LawBreakers is a new class-based competitive FPS from acclaimed game designer Cliff Bleszinski of Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal, and Gears of War fame (ya know, some good games) and the game retails for $29.99 USD. So far so good, right?
The marketing for the game aims to make you believe that LawBreakers is a super innovative first-person shooter unlike any you’ve ever played when in reality it is like every first person shooter you’ve ever played combined into one. That isn’t a good thing, especially since the only innovative parts of the game may be the worst parts.
Upon booting the game on PS4 you’re greeted with a menu lacking anything close to a tutorial or manual, and a play button that has one option for matchmaking and one for custom games. The learning curve here is steep, and since there’s literally no information built into the game to teach you how to play a game billed as innovative, you’re forced to go into matches and learn how to play against players of all skills on the fly. That isn’t fun, and if I had to fathom a guess I would say that I’m not the only one who thinks so, since in almost every match I’ve played I’ve seen players drop out of the game mid-match.
On top of that, the default controls feel unusably slow in responsiveness. Luckily, there are deep options here to tweak dead zones, responsiveness for horizontal and vertical aiming, field of vision, and so forth. Options you typically don’t see on console shooters. That said, this adds a whole other layer of learning and tweaking to dig into to get things just how you want them. I found myself fiddling with the control settings throughout the time I spent with the game, and I’m still not sure I’ve got them set to what best suits me. Perhaps if there were a training area or test mode it would be far easier to perfect control settings rather than trying to do so during live competition.
Part of the steep learning curve is that the game is made up of nine different classes, with two different, yet mechanically identical, characters representing each class split between the two teams: the Law and the Breakers. Each class has three abilities, as well as two different firing modes for their guns and other class-specific perks. The abilities each have cooldowns, much like you’d find in MMOs, MOBAs, and other hero or class-based shooters. For the most part, characters’ abilities are made up of one movement ability, one projectile, and an ultimate, the latter of which are a bit more varied.
Classes range from basic soldiers with a sprint button, a grenade, and an assault rifle and two ladies who can zip through the air with jet packs while unloading their miniguns to levitating healers that cast out orb shaped bots to their teammates and speedy assassins that use a taser whip to pull themselves quickly across the map or directly into enemies to slice them up with their blades. Apparently, a couple of classes have secondary weapons they can swap to, which I wasn’t aware of initially because I saw nothing in the game indicate as much nor I have I seen a single person do so. I only found this out while writing this review because I was double-checking class names. This information, discovered after I’ve put hours into the game and played all the characters multiple times, is telling of just how little information the game provides the player.
Another reason the learning curve is quite difficult is thanks to the game’s much-hyped anti-gravity. Maps all feature a central area with reduced gravity that has players zipping around the sky and/or room at all angles. That would be fine and dandy if every class was equipped with abilities to help with movement in these areas – not just a select few. Instead, hitting reduced gravity means whipping across the sky as if you’ve just run onto ice unless you’ve got a jetpack or similar ability. Often times I found myself disoriented or overshooting objective goals which left me exposed and floating in the air. Sure, I’ve improved with time, but honestly, the anti-gravity bits are easily my least favourite part of the game, even if it was the most hyped. It also doesn’t help that some classes have weapons that temporarily make any area have the same effect.
When not completely disoriented in anti-gravity, I found that the weapons just did not have enough impact or weight to them, as shooting characters does little to inhibit their movement. This is especially awkward when combined with the fact that characters take multiple shots with every weapon to die, which makes them feel a bit bullet spongy.
Weapon balance also doesn’t make sense to me, as it seems like a class with an Uzi-like gun can take down someone faster than the class with a minigun, and shotguns are mostly worthless unless point blank. While classes feel mostly balanced, LawBreakers doesn’t enforce any kind of limit on the number of each class on a team, which means you’ll often come against teams stacked with characters that give an advantage to whatever game type you’re playing. The developers have said competitive modes are coming, which I can only assume will limit classes, but these should have launched with the game.
The game types all use fancy names like “Uplink” and “Blitzball” to distract you from the fact they are your run-of-the-mill FPS game types. Uplink is essentially Capture the Flag, only you have to defend it at your base for a period of time, and Blitzball is reverse Capture the Flag where you’ve got to take a neutral ball (voiced by Justin Roiland of Rick and Morty fame) into the other team’s base. Turf War is a game type where there are three plots on the map which need to be captured to score points. And finally, Overcharge, which is again like Capture the Flag only you’re grabbing and then charging a battery at your base while defending it from the other team who can take it at any point and continue charging or score with it. This is the only game type close to innovative in the game, which easily makes it the best.
You’ll notice a lack of any kill-based game types, but your teammates probably won’t, as many players don’t even bother with objectives in my experience. Of course, since the game doesn’t tell how to even play each of the game types, I’m not surprised.
At the very least LawBreakers is easy on the eyes. Weapons and maps are crisp and colourful. Map layouts are fantastic, reminiscent of some of the best Unreal Tournament stages. However, I’ve encountered hitching, stuttering, and deep framerate drops that sometimes last seconds while playing on my PS4 Pro. The developers have already released a video saying they are aware of the issue and are working on it, but I fail to see how they didn’t knowingly release the game in this state. It isn’t like there are a ton of different hardware configurations to test for when it comes to consoles.
Audio-wise I don’t have much to say other than getting shot sometimes makes a sound effect that sounds like someone slapping a dodgeball.
Perhaps LawBreakers greatest sin is the lack of character, which is ironic when there are 18 playable characters available at launch. As there is no lore in the game that I’ve found, all I’ve got to go on is the cringey, profanity-laden one liners many of the characters spout or things like, “It’s time to murder” in a gruff voice. Know how many characters names I can name off the top of my head after playing LawBreakers for hours? None. Not really a great look when the game is designed to make players want to keep playing to unlock loot for their characters.
Speaking of which, the game features stache boxes (aka loot boxes) that are earned per XP level or available via microtransactions (because it’s 2017 and that is pretty much standard now). These boxes can include stickers for guns, profile icons (some of which are animated), and skins for guns and characters. The thing is most of the loot just doesn’t feel rewarding. Barely noticeable stickers? Boring. Profile icons? Yawn. The skins for guns are all right, but the skins for characters are mostly recolours, armours that look straight out of Destiny, Gundam, or Halo, or strange skins seemingly inspired by The Joker and Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad.
Unlockable skins should be things I want to get in order to make my character look cooler, not things that actively cover up their faces, erasing what little bit of personality they even have to begin with.
I appreciate LawBreakers featuring a diverse cast of characters, many of which are people of colour and women, and its inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms. You’d think the game’s marketing would have leaned into these facts a bit more, but instead, it was heavily promoted to the hardcore dudebro gamer crowd. The game’s Steam description says that LawBreakers is “…for skilled gamers who tired of kiddie-bumpered, on-the-rails ‘combat’”. Considering who the game was promoted to, I find it unsurprising that it currently is peaking at under 2000 players each day on Steam. If you promote to hardcore players only, then only hardcore players you will get. Speaking of which, I know some people are going to read this review and be like, “You just didn’t like it because you’re bad at it and/or FPS games!” but that isn’t the case at all considering I achieved a score higher than any others I’ve personally come across in the game.
As everyone seems to want to compare LawBreakers to Overwatch, let me do that as well. Both games launched with a lot of the same problems, such as lack of ranked modes and deathmatch, unrewarding loot boxes, and a small number of maps. Only in Overwatch‘s case the game started out with a lot of character, actually innovative game types, and did a far better job being accessible and understandable to players of every skill. Overwatch’s characters are instantly recognizable, meanwhile, LawBreakers‘ are merely shells for gameplay mechanics.
As far as LawBreakers being like every other FPS, you’ll find health pickups like Doom, abilities like Overwatch, skins like Destiny/Halo characters, movement that feels reminiscent of Unreal Tournament—only slower and with more slippery anti-gravity—and game types available in every other FPS. There is nothing wrong with being similar to aspects from other games, but it does lead to the question of who exactly this game is for if they can just play these other more polished and arguably better games?
Apparently just under 2000 people.