LawBreakers Offers a Fun Twist on Arena Shooters With a Dash of Overwatch

Using a grappling hook has never been so fun.

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As someone who absolutely loved the original Unreal Tournament, I didn't know what to make of LawBreakers' attempts to introduce new, modern elements to the arena shooter. After playing only a few rounds, I was completely won over, and I can't wait to play more.

LawBreakers is a team-based shooter that, at its core, is similar to first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament, which developer BossKey Studios founder Cliff Bleszinski worked on. Epic Games is at work on a new Unreal Tournament that's looking good, so going into my LawBreakers demo, I wondered what would differentiate LawBreakers and make me want to play it instead. By adding classes, skills, and low-gravity areas, LawBreakers has more than sufficiently set itself apart.

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There are currently four classes, with the Law and Breakers sides each having its own functionally identical version with a unique look. Each of the four has two weapons and three different skills (assigned to Shift, Q, and E) at his or her disposal, with the skills all working on timers. They also each have their own mobility and health ratings; more speed comes at the expense of health, and vice versa.

I started out with the Enforcer, who is the most straightforward of the classes. I was immediately surprised by how slowly he moved by default. His Shift ability buffs him and nearby allies, providing additional movement, firing, and reload speeds. This brought his movement more in line with where I expected it to be. As I played, I was able to adjust to the Enforcer's speed. You can also activate and cancel his speed ability at will, allowing you to use it when you most need it, as long as you have fuel remaining. Rationing this out effectively ensures you can get around quickly.

Subsequent matches saw me moving on to the other classes, including the Titan (a slow-moving rocket-launcher user), Vanguard (a super-fast gatling gun user who can activate a booster to rapidly move around the map), and Assassin (the fastest class, which uses melee weapons and has unique movement moves). I found each to be satisfying in its own way--the Titan was initially very off-putting until I discovered you could remote-detonate rockets in mid-air--but it's the Assassin who best demonstrated what makes LawBreakers special.

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Her default weapons are a pair of blades and a shotgun. Like all weapons, the blades have a secondary attack, but the best use for the blades' secondary is not using it to attack. It allows you to attach a grappling hook to anything in the level within a certain distance so that you can swing around. This is useful for rapidly chasing down enemies, running away yourself, or navigating areas that would otherwise not be traversable. You're able to attach the hook to the outer areas of the level and swing around, making it easy to flank enemies and catch them unaware. It's an essential tactic for getting close enough to enemies to cut them down with your blades, and it's also exhilarating. Knowing a missed hook will send you plummeting to your death makes every excursion outside the standard areas an exciting one.

The map we played offered plenty of opportunities to swing around, but its central area also mixed up the movement experience for all classes. Surrounding the middle capture point is a sort of anti-gravity field that allows you to leap high into the air. Combined with the grappling hook, it makes what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward section--it's basically an open, round area with multiple entrances and a big, cracked-open globe in the middle--into something chaotic, where you can never be sure where enemies are coming from.

The mode we got to try was one BossKey hadn't demoed prior to E3 this week. The developer says it doesn't want to rely on the typical Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch modes for LawBreakers. "We inject drama into our modes," a BossKey staffer declared prior to explaining what we were going to play.

You can blindfire weapons behind you in LawBreakers.
You can blindfire weapons behind you in LawBreakers.
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Turf War is a form of Domination, the standard FPS mode where teams battle to control points around a map. Turf War adjusts this formula so that capturing a point adds one to your team's score and locks the point for the remainder of the round (for lack of a better term--the match itself isn't divided into rounds that force you to respawn). Once all three points are captured, teams focus on killing each other for a brief period. Kills during this time build up a bonus that speeds up capture progress during the ensuing round. This helps to make kills more meaningful during a Domination-style game; normally, they simply put one team at a disadvantage because they're down a player, but here it provides one team with the opportunity to rapidly grab points.

The initial three rounds we played weren't especially close, but a fourth round that started as a throwaway with the developers turned into a real nail-biter. Teams compete to earn 13 points first. Once a team gets to 12, you're at risk of losing the game when the next set of points activates, making it a mad scramble to ensure you're contesting all three, as opposed to the two you'd otherwise be happy to settle for during a given round. Progress is halted whenever an enemy player is standing in a capture area, and we had what felt like a solid minute or two of contesting the final point that the enemy team needed to win. It left me breathless in the best way possible.

As I learned each of the game's classes, I was struck by the similarities to many of the characters in Overwatch--a more casual shooter, but one that LawBreakers will compete with to some extent nonetheless. For instance, the Enforcer felt like a Soldier 76 parallel as the well-rounded, all-purpose class, and the Vanguard was similar to D.Va with a gatling gun and boost ability. There's a fair bit of overlap, even if LawBreakers--which has a gorgeous, realistic art style to Overwatch's cartoony look--doesn't at all resemble Blizzard's game.

Between its booming popularity and these similarities that pop up as you explore each character--hey, the Titan has Zarya's Ultimate!--it's hard not to consider where LawBreakers stands next to Overwatch, which feels like the first-person shooter to beat right now. Based on the 45 minutes I spent playing, it looks as if LawBreakers does enough to warrant your attention.

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