Boots, Firmly Off the Ground.
Developer: Boss Key Productions
Publisher: Nexon America Inc.
Reviewed on: PS4 Pro (Review code provided)
Stepping into Lawbreakers for the first time, it’s hard not to draw those inevitable comparisons to Overwatch. In fact, some parts of the game feel eerily familiar, especially with some of the abilities on its class-based character roster. However, familiarity ends there. Lawbreakers is a grower all of its own, that underwhelms initially, but slowly unravels layers to reveal unique, memorable bouts of combat and a deep sense of depth and eureka moment learning curves.
From the outside looking in, the game promotes the look of chaos in its frenetic movement and vertical gun fights, but with a controller in your hand there’s a feel of elegance and control that’s not immediately apparent without it. Lawbreakers is essentially your standard five versus five hero shooter, but where it differs is that much of its joy comes from that fast-paced mobility, even during anti-gravity skirmishes that still manage to feel intentional and authoritative once mastered.
Unfortunately, that mastery of control won’t come straight away. Sure, you can step into the game and start shooting things pretty readily, but it won’t be until you have that defining moment of glory or pull off some acrobatic madness that Lawbreakers truly shines. Maybe it’ll be zipping backwards with the Gunslinger to dodge an incoming attack and then reeling off a one-two combo with your handguns. Perhaps you’ll nail an Assassin’s dash to slice an incoming opponent, then switch out to your energy shotgun to catch another at range. With each class, you’ll be battered to death repeatedly until that moment comes and your loadout and movement finally clicks. It really is a eureka moment when everything falls into place and the developers should be commended on how the well the nuances of each character have been designed.
Lawbreakers’ anti-gravity mechanics really set the game apart too, but again have a learning curve all their own. There’s something special about performing high speed manoeuvres from tight ground spaces, to then propel yourself into the air to continue the fight in a vertical space. Each class also handles that momentum differently, be it short directional teleport bursts or tarzan-esque energy rope swings from one platform to another. Once you get your head around each style of play it can absolutely lead to exhilarating gunfights and empowering combinations.
It’s a little disappointing, then, that the eighteen playable characters, nine classes and seven maps aren’t always as interesting as the gunplay. The Wraith class can speed slide along, slicing with a short sword and unleashing pistol fire, whilst the Enforcer dashes through locations ripping powerful assault rifle shots that tracks during the ultimate ability, but they all do it within what feels like hollow shells and dull personas. This isn’t helped by the lack of any kind of extensive back story or character development. Make no mistake, the game looks great and runs adequately, but it all blurs into something dangerously generic where even the multitude of unlockable skins feel largely underwhelming.
By itself, the blandness isn’t a massive issue, but it does negate the excellent gunplay by making visual and audio cues sometimes difficult to decipher. The game has such a frantic nature, knowing what enemy class I was engaging was tough, as was hearing ultimate audio cues amidst a sea of gunfire and flying bodies. It’s no doubt something that can be tweaked in the future but in a competitive game of this type, it felt slightly detrimental to the experience as a whole.
The game modes themselves certainly offer a bit more in the interest department. There’s 5 modes; Turf War, Uplink, Occupy, Overcharge and Blitzball, which thanks to anti-gravity has a few more things in common with Final Fantasy X’s mini-game than you’d originally think. There’s your typical zone control mode types in Turf War and Occupy with some minor tweaks on each. In Turf War zones will lock down once captured and once all 3 are locked the game goes into an intermission before resetting where you can go back to simply shooting the other team.
It’s actually a quite novel makes you approach the game a little differently. Uplink and Overcharge also share some similar qualities in that you’ll be capturing and object, taking it back to base and defending it until charged. One mode has an object that holds charge and the other resets once recaptured, with both modes ending up with some push/pull mechanics that are as thrilling as they are intense. The final mode Blitzball is as you’d expect; grab the object in the centre of the map and pop it into the enemy’s zone to score. The pace and map design is perfectly balanced to keep things exciting, in ways that Destiny’s similar mode named ‘Rift’ could never quite capture.
It’s clear that developers, Boss Key, have worked really hard to make sure that Lawbreakers launches with a great foundation, and it does. Where the game falters in identity and lack of accessibility, it makes up for in excellent class depth and combat that’s as rewarding as it is exciting. There’ll no doubt be a push for esports so balancing will continue to improve and with some interesting modes and a ton of unlockables to grind for, there’s definitely a game here worth recommending. If you can be patient with the learning curve, you’ll be defying gravity and busting satisfying combos before you even know it.