Lawbreakers Review – It’s all in the details
At some point during the PC Gaming Show at this past E3, Cliff Bleszinski, better known as “Cliffy B,” came out on stage to promote his newest game LawBreakers. He did so by delivering an impassionate speech in which he criticized the full cost of multiplayer-only games. He immediately followed up with his own promise on keeping LawBreakers affordable at $30 with “none of that $60-dollar only-multiplayer bullsh*t” (which I have left a video for down below, by the way).
That’s a rather significant thing to say, methinks. I didn’t mention it, because I want to open up a discussion on how much publishers should charge per game, according to how much content is included therein. While Cliffy makes a good point, no less, is LawBreakers worth even $30? I’ll keep it brief: yes and no, but mostly yes. Despite what many people say, this game is a decent, and even solid outing from the former Gears of War lead developer.
LawBreakers throws you into a world dominated by two factions: Law and Breakers. Within each group, you’ll find the usual suspects: the assassin, the gunslinger, the medic, the titan, and the enforcer, to name a few. All of these classes are found in another game – Overwatch, to be precise. Now, I realize that some people will say that if LawBreakers is imitating anything, it’s Team Fortress 2. However, how many people are playing Team Fortress 2 when compared to Overwatch? Moreover, the game that caused the first-person shooter that generated headlines throughout most of last year and even into this year has been Overwatch. If Cliffy B took inspiration from any game, it’s definitely coming from a more recent title.
That being said, I don’t think it’s a capital sin for him to do so. As long as he does pastiche correctly, the end result shouldn’t be uninspired. And this is where LawBreakers succeeds and fails; it is an excellent homage to a much popular game, but it still feels like a lesser game at times. In my opinion, the former overpowers the latter, which is why LawBreakers ultimately works and very well when it gets down the nifty details. One of which is the speed. The characters in LawBreakers move at a rapid-fire rate that seems to be focused more on strategy than camping. Some characters have more of an advantage on this. For instance, the assassin can rush past everyone else and get quick kills before retreating. Lawbreakers counters her quick ko-rate by upping her learning curve; she is not easy to control. Other characters move much slower. When the speed is added on top of the low-gravity aspect found in every map – which is basically a gameplay mechanic that allows every character to jump great distances and float momentarily without the need of a space suit – it makes the match much more interesting. Sometimes this low-gravity element will make the difference in the outcome of a match. That is how significant it is. All of these juicy details make LawBreakers feel like team-based multiplayer done right.
The characters themselves look less stylized than Overwatch, and definitely less anime-esque. That was one of my biggest problems with Blizzard’s game. The constant appeal to the safe-for-work crowd that ultimately neutered Tracer’s design in Overwatch is something that Cliffy B will never have to face, if the grittiness behind LawBreakers’ character designs is taken into account. There are no cutesy designs here, and certainly no sex appeal. Every character is treated equally and tastefully, as opposed to uninspired changes that seem like a last-minute effort to appease the self-righteous “internet gods.” I like that the game’s charm is left to the egregious (note the double-entendre) ragdoll animations that kick in after a satisfying or tragic death.
In spite of these positives, LawBreakers isn’t without its drawbacks. One of them is the lack of variety in game modes. There are currently four game modes to choose from: Blitzball, Overcharge, Turf War, and Uplink. Some are also more substantial than others. Overcharge, which involves recharging a battery found within the map at your base, is one of the better modes. The first team to successfully recharge two batteries will emerge victorious. On the other hand, other modes feel too much like Gears of War. For instance, in Turf War, the teams must capture and hold designated areas within a map and accumulate points while doing so. Is that a throwback to Gears of War’s King of the Hill?
As I said earlier, it’s not terribly bad for Cliffy B to be looking at other games, including his former own, for direction on where to go for his future projects. My biggest complaint is that LawBreakers is going to follow the same pattern that has become a norm within this gaming generation; that is to release a game that is almost-complete, but with limited amount of content – think of Killer Instinct back in 2013. The difference here is that LawBreakers feels and plays with a hefty amount of polish that is sidetracked by its lack of substance; or in this case, substantial content. Four gaming modes with solid gameplay is enough for a $30-dollar price tag? After everything I’ve gone over, I will leave that up to you to decide.
Another thing to note is the game’s lack of visual appeal. The characters may look fantastic, but the art direction is nothing to fawn over. I daresay, some of the map designs look a bit too uninspired. There is a map called Redfalls that looks a bit too much like a map out of Overwatch. The map is Asian-inspired and has its fair share of oriental visual cues: part tea-house, part Chinese temple, and part courtyard. Seeing as Redfalls isn’t as colorful as it should be (as its missing all the angry colors of a Zhang Yimou production), it makes me think that the problem isn’t really that the map looks similar to Overwatch’s, but the fact that LawBreakers’ color scheme isn’t particularly eye-catching or interesting. Having said all of that, the art direction does fit the game’s stoic look, even if it’s not the most appealing.
Despite the small stumbles along the way, Cliffy B has delivered a fun – if limited – experience with LawBreakers. Sure, there are references to other games to be found inside, but the end result is still quite satisfying. Whether Cliffy B’s claims of $30-dollar only-multiplayer warrant your hard-earned $30-freaking-dollars remains up for debate. The answer will depend entirely on your judgment, as well as his support for LawBreakers in the long run. This is Cliffy’s opportunity to demonstrate that games with limited content have lasting appeal. That appeal, however, will depend entirely on how long he’s willing to make it last – or in this case, support. Those details will make the difference.