In the early moments of the game, I likened Lawbreakers much to what Unreal Tournament used to be back in the day—a sensible comparison, considering the development team. Action is quick, reactive, and high-flying, and while learning the classes I felt like there was a good place for Lawbreakers to dig into the competitive realm of multiplayer games and hold up rather well. My stance on this did not hold out, however, for a few significant reasons that come down to a few personal preferences as well as some fundamental misses.
There is a distinctive excitement while flying around and gunning down enemy players, but the problem lies in the controls themselves. Attacks and skills are pinned to the shoulder buttons and the right joystick moves the camera, making standard combat as accessible as it should be. Jumping and flying are bound to the cross button, meaning that navigating the skies sacrifices your ability to aim for the ability to fly.
There’s a bit of compensative habit that comes with playing the game enough, but the controls themselves aren’t rudimentary to what the game wants you to do. Gravity-based games facilitate this, since you keep revolving around a point while you are free to pew-pew, but changing direction requires cross button presses, again inhibiting the ability to aim and shoot while flying. In general, I found most of my time spent on the ground, avoiding the aerial sides of the game in favor of more control to my actions, all of this, generally speaking, would be more accessible on PC.
While each player type has its own intricacies, I’m going to put a focus on the Medic, because that’s where I go when I jump into a competitive game. Now, with that in mind, I’m instantly offended when the only support option is limited to fleeing and aiding from afar. Sure, like all characters, the Medic has a super, but it’s basically a small, stationary shield that only helps when defending a point.The only healing ability is a solitary bot that can be applied to one person at a time, a strategic choice that mostly requires it be applied to the one teammate doing the most and then topping everyone else off once there’s a break.The grenade launcher requires a great deal of skill to use outside of defensive or enclosed situations, since the fire rate is slow and the explosions are rather menial.
These in tandem create a lackluster experience for the Battle Medic, made slightly better by the ability to auto hover for better evasion and escapability. These are gripes that many players won’t encounter, simply because other classes like Assassin and Wraith are much more engaging and kill-heavy. Nonetheless, unlike many other competitive games before it, Lawbreakers limits its support characters, who feel more like an added option somewhere along the line rather than a featured class.
To this point, Assassin and Wraith are much more fun to play, since they’re more action-y, so there’s enough here for enough people to keep their interest for a good while.
The entertainment level of the game is, in part, due to the maps themselves. Initially, I grew frustrated, because I never guessed the right way to go in order to reach objectives, but that’s because the maps are designed in mind for there to be an expected path around and then an elaborate path. In this is the strategy: take the quick path and risk a full-on defensive, or take longer to go all the way around for a counterattack. Each map has horizontal and vertical approaches like this, which add more elements to think about in this high-action shooter, but, again, the fundamental issues with mid-air shooting can easily water down these elements. It’s too bad that these maps, much like the game itself, are all grayscale and lack much luster.
When compared to other games of its ilk, like Overwatch, rewards can be earned and purchased through loot boxes, and a fair few of them are rather cool. What Lawbreakers does well here is that not only are there different skins, there are also weapon customizations as well. This is a good way to approach something like microtransactions, because, like with Overwatch, money goes into customization rather than winning.
One significant problem that overshadows all of the above is that the game isn’t as accessible as many similar ones are. The audience for this game is very distinctly identified with the style and decisions it compiles, but that comes at the cost of new players. Hardcore games can still be accessible without being watered down, rekindling what made Unreal Tournament’s high-octane gameplay so special, and saying that an isolated fan base is the way to pursue game development is not cohesive to an organic medium.
One side point I’d like to bring up pertains to tutorials, another traditional addition to many games. Tutorials only exist on PC. To make matters worse, completing the tutorials on PC reward players with loot boxes. Tutorials don’t exist on PS4. To whose benefit is that decision?
Lawbreakers has a gameplay foundation worth exploring, but without ironing some things out and making it more playable on console, it’s hard to recommend this game. Combining that with some creative and fiscal in-game choices leaves a bad taste that’s hard to wash out, despite the high action and thoughtful maps.