Experienced games veterans Cliff Bleszinski and Arjan Brussee formed new studio Boss Key Productions in 2014—LawBreakers is the first title to come out of the studio and boy does it deliver.
Focused purely around competitive multiplayer, LawBreakers is a battle between two teams – Law vs. Breakers, or rather, cops vs. robbers – and it’s a shame that there is little in the way of a storyline to explain how and why these two factions have locked horns.
On paper, LawBreakers sounds simple – eight maps, five modes, nine classes and 18 characters – but underneath the neat UX and lavish visuals is a devious game that will hook you for hours on end. Scratch away at its surface and you will reveal a deep combat system that is focused purely around abilities and gunplay – no complex class creation or killstreaks – just cold hard arena combat with weapon and character abilities so expertly balanced that you will be hard pressed to criticise any one character for being too OP.
The maps themselves, while small in number, are expertly crafted. Everything is neat and has beautiful symmetry; the simplicity in their layout only serves to focus the action more intensely. With a centre point shrouded in a Zero-G gravity bubble, each map forces you to change your strategy depending on the route you choose or where the rest of your team are fighting – and this is why I love LawBreakers so much – you must play as a team.
Playing as a lone sweeper is a sure way of getting yourself killed, respawning back at the base after a short timer delay, during which time the opposition can really punish your team. Go together and you’ll dominate. It’s clear to see that Gears of War’s multiplayer has bled through into LawBreakers, not to mention the team’s influences and experiences from working on Unreal Tournament—but it’s not quite perfect yet.
Depending on the mode, teams can be really punishing when they all select the same character. Blitzball in particular suffered from this and at times, made the mode painful to play. By simply locking down character classes to one per team, similar to Gigantic, I feel the gameplay would be more balanced and more importantly, fun. Running round a corner to face three Titans is the stuff nightmares are made of.
Currently the PS4 version only supports quick play and custom private matches. With no option to add bots, or a practice mode, learning new characters has a steep learning curve and beyond an instruction screen, working out how to chain attacks together to unlock the best combination moves can be somewhat of an uphill struggle when playing competitively – you can also kiss that KD goodbye.
The transition from keyboard to controller has also suffered slightly. Some abilities need your fingers on the sticks and the face buttons simultaneously for maximum effect, meanwhile, the rear view mirror blindfire kill is tough to pull off on the fly as you need to press the down button on the D-Pad. Just think about that for a minute… while running through a corridor by pushing forward on the left stick and being pursued by an enemy, press down on the D-Pad to fire behind you… not so easy is it?
Beyond the balanced characters, Boss Key Productions weren’t content with creating just a solid shooter; they only went and mixed up the multiplayer modes too and added a twist to the traditional competitive modes we are used to.
Blitzball, which could easily become the next big thing in esports, mixes single capture the flag with basketball. A ball spawns in the centre of the map—and once the shield has been worn down by standing near the ball, it can be picked up and transported into the enemy base to score a goal. From the moment the ball is collected, a shot clock begins, resetting if the enemy picks the ball up. Every time the ball is dropped, a shield must be removed before it can be collected once more. It’s a great mechanic that creates some real bottlenecks in the action.
The shield is also present during the other capture modes too, which also play upon the capture the flag mechanic. Overcharge places a single battery in the centre of the map which must be collected and placed in your base to charge it to 100%, then held for several seconds to score. The twist is that the battery retains its charge – it’s a wonderful game of tug of war. Knowing when to steal the battery or allow your opponent to charge it for you is all part of its devious charm.
Similarly, Uplink has you retrieve and connect a satellite to your home base in order to download data. The kicker here is that once you hit 100% and score a point, your download level resets to 0. Meanwhile, your opponent’s data level remains until they too reach 100%. These modes reinforce that need to work as a team—not only must groups complement one another’s character traits, but deciding when to attack and steal a battery or uplink is a real art.
Turf War takes one of my favourite modes, Domination, and flips it on its head. Three locations on the map have to be capped. Once capped, the points become locked and reward a point for the team that claimed it. Once all three have been claimed, the points reset after a short duration. There are several strategic options here and when the teams clash over the last point, things can get real bad real quick. Like the game announcer exclaimed, points can “become an absolute shitstorm” and it’s bloody brilliant.
The only game mode that remains true to its traditional form is Occupy, which plays out as a KOTH. Boss Key Productions have done a cracking job at creating new and interesting twists on some of the best loved competitive multiplayer game modes—and the only disappointing part is that LawBreakers conforms to the standard loot box mechanic. For a title that reinvents so much, I had hoped that they might have had something special up their sleeves to tweak the reward mechanic for completing career achievements and leveling up.
With no minimap and health that needs replenishing by charge stations, health vials or the medic character class, the 5v5 team action of LawBreakers may seem slightly alien to those that didn’t cut their teeth on Quake or Unreal Tournament. For me, LawBreakers shatters the mould of recent competitive multiplayer shooters and brings a new verticality to the combat, shaking up game modes and giving a new way to chain attacks together to create unforgettable moments that will have you cheering in triumph with your friends or sobbing as you painfully lose by the narrowest of margins.
From quick-witted character one-liners, to the amusing cries of the Blitzball, LawBreakers has oodles of charm. It looks stunning, plays fast, and is one of the most addictive shooters I’ve played since Modern Warfare graced my console. At £24.99/€29.99/$29.99 with all future modes, maps and roles included, you’d be mad to not pick this up.