LawBreakers Is a More Masculine Overwatch
LawBreakers , published by Nexon and developed by Boss Key Productions, is the latest directorial project by Cliff Blezinski of Unreal and Gears of War fame. It’s a 5v5, skill-based, arena shooter that lies somewhere in the middle of what’s going on in the genre today, between Overwatch and something more realistic like Rainbow Six . It has a more hardcore look and feel, but borrows bits and pieces from everywhere, including its obvious Unreal DNA. The end result is fun, fast, and feels distinct, but at the same time comes off as unfriendly, muddled, and aesthetically bland. LawBreakers seems like it wants to disrupt the AAA team shooter space, but it’s more likely to find a dedicated niche and settle in.
On the surface, LawBreakers is a familiar-looking team-based shooter. You end up on a team through the matchmaking, going with either Law or Breakers. Then you pick a class. Each class has a primary weapon, some have a secondary weapon, and then each has two skills and a super move of sorts, all with relative cooldowns. It’s unavoidable to say the basic setup looks like Overwatch . That’s what it will be compared to, and that’s what LawBreakers seeks to distance itself from.
Where it initially fails to get away from that comparison is in its roster. Games like these often succeed because of innately appealing characters. Overwatch has its robust, colorful cast of distinct personalities, each with enough individual pizzazz to fuel their own rabid fanbase. LawBreakers does not have this. The muddled colors and busy designs leave each character feeling more generic than likely intended. Even after several hours of play, I struggle to remember names or personalities over weapons and utility. More disappointing is while the roster is distinct for each side, they’re just mirrors of each other. The shotgun class is the same on Law or Breakers, just with a different look that doesn’t matter once all you see is the weapon.
This makes things a little rough when it comes to getting to know and love your class or character, something that’s of considerable value for these skill-based shooters, of which there are many. After all, you’ll quickly notice the obligatory Stash Crate system, which operates in nearly identical fashion to the competition. Get a crate upon in-game, real money purchase, or level up, and you’ll get a handful of items of varying rarity. You get skins, money, weapon stickers, and footprints, for when you pull off a kick kill. It’s fun to unlock things, but when you’re unlocking a bunch of samey-looking robot and/or armor outfits, the novelty wears off fairly quickly.
Start the game, and LawBreakers does indeed immediately feel like something new and special. The game modes all have that Unreal Tournament feel of having weird names and objects to interact with, even if ultimately you’re playing a variation of capture the flag or capturing points. Stuff like that goes a long way. Levels are both wide open and full of corners, rooms, and verticality; the environments all feel unique and have plenty of bizarre geometry to maneuver around to create advantages. Finally, and most importantly, is gravity.
Once you leave the enclosed parts of a map, you end up in wide-open areas of zero-gravity, and that’s where the big gimmick and finer mechanics of LawBreakers kick in. Since the laws of gravity no longer really apply, the characters are capable of not only huge jumps and massive, aerial firefights, but other little tricks and abilities come into play as well. While LawBreakers doesn’t feel quite as fast as an Unreal Tournament or something like Quake , it’s all about mastering your favorite class’ maneuverability. Some characters are more mobile on the ground than in the air or vice-versa. But you can utilize not only the individual tools you have, but also things like a behind the back shooting technique that can not only be used to grief opponents, but provide an extra boost of momentum for when you’re navigating the zero-G spaces. Opportunities are also created to really mess with your opponents, as you can often either manipulate the physics (or simply kick someone) to really throw them off and disorient them.
Unfortunately, my biggest gripe with LawBreakers is a sore lack of learning tools. We’re reviewing it on the PlayStation 4, which as of this writing does not have anything resembling a tutorial, introduction, or resource to teach the player what the heck is going on. It’s touch and go; you can either mess around in the options, customize the roster, or hit the Play button. Apparently the PC versions does have tutorials, but your only option on a console is to either read loadout descriptions in the middle or lead up to a match or seek out external materials. Or you just play until you figure it out, which will only work for the super hardcore players LawBreakers really seems to be courting.
Hardcore or not, LawBreakers has systems and details that, without any kind of practice space, tutorial, or even in-game reading materials, will turn people off. This game is complex, more so than much of its peers, and it’s also unforgiving. Unlike, say, Overwatch ’s more team-based dynamic, LawBreakers is more Unreal Tournament -like in that more skilled individuals can have a serious impact on a game. You can and will get torn apart, even on day one. This can be especially frustrating here, since the second you enter the zero-G space, you’re faced with learning a new way to operate in a first-person shooter.
Chances are, these tutorial tools will come to LawBreakers at a later date, possibly making this a moot point in the future. But as it stands, not having that resource hurts the game initially; LawBreakers does have an uphill battle ahead of it. But there’s also no denying that once you start to get it, there’s a lot of old school/new school hybrid fun to be had here. Blasting around as a jetpack-laden Vanguard and ripping people apart with her minigun, being awarded with Unreal Tournament -still kill streak announcements, and then in the same movement, getting that modern rush of contributing to the game’s objective is a rush. Screaming across a stage in zero-G or flying around in an intense one-on-one fight in the middle of the battlefield is something you won’t find in Overwatch .
LawBreakers is a mess, but a good mess; it is one that tries to hit a ton of marks all at once and only misses a few. I worry about its meager content offerings in a crowded, already saturated genre. If LawBreakers can coast for a while on its solid core, hopefully its intended audience will find it and stick around.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The Unreal engine looks great as usual, but uninspired character designs and muddled art direction doesn’t help LawBreakers stand out in a crowd. 3.5 Control
Familiar at first, then very complex as you dive in. No tutorials at launch make this problematic. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Nothing out of the ordinary to speak of here. Competent, but not memorable. VO is often drowned out by the action. 4.5 Play Value
The usual online shooter model of “play until you level up, unlock stuff, reset, and do it again until you’re sick of it.” 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best