The creator of Gears Of War and Unreal Tournament is back with one of the best new shooters of the year.
LawBreakers has only been out three days and already it’s managed to gain a reputation as a flop. This is primarily based on its poor performance and low player count on Steam, as well as a surprisingly lowkey marketing campaign. Which is odd, because as the first new game from Cliff ‘CliffyB’ Bleszinski, since he left Gears Of War developer Epic Games, you would have expected more fanfare than this. Especially as the game is actually really good.
If LawBreakers really isn’t a success it’s unlikely to be blamed solely on the marketing. The game is a multiplayer-only first person shooter and there’s already questions being asked as to whether that market is becoming oversaturated with too many similar games. With every publisher desperate to push their game as the next big esports title, the inevitable result is that more people are playing less games but for much longer than usual.
But there’s also the question of whether LawBreakers’ particular style of gameplay is beginning to fall out of fashion. It’s an extremely fast-paced game, with an emphasis on aerial combat, at a time when Call Of Duty and other games are purposefully abandoning jetpacks and rocket boots. And where even Overwatch, with all its peculiar characters, favours a predominantly boots-on-the-ground style of combat.
Overwatch is already a favourite point of comparison, given LawBreakers’ similarly large roster of class-based characters. Although they’re a considerably more foul-mouthed lot, that are a lot harder to love than Blizzard’s pantheon of pseudo-superheroes. But despite some similarities between the two games, LawBreakers has even more in common with old school arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament (which Bleszinski also worked on).
LawBreakers is certainly not as accessible as Overwatch, which despite a huge cast of characters can be picked up and played by anyone that’s ever wielded a joypad. LawBreakers though almost seems to go out of its way to be as offputting as possible, with no proper tutorials and confusing ability and weapon descriptions that mean the only way to learn is to dive in and try and shoot someone.
Once you do that everything becomes a lot clearer, since at its heart this is still a relatively straightforward multiplayer shooter. There are nine different classes, with two characters in each according to whether they’re the good guys (Law) or bad guys (Breakers). At first the differences don’t seem very significant though, and your attention is instead drawn to one of the game’s main gimmicks: bubbles of zero-gravity that allow everyone to fly around the game maps with enjoyably little effort.
Once you start to delve into the characters’ different abilities and weapons the game’s true depth becomes obvious. Every class has three powers on a cooldown timer, which are generally a movement ability (things like a dash, warp jump, and hover move) a grenade of some sort, and a special move that includes everything from electric attacks to shield domes and a giant laser beam. And that’s in addition to the actual weapons, all of which have an alt fire mode – some of which have significant extra uses, like the assassins’ machete/grappling hook combo.
The game modes though are considerably less exotic and include only versions of mainstays such as Capture the Flag and Domination, plus a pseudo sports game called Blitzball. As with Overwatch, we’re a little disappointed that the same sense of invention seen in the characters and abilities is absent from the game modes, but at least LawBreakers is no more or less lacking in that area than any other recent multiplayer game.
The only serious flaws with LawBreakers, beyond its steep learning curve, is its unappealingly bland art design. Most of the characters have some sort of wacky sci-fi clothing or gear but they’re rendered in a much more realistic style than Overwatch, and end up looking both silly and boring at the same time. It’s also all but impossible to make out who is who at a distance, which actively hurts the gameplay.
But although its designers no doubt see it as a primary part of the appeal, it’s the game’s complex, fast-paced action which will put off most ordinary gamers. There are no easy kills in LawBreakers, and it has little time for newbies of any sort. But whether you see that unforgiving attitude as a negative or a positive it’s hard not to admire a game that refuses to bend to current trends, no matter how much it might seem otherwise from a first glance.