The debut game from Boss Key Productions, a studio headed by Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski, aims to bridge the gap between old school and modern competitive first-person shooters. Placing one foot firmly in arena shooter territory and the other in the hero shooter’s neck of the woods, LawBreakers confidently puts forward a compelling alternative to both that any FPS fan should appreciate.
Variations on these balletic exchanges are constantly occurring in all directions, infusing the high-octane chaos with a choreographed beauty.
It might take a little while to reach that level of play, as you’ll need to execute several button presses and numerous stick adjustments in a tight timeframe, but it’s worth toughing the learning process out, as you’ll feel like a true professional when you master the satisfying traversal and gunplay first individually; then as one cohesive package.
This high skill cap excuses LawBreakers’ apparent lack of hero variety when compared to it peers, with the nine classes each offering more nuance than any single character in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Their tighter ranks still offer plenty of diversity, accommodating most play styles with damage-dealing tanks, nimble but fragile assassins, supports, and hybrid roles in between.
Each class has a fixed loadout consisting of an ultimate and two secondary abilities, generally also wielding a primary weapon with secondary fire function and a sidearm. Ability usage is limited either by a cooldown period or fuel consumption, which calls for different management tactics between combatants favouring either method or a mixture of both, helping to keep players on their toes both as they meet different foes and freely switch between heroes mid-match.
You’re never limited as to which class you can choose to play as, which can be a blessing and a curse. While you won’t be locked out of playing your main, there’s a definite tendency for most players to pick between the faster classes in Assassin, Gunslinger and Wraith, leaving other roles unfilled. A balanced team isn’t as integral to victory here as it is in other hero shooters - individual skill is much more important on that front - but somebody else going healer every now and then would still be nice.
The self-serving player mindset can impact your win/loss ratio when it extends to playing the objective, however. A portion of players approach the five rotating game modes - these including variations on King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and even American football - as if they were Team Deathmatch. We'd typically pin this entirely on people being people, but we feel Boss Key shoulder some of the blame in this instance. Foregoing Deathmatch modes in a game so openly inspired by the likes of Unreal Tournament and Quake doesn’t cater to a sizeable portion of the audience they've attracted.
You’ll earn experience points towards levelling whether your teammates cooperate or not, and with levels come Stash Drops, LawBreakers’ take on the loot box. They function exactly as you’d expect, upon being opened spitting out four random aesthetic customisation items ranging from throwaway to must-have. Duplicates are converted into currency which can be used to bypass the random element and directly purchase skins you’ve had your eye on, while you can also use real-world money to purchase more Drops.
All in all, LawBreakers has its foibles, but they’re fixable foibles with a patch or two; for every slight misstep, it nails a handful of the fundamentals. The core combat and traversal loop is outstanding, it looks crisp and controls smoothly at 4K/60FPS on PS4 Pro (after a patch fixing the launch day issues you may have heard about), matchmaking is snappy and well-populated, the pulsing soundtrack keeps you hyped-up and ready to compete. This amalgamates in a game that’s seriously engaging and frequently has us declaring “just one more more match” for several matches consecutively.