Cliff Blezinski is one of the most highly regarded names in modern day gaming and it’s not difficult to understand why. Having been the driving force behind the Gears of War series on the Microsoft Xbox platform, his outlandish approach to gaming helped to up the ante in terms of graphics and paved the way for countless action-based shooters in the wake of his breakthrough debut.
After leaving many fans distraught following the announcement of him parting from his labour of love (and the subsequent let-down of the next iteration), reports of him returning to the forefront with an entirely new IP was met with the sort of rapturous response that you might expect when gaming royalty kindly waves its hand toward the gathered peasantry. A few teaser trailers later and we were sure that he was making a new FPS competitive shooter with an interesting twist, it’s name? Lawbreakers. Suffice to say, despite the agonizing wait that followed, he is most definitely back with a boom.
At first glance, especially in static screenshots, Lawbreakers could be dismissed as just another run-of-the-mill shooter like so many other games which fill up screens around the world. Two teams duke it out to the death in enclosed arenas by utilizing a plethora of spectacular weaponry in a variety of game modes – typical red vs. blue team stuff – but once you see it running it is a whole different barrel of nitroglycerin. Imagine Overwatch mixed with Unreal Tournament and Quake and you are at least part of the way to getting the picture, however the way that Lawbreakers stakes its claim to the crown is through verticality and true 360-panoramic shooting. Whilst many FPS games push you down endless corridors or across open areas littered with handy boxes to hide behind, Lawbreakers instead gives players the freedom to move so that enemies can come at you from anywhere at any time. It’s a dizzying and confusing experience when you first jump in, but stick with it for a few games and it all begins to click…and when it clicks, well…oh my…it’s a breath-taking experience.
Matches are frenetic and insanely paced with players rarely having time to stop to think. Tactics need to adapt in an instant, leading to brilliantly pitched battles that spill from room to room and from the ground to the air in a millisecond. Understanding each character’s traits is imperative if you want to have a decent chance at winning a round, so I recommend that you try out each character in the first few games and expect to lose (or at least die a lot) without getting too frustrated. There is nothing in the way of a tutorial to give you a hand meaning that it is truly a case of jumping feet first in at the deep end to see how well you can swim (not as well as I imagined btw). If you’ve played a few shooters before then you’ll have the basic movement down immediately as it is intuitive and familiar, yet there is an insane amount of depth to the way that you can navigate the environment depending on your choice of character and proficiency with your preferred method of input. Jumps, double jumps, triple jumps and (I’m almost certain) quad jumps mean you can get out of harm’s way pretty swiftly, no matter who you choose to play as, while some characters have the ability to teleport, boost, glide, slide, hover or fly for limited periods of time. Add to this the central areas of most of the levels, where gravity is altered or switched off by field generators, and it’s not too difficult to understand how your first few rounds may be spent wondering how the hell everyone else is pulling off such marvelous maneuvers while you spin around and fire loosely into the air before falling to your death during a poorly-judged attempt to chase a far-more-experienced player than you. Enhance your calm, maintain your cool and you’ll be dancing your own ballet of death in no time at all.
There are a variety of game modes on offer here, five in total at this time, and for the most part they are recognizable variants of well-known modes in many other FPS games. This is not to say that they are dull copies of other games out there, far from it in fact, as the expected point capture and domination-style modes have been given clever twists to make them fit within the pitched battles between Law and Breakers (blue and red). So far I have found that the Overcharge mode is the most frenetic and frustrating mode to play because of the way that there is always the chance for one team to do all of the hard work only to have the victory snatched away at the last minute. In essence, it involves grabbing a battery and then charging it at your station to full capacity. Once this is done there is a countdown timer which activates and continues for as long as it is in your charging station. Reach zero and you win. Simples. However, should the opposition breach your base and snatch it with one second left on the timer, they only need to plant it in their base and protect it for one second to claim the W. This works both ways of course, and I have been that guy a few times already, but some people will probably find that this becomes the bane of their existence (especially sore losers). In close second comes Blitzball, which could be first if people could play as an effective team, a mode that sees both teams attempting to score goals using a ball that speaks while you play. Sounds a bit dumb, but it’s actually hilarious to hear the ball screaming for help and insulting people during the match. I firmly believe that this will become a better mode as people figure out some great tactics beyond rushing the goal solo, but only time will tell.
For me there is one major point of contention: there is no single player campaign whatsoever. None. Now, I’m the kind of person who always plays through the campaign in full on Battlefield, Call of Duty etc. (and loved the Titanfall 2 campaign) so that I can appreciate the background narrative, get to grips with the controls and become immersed in the universe before I throw myself into some otherwise-seemingly pointless shooting. Maybe I’m the odd one out these days, but much of my gaming is done solo. I love online gaming and everything that comes with it, but it still feels like it is something which should add to an experience instead of defining it. Sure, there have been some great exceptions over the years (like Shadowrun) but I’m still a stickler for a brilliant plot and emotional connections. That said, perhaps it is because of the very few games have managed to pull off multiplayer in such an utterly brilliant way since the hay-days of Quake II (which had a campaign) and Unreal Tournament/Championship that you can almost forgive Lawbreakers for being so single-minded. Perhaps the biggest impact of this is that the characters themselves can feel a little blank at times in spite of their visual and stylistic differences and parallels with the immensely successful Overwatch are inevitable due to the lack of lore for fans to get involved in. A minor complaint in reality, but certainly something to consider moving forward (or for the likely sequel).
Overall, Lawbreakers is everything I had hoped it would be: fast-paced, bloody, exciting, hilarious and deceptively deep. It looks great, plays fantastically and keeps you coming back for more (if only to nail the reverse shooting mechanism to dominate your foes). If you yearn for the speed of the old days (and can handle getting your backside handed to you until you figure out what the hell you are doing) then this is fully worthy of its budget price point (I would have paid double and still have been satisfied with my choice). Welcome back, Cliff and co., you have been missed.