The gaming community seems to produce self-fulfilling prophecies about various games every so often. For example, I’d chalk up the poor reception of Mass Effect: Andromeda in no small part to the first pre-release impressions, which were negative and encouraged a bandwagon mentality that turned shredding the game into a meme. Sometimes it feels like if the community has decided a game’s going to bomb they’ll almost certainly be right; we see that with LawBreakers, which has been eating a nice, big platter of poop lately as a game that a large portion of gamers seem to want to fail.
It’s not actually all that bad, of course; anyone who’s stuck with this hobby for awhile knows that the games everyone complains about are the ones you really want to play, while the games nobody talks about at all are the real stinkers.
In the future, war was beginning. Or, well, I guess it’s already begun. Gravity’s been broken thanks to some crazy science experiments, which has caused an understandable degree of mistrust between the government and the common man. In practice that means you’ve got two factions, the Law and the Breakers, both of whom need very little excuse to shoot the hell out of each other while flying around in areas where Newton’s laws might hold slightly less sway. You’re going to take your spot on one of these factions and get to blasting.
I’ll freely admit that I’m probably not good enough at Lawbreakers to make any sweeping statements about how it plays. It reminds me of a more mobility-focused version of Overwatch, a game where nearly every character has some form of getting around and the others can partake in the anti-gravity areas strewn throughout each map. In reality, though, I think what this one’s aiming for is a take on the arena shooters of the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s very fast and very lethal. Matches are objective-focused, ranging from point defense to a take on football, but time-to-kill is very low so victory revolves around both playing to the objective and killing all the poor sods who are trying to do the same for the enemy team.
You’ve got a selection of nine classes and, as in Overwatch, they’ve each got their own niche to fill. The laser-blasting Harrier fights well at long range and can support their team, for instance, while the minigunner Vanguard has a lot of aerial mobility and can shred targets at medium to short range. You’re able to switch classes mid-match, so finding a couple that you’re good with is a smart move so you can take on different roles as needed; the Vanguard was a personal favorite thanks to a strong balance of offense and mobility that made them effective in many situations. Victory in combat yields experience, which in turn produces loot boxes that contain cosmetics and skins as you’d expect from this sort of game.
Interestingly, each class is represented by a different character depending on which side you’re playing in a given match – the LAW or the Breakers. LawBreakers absolutely oozes ’90s-era ‘tude, so the characters lack a lot of personality outside of aggression and cheesy one-liners and I found that friends and I would refer to opponents’ characters as “the knife guy” or “the assault rifle guy” instead of particular heroes. I don’t mind this conceit, but one quirk is that it basically doubles the amount of customization options available, since non-weapon skins are specific to a character rather than a role. In other words, if you really want your favorite class to look good you’re going to have to get two fancy skins from loot boxes instead of one, which doesn’t strike me as an improvement.
This also bears mention: not only is LawBreakers fast and lethal, but on PC at least it seems to be populated largely by skilled players. The game hasn’t attracted the kind of attention you might have expected if it were released in a time before Overwatch conquered the competitive shooter landscape, so the people that are playing are the ones who really care about LawBreakers specifically. This means that you’re going to spend a sizable chunk of your early time with the game as meat and that you’ll need to put in some hours with the game to get to a point where you aren’t getting destroyed on the regular. Even coming from playing through the game’s several beta tests I still felt outclassed much of the time, so I can only imagine the trial by fire that entirely new players are going to have to go through. I did appreciate that the game offers built-in Twitch streaming capabilities and lets you know when someone’s streaming, though, so I knew who to aim for once I got a handle on things.
LawBreakers’ aesthetics hearken back to the glory days of arena shooters as well, with a brutal sci-fi look and feel that contrasts strongly with the more slick presentation of games like Overwatch, Battleborn and Paladins. This means that the game looks fantastic on high-end PC hardware since there’s so much more detail thrown into the environments and characters; it also means that training your eye to look for whomever is about to blast you is a key skill to develop if you want to succeed. Again, we’re going for a hardcore ‘tude-era feel here, so there’s lots of yelling about killing each other, lots of actually killing each other, and even customizable boot prints for when you kick someone in the face. It’s definitely unique among contemporary games in general and something I’d consider a plus.
As mentioned, a large portion of the gaming community seems to have already made its mind up about LawBreakers. It’s not posting the kind of player numbers you’d hope for, while those that are playing won’t hesitate to take you out with the trash. It’s not the most newbie-friendly experience, in other words; I’d almost call it a hard game to enjoy as a result. If you’re willing to stick with it or you’ve got some friends to team up with so you can watch each others’ backs, however, LawBreakers is a pretty decent buy, especially since it’s going for less than the usual retail price.