Lawbreakers preview

Key Features

  • Review Price: £0.00

Coming August on PS4, PC

Boss Key’s debut title is sizing up to be a very nice competitive FPS with some great ideas. However, it also has some challenges ahead.

The new beta, open on PC and closed on PS4, offers six maps, four modes and 16 of the 18 playable characters – the Harrier class is locked until launch. In my time with it, I’ve grown to love a lot about the game. It’s fast-paced, mostly well balanced and packed with smart ideas. Once you’ve pushed past a fairly steep initial learning curve, it’s a lot of fun. The big question is whether it has what it takes to take on Overwatch, not to mention F2P rivals such as Paladins and Battleborn.

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Here’s what I think the game gets right. The basic feel of the movement and combat is absolutely spot on; there’s something about Lawbreakers that reminds me of the Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament 3 glory days, which is only natural when you think of studio boss Cliff Bleszinski’s pre-Gears of War experience. And while the gravity-busting shtick isn’t quite as pronounced as you might have thought, with only certain areas of the map supporting free-floating, aerobatic blasting, there’s a lot more verticality than in your average FPS.

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To be honest, the last two Calls of Duty and Titanfall went further on jet-pack antics and high-speed traversal, but once you get used to Lawbreakers’ various class abilities, you’ll be pulling off plenty of slick moves in open spaces. Like grappling hooks, phase-shifts, glides and dashing-slide goodness? Lawbreakers has all these and more covered.

There’s a good range of classes, too, with heavies (the Titans, Vanguards and Juggernauts) packing strong defensive capabilities and a lot of punch, the light classes (Assassin, Gunslinger, Wraith) working well as high-damage shock troops, and the ones in-between (the Enforce and Battle Medic) giving a versatile balance. Each class has its own weapons and specific abilities, with two mainstream powers that can be used often and recharge fast, plus one super that takes a while to charge but can be devastating when used at the right moment.

The Titans, for example, combine a rocket-launcher with a lightning-gun side-arm, plus a brutal ‘pulverize’ jump and stomp move and a mine that slows down enemy movement. Their killer move, though, is a Bezerk mode that amps up their abilities and allows them to hurl lightning around like a bulked-up Sith lord.

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The Wraith, meanwhile, combines a stylish power slide with some nasty dash-and-stab manoeuvres, a thrown blade that detonates when shot, and an ability to slow foes to a crawl. Want someone to assassinate an obstructive camper or speed into a room, grab something and get out? The Wraith is your guy.

Importantly, these classes mesh brilliantly with the game modes, which focus more on eSports-friendly scoring than simple kill/death ratio stuff. Two – Overcharge and Uplink – are variations of capture the flag, where a battery or data core has to be taken from an area and either charged or connected to a terminal on the map. The two modes differentiate themselves through the mechanics of scoring and opportunities to disrupt and steal the advantage, and both offer plenty of drama, with surprising turnarounds and chances for heroism coming thick and fast.

What’s more, they encourage players to think tactically about their role. If you can use your abilities to spearhead an attack on the enemy position and prevent them from scoring – or stop opponents disrupting your effort to grab points – then you’ll do a better job of putting your team ahead.  Beyond great kills and the thrills of duelling, the moments where a good team pulls together deliver many of Lawbreakers’ biggest joys.

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The other two modes, Blitz Ball and Turf War, aren’t always so successful. The former is a futuristic sports mode where the titular ball has to be taken to the goal, with a Basketball-style shot clock limiting the time you have to get your point. It’s good, but not quite as tight and exciting as Overcharge or Uplink. Turf War seems like an attempt to update and rebalance the classic Control Point/Domination mode, but with its intervals and lockdowns seems a little over-complicated. Just when you’re getting going, the action seems to pause.

All in all, though, I’m impressed. While it could do with some half-decent tutorials or a versus AI practice mode, Lawbreakers has a way of getting you gripped and pulling you back for one more match – particularly once you find two or three classes that you really like. As with all competitive shooters there are some questions over longevity, but there’s enough going on here – even with just six maps at present – to keep you glued for a decent length of time. After all, Overwatch hasn’t had any problems holding its audience.

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Now, though, we hit that big ‘but’. Some of Overwatch’s success comes from sheer, exuberant personality. Players care about the characters, believe in the settings and become excited about what’s coming down the line. They want to be part of the fun; they want to play where the action is. People talk about its debt to the MOBA, but there’s also something of the fighting game – and specifically the Capcom fighting game – about the way it lays out its heroes and its lore. It never feels generic.

Lawbreakers appears to struggle here. There’s clearly some background story, but I’m not sure what it is – and I’m even less sure that I’m bothered either way. The different characters are well designed, with a few who are mildly intriguing, but they lack the distinctive style of Overwatch’s stars. The one-liners are annoying and the customisation options that unlock through loot crates are underwhelming. The maps are more slick and functional than visually memorable.

First Impressions

Despite this I continue to enjoy Lawbreakers. Mechanically, the whole game clicks and it’s only the lack of a distinctive style that lets it down. Hopefully, the full launch version can imbue a bit more character and general vibe into the game. Right now, Lawbreakers has the makings of a perfectly solid and entertaining online shooter; it only needs to take the next step up to be a great one.

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