Fight across colorful arenas in high-tech rounds of cops and robbers.
PC Release: August 8, 2017
By Ian Coppock
Overwatch has enjoyed a healthy reign as king of the zany multiplayer shooters since it released just over a year ago. It’s no hyperbole to say that the game is a cultural phenomenon; no comic con in this day and age is complete without a legion of Tracer cosplayers. Many, many games have tried to unseat Overwatch only to end up adding to the pile of dead competitors propping up its throne (oh Battleborn). LawBreakers is now swinging for that throne; time to see how hard.
The reason why this review opened with Overwatch grandstanding is because LawBreakers is Overwatch. It is hilariously Overwatch. It is so blatantly Overwatch that one could be forgiven for mistaking it for Overwatch from a distance. Even at a closer glance, the two games share obvious similarities: they’re both set in bright, futuristic worlds and star a cast of colorful characters armed with all manner of exotic weaponry.
LawBreakers doesn’t bother with giving its characters any sort of exposition; all players really need to know is that theft is alive and well in the future. Two teams, the Law and the Breakers (ba dum tssss) duke it out for glory in glossy environments. Though LawBreakers bills itself as a futuristic cops-and-robbers game, none of its modes really have anything to do with robbery (or at least their objectives don’t).
Like Overwatch, LawBreakers is a class-based shooter whose characters each occupy a specific niche on their teams. Both teams have the same classes of characters occupied by physically different (though functionally identical) characters. Unlike Overwatch, LawBreakers gets more specific with defining the roles of each character, labeling them “medic” or “assassin”, etc. It wouldn’t be difficult to discern each character’s role without these labels, but they do help, especially since some classes share conspicuous overlap (especially the wraith and the assassin).
LawBreakers‘ penchant for Overwatch-style character design goes beyond the colorful clothes, oversized guns, and ethnic and gender diversity. Each character in this game comes with a streamlined handful of abilities designed to be as easy to use and understand as possible. Characters have a primary weapon, a movement ability, and a few secondary powers like grenades or increased movement speed. These powers vary depending on the weight and class of the character (assassins move quickly, juggernauts not so much). Even though the game doesn’t say so, characters can shoot behind themselves as they run (Ctrl).
Unfortunately for LawBreakers, it doesn’t succeed in implementing its gameplay mechanics as fluidly as Overwatch does. As in Overwatch, each characters’ powers are on a cooldown timer, but the cooldowns in Lawbreakers take forevvvver. Some characters’ abilities take upwards of an entire minute to recharge after use, which is an eternity in a game as fast-paced as this one. These cooldowns vary from character to character but are always shockingly slow; usually too slow to be used before the player gets killed and has to respawn.
There’s something inherently dysfunctional about how slow LawBreakers‘ cooldowns are in comparison to the rest of the game. True to developer Boss Key’s marketing material, matches in LawBreakers are fast-paced. Players can quickly move around maps taking out foes and completing objectives at a speed far outstripping the recharge of character abilities. This unbalanced dichotomy forces players to ration each character’s power, making LawBreakers a lot less fun than it could be with quicker cooldowns.
Some folks might say that LawBreakers‘ slow cooldowns aren’t a big deal in the face of the game’s most marketed novelty: anti-gravity. Yes, it’s true that characters can shoot into the sky to take each other out… but only in certain areas of the map. It turns out that LawBreakers‘ marketing depicting each battleground as a purely vertical gunfight was quite hyperbolic. On top of that, trying to move around in anti-grav is pretty clunky. Players have to jam shift and space to attain altitude, and can only do so on a limited fuel bar. When that runs out, it’s just floating around in space and praying for a lucky shot.
LawBreakers‘ missteps with anti-gravity seep into more than just the gameplay; they also homogenize the game’s map design. Though each map in LawBreakers bears its own aesthetic, the design structure underlying those bright colors and sharp textures is the same in most of the title’s eight maps. Whether it’s a futuristic boardwalk or a high-altitude weather station, players can expect the majority of LawBreakers‘ maps to be circular perimeters of corridors around single anti-grav rooms. This sameness in level design makes LawBreakers‘ already small supply of maps even more redundant.
There may not be much variety to be found in LawBreakers‘ maps, but the same thankfully can’t be said of the game’s modes. As of writing, LawBreakers features a few diverse modes for players to shoot up: there’s Overcharge, a capture-the-flag mode in which players take batteries back to their base, as well as a king-of-the-hill analogue called Turf War. Uplink is pretty much the same as Overcharge except that progress is measured by how well the team defends the collectible instead of how much time it’s spent at their base. Finally, there’s Blitzball: grab a glowy ball and deposit it in the enemy base to score.
For any drawbacks LawBreakers suffers with its slow cooldowns and clunky anti-gravity, these modes do make for some fun gunplay. Each match is a fast-paced bout of first-person shooting and stabbing. The modes have all been done in one form or another in other video games (who hasn’t heard of capture the flag or king of the hill) but Blitzball is arguably the most original… and fun. Matches are usually pretty easy to find in LawBreakers, but be warned: as of launch, it’s not uncommon to spend upwards of 10 minutes waiting for one.
LawBreakers manages to avoid any major design flaws when it comes to visual fidelity. The game looks absolutely gorgeous; every environment is brightly lit and brightly colored. The game masterfully mashes different textures and materials together into a composite without making the larger map they’re in feel random. Players can expect to encounter a riot of different shops and establishments aptly blended together into each map, which can draw players’ eyes even as they’re avoiding bullets. Between its detailed textures and bright colors, LawBreakers leaves little to be desired in the visual design department.
Not only does LawBreakers look pretty, it actually runs quite well. The game is refreshingly bug-free and glitches during actual gameplay are rare. Plus, LawBreakers has a ginormous options menu; players can use the game’s comprehensive list of options and toggles to adjust everything from the sharpness of shadows to whether a character speaks. The game’s other menus, from character customization to player profiles, are also quite streamlined. The sound design is competent… the guns could sound a little louder, but no big deal.
LawBreakers can look and sound pretty ’till the cows come home, but its aesthetic only does so much to conceal its many gameplay flaws. As previously mentioned, the length of the characters’ ability cooldowns needs to be shortened… well, not “shortened” so much as “cut in half.” Even the coolest character powers aren’t that cool when they can only be used once per minute, and a lot can happen in 60 seconds (deaths, rebirths, existential crises, wins, losses, eating an entire pizza, all kinds of things).
Additionally, LawBreakers‘ anti-gravity controls need to be overhauled; randomly pressing the shift and space keys while praying for upward movement doesn’t cut it. A tutorial devoted entirely to moving around in anti-gravity would also not go amiss. Honestly, it feels a bit cheap that a game that made so much noise about being able to fly around in anti-gravity confines that feature to one or two relatively small areas within each map. Trailers and marketing material should never be trusted as a general rule, but LawBreakers‘ own teaser now feels especially inflated.
LawBreakers gets credit for its bright world and decent PC performance, but it feels like a mere Overwatch clone without a greater, smoother emphasis on anti-gravity gameplay. At this point the title is less a game trying to establish its own identity and more an “Overwatch plus anti-gravity sometimes.” If Cliff Bleszinski and the folks at Boss Key don’t take steps to re-balance character cooldowns or refine the anti-gravity comprising LawBreakers‘ key selling point, this game will probably be dead in the next 4-6 months. Hopefully the studio gets cracking on these drawbacks, because Overwatch doesn’t need any more fallen competitors in its body pile.
You can buy LawBreakers here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.