I believe I can fly…
There’s an art to riding that terrifying line between falling and flying, but the falling is inevitable. LawBreakers’ fast-paced gun duels play out like thrilling highwire dances: You try to stay afloat and in control long enough to win each fight, then land and regroup to fight again. Even if the maps and game modes aren’t always as exciting as the fights themselves, drop kicking an enemy with a pair of laser boots and then using that momentum to soar halfway across the arena is extremely fun.
LawBreakers is filled with moments like that. It’s an exhilarating 5v5 hero-based first-person shooter where a lot of the excitement comes directly from the movement itself, rather than just killstreaks or point captures. Those violent moments are there too, but chaining jumps and boosts together to soar through a low-gravity area can be just as rewarding as getting a double kill.
All of LawBreakers’ nine roles (each of which is shared by two characters) let you explore its levels in a different way and at a different speed. The Assassin can swing like Spider-Man with a ridiculously fun grappling hook; the Wraith can slide on the floor for a speed boost and then triple jump through the air; and the Juggernaut can barely get off the ground, but makes up for it with a whole lot of health and chunky shotgun.
There’s overlap in the jobs they can get done, but I love that they are varied enough that I could pick roles based on the map or mode I was in. I could even change it up mid-match depending on what was happening without restrictions based on how many teammates were already playing a given role. In the Uplink and Overcharge modes (both twists on Capture the Flag), for example, I would start with the Wraith to quickly grab the objective in the center of the map and bring it back to our base, then swap to the slower Juggernaut to defend it, trading mobility for stopping power on demand.
Style High Club
The teams are split into Law versus Breakers – or as kids everywhere know them, cops versus robbers – but thankfully the roles are identical for either team. What changes is their look, depending on which side you’re on. For example, the Law Harrier is a bubbly woman with a mohawk named Sunshine who has an adorable but deadly heart-shaped laser on her chest, while the Breaker Harrier is a slick man with an afro called Baron with a far less adorable but just as deadly X-shaped laser instead.
LawBreakers is an attractive game, but it lacks any sort of interesting or distinct voice.
Aside from their cosmetic differences, the characters themselves have one thing in common: They are shallow. Sunshine is probably one of the most distinct personalities in the 18-person roster, but even she feels fairly bland as there’s really nothing to her beyond the heart and the hair. It felt like LawBreakers went through the motions of what’s expected from a hero-based shooter without actually fleshing any of those characters out in a meaningful way. Each of them seem to have bits of personality (like Sunshine’s heart) bolted onto an otherwise generic-looking ‘future soldier.’
That isn’t to say LawBreakers looks bad. It’s an attractive game with well-modeled characters and maps, and some cool visual effects when you enter and exit low-gravity, but it lacks any sort of interesting or distinct voice. The maps have a similar problem, as it sort of feels like every level in LawBreakers started with the same metallic-future skin set before a theme was plastered onto it without much thought as to why, whether it be cherry trees or some snow on the ground. This naturally doesn’t affect their function as places to move, shoot, and be shot in, but compared to the sense of place created by Overwatch’s maps they feel a little soulless.
That lack of personality isn’t too distracting – LawBreakers is here to let you shoot dudes in spectacular fashion, not chat about backstory or lore. The less aesthetic issue is that the silhouettes of each character are so similar that it isn’t always easy to determine who you’re floating toward before they start firing at you. Clarity is important because so many of the fights happen at a very long distance.
Swimming through the air using my own gun as a paddle is fun and challenging.
There are some flashy but purely cosmetic gun and character skins you can unlock through randomized loot boxes, but they aren’t very distracting during matches. Alternatively, you can buy boxes for real money, but wisely nothing that actually affects gameplay is locked behind that system. It can be completely ignored if you’d prefer to do so, with no consequences beyond having to wait for the luck of the draw before you can stab people with a fluorescent green bayonet.
What sets LawBreakers’ spectacular firefights apart more than anything are its low-gravity areas, which are part of almost every map design. Swimming through the air using jetpacks, grappling hooks, or even my own gun as a paddle of sorts is fun and challenging because it practically asks you to learn to walk again. I particularly love the characters with multiple jumps, which I could use to both manage my height and juke my opponents. Fighting in low-gravity has a skill cap I’m nowhere near reaching, and trying to master those mechanics is easily the main thing that’s kept me coming back to LawBreakers.
LawBreakers launched with eight decently designed maps, but six of them feel so similar they sometimes blur together. Each one has a curved, indoor flanking path with regular gravity, wrapped around a larger open area with a low-gravity bubble. They aren’t bad maps and the specific corridors on each are unique, but they don’t really explore what else LawBreakers could be doing, leaving me wanting more (and only sort of in the good, anticipatory way).
The two levels that don’t follow this formula, Vertigo and Redfall, are undoubtedly my favorite and least favorite maps, respectively. Vertigo is a straight map with a raised low-gravity bubble in the center and tons of open airspace. The whole structure you are fighting on is floating in the sky, which lets mobile characters like Assassin, Vanguard, and Herrier truly stretch their wings. If I managed my momentum well, I could boost or swing under the entire map, popping up behind the enemy spawn. It’s a map that lets what is so enjoyable about LawBreakers shine brightly.
Every mode provides an interesting twist on common game modes like Capture the Flag or King of the Hill.
Redfall, on the other hand, fails to play to LawBreakers’ strengths. It’s a map with no low-gravity areas whatsoever, which is a downright baffling choice given how great those areas are on the seven other levels. It’s not that LawBreakers isn’t fun outside of low-gravity – it’s still a fast-paced shooter with some very fun dueling moments. But so many of its characters and abilities become less useful or just less interesting without those bubbles to fight in.
LawBreakers’ five game modes are similarly enjoyable but inconsistent. They all provide interesting twists on common game modes like Capture the Flag or King of the Hill, but aren’t all equally as successful at it. Unlike other shooters, all of the modes in LawBreakers are score-based with a shared, contested objective and teams competing until one side reaches a certain score limit. It gives an average match of LawBreakers a more recognizable identity, but I was surprised (and just a little disappointed) to see it didn’t have anything like Deathmatch.
Uplink is by far my favorite mode. In it, both teams fight over a single Uplink item you can pick up like a flag; plugging it into your base begins charging a meter for your team, but the opposing side can steal it, run it back to their base, and charge their meter instead. The race to charge three times first provides a tense back and forth of attacking and defending that feels like Capture the Flag without having to split your team between offense and defense.
The Occupy mode is also great, forcing both teams to battle for control of a small capture point that rotates to different spots on the map. It’s a King of the Hill-style mode that still enables you to take advantage of LawBreakers’ unique and exciting movement. I also really liked that the next location of the control point would follow a specific order for each level, meaning good players could memorize that pattern and rush to the next spot before the point actually unlocks. When you play on that level you have to think not just about the current point, but the next one as well.
Going a dozen games without seeing a map like Vertigo can be a bit of a bummer when you have no control over it.
In contrast, the Overcharge mode feels like an objectively worse version of Uplink in which both teams share a single meter being filled. That means matches play out identically, but with the added possibility of some truly awful-feeling upsets. It wasn’t uncommon for me to see one team get the objective right away, charge it up to 80% or more, then have it stolen at the last minute. I guess you could say there’s a strategy to that timing, but it was always infuriating when it happened to me and felt cheap when I did it myself.
The Blitzball mode is promising in concept but less than thrilling in practice: Each team fights over a ball they have to bring to a goal on their opponent’s side. Unfortunately, it requires more coordination than any team I’ve been queued with could manage, quickly devolving into a smattering of irrelevant fights while clued-in players would just pick up the ball and make a mad, reckless dash for the goal. The mode is nearly saved by Rick and Morty Creator Justin Roiland’s ridiculous voiceover as the game ball itself, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that my Blitzball matches have almost always been a near-shutout for one side or the other.
The occasional stale map or frustrating mode wouldn’t be as noticeable if they weren’t all mixed into a single matchmaking queue. Unless you’re making a custom game, the only way to play LawBreakers is by hitting the “Quick Match” button and hoping the slot machine didn’t stop on “Overcharge/Redfall.” LawBreakers will eventually get ranked play with its own queue, but its presence is already sorely missed.
There’s currently no way to filter or specify the maps and modes you want to play or avoid, which is probably the biggest complaint LawBreakers has left me with. Going a dozen games without seeing a map like Vertigo can be a bit of a bummer when you have no control over it. That said, while I initially figured I would quickly get tired of the quickmatch roulette, there’s so much nuance to LawBreakers’ movement that even subpar modes gave me something I could enjoy.