Review: Lawbreakers

I’ve written a couple of posts about Lawbreakers already – check out my preview and beta impressions, if you’re interested – so it took me some time to gather my thoughts in order to say something that I hadn’t already said. I know that I really enjoy the game, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why (beyond the game simply being fun to play). This morning, I came to a realisation – Lawbreakers is a distillation of modern shooters, using old school arena shooters as a base.

If that analogy is hard to understand, let me pull it apart for you. While Lawbreakers is a team-based shooter, there’s less emphasis on team composition and more emphasis on simply working together towards an objective. While there are different roles to choose from, they are all heavily focused on shooting, with most abilities being fire and forget, leaving players to focus on attack. And while each role does have distinctive abilities and ultimates, none of them are one-hit kills, and all roles and abilities require a certain amount of skill and – dare I say flair? – to pull off. So, in essence, it takes the simplistic fun of old school shooters and injects a healthy dose of modernity.

What this means is that you don’t have to worry too much about how your role fits into your team, you really only need to worry about how YOU fit into your team – you only need to worry about how well YOU play. And if you play well (and better still, you work towards the objective), it’s likely your team will win. For all of these reasons, I find Lawbreakers to be a breath of fresh air.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Overwatch, and I love Paladins. While these games do look and feel different, how they play out is very similar, there’s no denying that. Lawbreakers has its similarities to both titles, but it just doesn’t feel like either. For one, the aesthetic is very different. Where Overwatch has roots in the real world but utilises a comic book superhero style, and where Paladins is designed around high fantasy, Lawbreakers is realistic and gritty. Sure, there are elements of fantasy and futurism in the abilities and the low gravity areas, but it looks and feels very much like a futuristic version of the modern world. More importantly, though, both Paladins and Overwatch focus strongly on team composition and ensuring that players deeply understand the heroes on offer, while Lawbreakers is about breakneck speed and efficiency. I can’t emphasise enough that this game feels less like a team-based shooter and more like an arena shooter of old.

Perhaps that’s a negative? In reality, matches can’t be won unless teams play to the objective, and playing to the objective requires teamwork and support. At present, given the game is still relatively new, many players still selfishly chase down kills and often seemingly ignore the objective, and I’ve been involved in several lost matches as a result. Will things continue this way as the game matures? It remains to be seen. Regardless, I’ve still had endless amounts of fun, win or lose.

A second negative lies perhaps in its difficulty. Being a high-speed shooter, Lawbreakers requires twitch aiming. Hitboxes feel smaller than they do in other shooters, and head shots are particularly hard to achieve. With every character having some kind of movement ability (yes, even the comparably slow-moving Titan and Juggernaut roles), tracking is not as simple as predicting movement over a curve. Players that don’t learn to rely on their abilities will die more often and get fewer kills. For all of these reasons, Lawbreakers is tough as nails. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, and while there will be many gifted players that fall right into a rhythm, others (like me), will take hours to find their way. In fact, I’d estimate it took me 20 hours to finally understand how to dominate with the Titan – and that’s only one role, I’m still terrible at the rest. This may turn people off initially, but I would urge people to fight through this, because Lawbreakers is worth playing. When you get competitive, you’ll find yourself in the zone more often than not, and I’ve had more fun on those occasions than I’ve had elsewhere.

I’m also not a huge fan of the art design, but I’m somewhat divided here as well. For example, in game, the game uses a lot of straight lines, giving it a very sharp, but somewhat sterile feel. It’s likely a deliberate design choice, as this makes it feel (aesthetically) like Halo multiplayer, Unreal Tournament, Quake – the kinds of games that Lawbreakers obviously is paying homage to. Textures are sharp (particularly the futuristic advertisements and signs around maps), and everything looks great, but it almost feels out of place in a world where recent games are full of soft edges and flowing design. On top of this, there’s the character design itself, which has somewhat divided players. I feel the rough, at times unattractive character design is welcome and suits the world in which it sits, but others find them… ugly. In some cases, ugly is clearly what Boss Key was going for, but I would suggest it’s a gross generalisation to apply that to all character models.

However, the interface could use some work. Many menus look like tables in an excel spreadsheet. The borders seem to be using a simple hashed effect, and the colour scheme is bordering on dull. Scratch that – it IS dull (blacks, blues, and greys). User interface doesn’t need to look great, but it helps… What a good user interface DOES need, though, is information and a clear intuitive flow. I’d suggest that Boss Key has hit the mark in these cases, but I’d also go as far as saying there could always perhaps be MORE – particularly more customisation options (let me change my crosshair and remap my controller, please).

In terms of player incentives, the design of character and weapon skins is flawless. Every character has a few low-grade palette switch options, as well as a few skins that completely change the way the character looks. Weapons are similar, with “Boss” grade (legendary in most other games) skins applying some kind of animation in many cases. Similarly, some player portraits are animated, providing players with a multitude of options for visual customisation. There are also kick decals (a footprint that pops up on the enemies screen when you take them out with a kick) – I initially felt these were weird and pointless, but grew to love them over time. The only really strange addition is weapon stickers. These can be applied to either a primary or secondary weapon, and there are literally HUNDREDS of them. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were noticeable in game, but you’ll pretty much be the only player to see it (until Boss Key adds kill cams, at which point we’ll likely see players showing off their weapon stickers after a kill – see photo below). The biggest problem is that it feels like a chore to go through and apply a sticker to every weapon, particularly as loading for the stickers menu is jittery and painful.

All of that said, it should be made clear that Boss Key is dedicated to proactively supporting the game over its lifecycle. Since the game was released two weeks ago, there’s already been a couple of patches – one specifically for PS4 to clear up some launch glitches, and a second providing some “quality of life” improvements, such as allowing players to open Stash Drops while in queue for a match (previously you had to drop out of queue). There were also some improvements to the sticker menu, but it still feels a bit slow to navigate. I doubt I’ll play with stickers much. On top of that, there are apparently two additional roles in development, which will be released free of charge, as will new maps and modes. Hopefully we’ll see a ranked mode soon, and it’s evident that Boss Key is considering adding Team Deathmatch and potentially adding role restrictions (for example, limiting to 1 or 2 of each role per team). All of these things are good, and the game will only improve as a result.

Lastly, I want to mention the player population, although it is something that has come up far too often for no good reason. At present, the game is matchmaking fairly quickly on both PS4 and PC, but occasionally I end up in 4v5 matches, and infrequently it can take several minutes to find a match. Many people are avoiding the game for this reason, but basic logic would suggest that if you like the game, buy it, because this will only increase the player population. If you’re complaining that the population is low, and suggesting you won’t buy the game for this reason, then you’re part of the problem. It’s disappointing to me, because I really love this game and want it to do well – so come join me on PS4!

Lawbreakers is easily one of the most enjoyable twitch shooters I’ve played in a long time. I’ve covered a lot of niggly negatives in this review, but in reality, the game plays well, and is extremely enjoyable to play. It isn’t a game that requires a lot of strategy, but it’s a game full of aerial acrobatics, bloody explosions, and extremely fast-paced gunplay. At a pricepoint of $45 AUD, you’d be silly to miss Lawbreakers if you enjoy multiplayer shooters.

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