dishing out punishment, she isn’t very good at taking it, and that’s where the Titans come in. Cronos and Bomchelle are Lawbreakers’ tanks, equipped with rocket launchers as standard and more health than any other class. Titans are Kryptonite to assassins. As Kitsune, my best one-on-one battles were against Bomchelle, and it’s because Lawbreakers has a beautiful balance. The rock, paper, scissors aspect leaves it in the hands of the player to make scissors overcome that giant rock. It’s an excellent setup that makes for wonderfully intense moment-to-moment action.
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While the action can be intense and incredibly fast-paced, actually getting to the fight can prove a little sluggish.
Each character’s base speed feels slow outside of encounters. The only exception to this are the Vanguards, who can use jetpacks to zip around the map at a much faster speed for a limited time. However, when a round reaches its closing moments, sometimes the journey from base-to-battle is too far, creating a sense of hopelessness in the final 30 seconds, which is a shame because that’s when Lawbreakers is at its best.
The mode we got to play – Overcharge – places a battery in the centre of the arena, both teams are required to return it to their base’s charging station. If the opposing team takes the battery, it keeps its charge. This makes for an incredibly intense final few minutes, as you desperately fight to retain or regain the battery in crowded choke points. Bleszinski said during the opening presentation that having a game which creates shareable moments which can spread across social media was a key philosophy. It’s clear that viral (and free) advertising is one way Boss Key hopes to spread word of mouth and drive sales.
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There were many moments where I felt the hero; making that all-important kill just as the enemy Enforcer was about to capture the battery with 99% charge. However, equally, there were times when I died trying to get a battery back with almost a minute left in the match, and deemed it pointless to try and save the day as it simply takes too long to travel from respawn to enemy base.
Considering we only saw a tiny snippet of the game, the minor gripes I had were things that could easily be balanced, and overall Lawbreakers feels very promising. There is an excellent sense of to-and-fro. One consistently off-putting thing about other multiplayer shooters is that unstoppable wave that is an opponent’s momentum. In Overcharge at least, you never feel out of the fight entirely. The battery can be with an opponent until it’s 99% charged, but if you grab it in the last moments, you get the win. It was wonderful, and those sorts of wins proved even more satisfying than any dominant performance.
While playing Lawbreakers, I sat wondering where the longevity will come in. Having grown up on the grind of Call of Duty and old-school brawlers, I’m preconditioned to expect to put the hours in to access the ‘good stuff’. However, with Lawbreakers dropping its free-to-play model, all playable content will be available to players after the initial purchase, with microtransactions coming in the form of cosmetic items.
As a multiplayer-only shooter, I feared that Lawbreakers will be another game that opens with a bang before petering out after a few hours.
However, after leaving Boss Key, and chatting with other players about their matches, my thoughts immediately turned to strategising future games. My time with Lawbreakers was spent wondering when I’ll stop, but in the time since all I can think about is when I can play it again.