LawBreakers is a zero-gravity FPS that nearly touches the sky

LawBreakers header

It’s hard not to get excited about LawBreakers‘ [official site] simple hook: flying military grunts with rockets strapped to their feet zip around zero gravity arenas dodging grenades and pumping bullets into each other. I’m happy to report that it’s as fun as it sounds, and its ideas set it apart from other games in the genre. Yet what has impressed me more is how polished it is away from those aerial segments, which actually only make up part of the action. Far from a one-trick pony, LawBreakers is a rock solid shooter with game modes that necessitate team play, and although it’s not fully complete yet (there’s ranked play coming soon) it’s got enough variety to keep me coming back for more.

But let’s start with the zero G bits, seeing as they’re the standout feature. In each of the game’s eight maps there’s a sector, normally bang in the middle, where the laws of physics are suspended (or broken, hence the game’s title). Now, I’ve never been good at movement-focused shooters, bouncing off the likes of Tribes: Ascend and losing countless matches of Quake because I couldn’t handle the fast pace, so I thought I’d be similarly stumped here. But LawBreakers is accessible, and slower than it first looks. The controls are basically WASD in 3D, and are therefore easy to get the hang of. You hold W and move the mouse to glide in the direction you’re facing: point up and you’ll rise to the sky, face down and you’ll float to the ground. Simple enough.

There are some fine points to master, naturally. Working out momentum is the big one – you don’t immediately switch direction when you turn your mouse, and I consistently overshot my marks early on. You can press Ctrl to shoot behind you too, which gives you a bit of a forward push. The nine classes each have a movement ability as well, which consume fuel to give you a speed boost. An Assassin can dash forward a short distance while a Vanguard has afterburners to zoom around for as long as her tank lasts, for example. They’re easy to understand, and combined with the intuitive WASD controls I had the general idea down within the first hour. When the bullets were flying I found I didn’t have to think too much about my movement, which is a good sign.

And those fights really are spectacles: you’ll often get both teams of five airborne, some wielding rifles, some rocket launches, some swinging around with a knife in one hand and a grappling hook in the other. The challenge is tracking your enemies while staying agile: even random movement is normally good enough to throw off an opponent’s aim. Rockets and grenades are difficult to land, while hit scan weapons are more reliable but do less damage. You’ll always find something to point your gun at, and timing your boosts to slip through narrow gaps or under bridges feels great, especially when you’re chasing down an enemy for the kill.

These fights aren’t happening in abstraction, either, and they’re only part of LawBreakers’ appeal. Its game modes, based on old-school favourites like capture the flag, utilise the whole map, often shifting the action from the zero gravity segments to firmer ground and then back again. In Overcharge, my favourite out of the five modes available, teams battle for control of a battery at the centre of the map. If you can grab it and bring it back to a base near your spawn then it will start charging. Once it hits 100%, you get a point. The other team can steal it back at any time and the charge is shared, so even if you hold on until it hits 90% you risk getting gazumped by a sneaky foe that slips in and yanks it away for a quick win.

It’s got a lovely rhythm to it, starting with an initial jockey in the centre of the map. That’s where the anti-gravity fun happens. Then the fight moves to one of the teams’ bases, where gravity is back to normal (although some heroes still have boosters to fly around). Then, someone might steal it away, prompting a chase through the anti-gravity section as the battery carrier dodges bullets and rockets, bringing their charge home to their own base.

It’s in these more confined spaces that the most frantic firefights happen, fuelled by character’s unique abilities. In addition to a movement ability (dash, hover, etc) each character has two other skills, including one ultimate ability that’s on a longer cooldown. I spent most time with the Enforcer, who’s a good all-rounder with an automatic rifle. His Shift ability is basically a sprint, but also grants a speed boost to nearby allies and makes him fly through the air faster. Press E and he’ll lob an EMP grenade that disables enemy abilities, while his Q ability (the powerful one) is a lock-on missile strike.

Because LawBreakers focuses the action in small areas – whether it’s at the battery charge station or the lone, mobile capture point in the Occupy mode – your allies will instinctively group up and work together. And when two teams clash there’s fireworks, with abilities flying everywhere. Admittedly these indoor fights are not as flashy as the aerial ones outside, but they’re still impressive. Guns are punchy, movement is responsive and animations are slick. And because of the small team size you can have a real impact: a well placed EMP from the Enforcer can really halt an enemy push, for example.

Admittedly, the firefights are a tad more impressive than the maps themselves. Away from the anti-gravity bits they’re the same mixture of choke points, flanking routes and open spaces that you’ve seen in other shooters, and they look a bit bland. However, there’s enough variety in the playlist to stop you getting bored. One map is completely anti-gravity, which is a real test of skill. One swaps out anti-gravity zones for jump pads and air streams that keep you bobbing up and down around a central capture point. Some have globes with their own gravitational pulls, so you can orbit round them without pressing any buttons, or use them to bend your flight for the perfect push onto the central control point.

That variety extends to the classes, which are different enough to feel fresh every time you swap. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Combat Medic – the only class that can heal (there are health packs and health stations on the map, too). He’s never out of the action for long because all the healing is done by drones, deployed by pressing E, and his grenade launcher can really do work. If I just wanted to focus on kills I picked the Vanguard, who can chase enemies down with her on-board rocket boosters and gatling gun.

But while Lawbreakers’ firefights will keep me coming back, there’s one thing that could the game crashing down to earth: the matchmaking. Other than playing custom games with friends your only option to find a match is Quick Play, which endlessly cycles through the various maps and game modes. It’s perfect for learning the game, exposing you to everything it has to offer. But, like almost every quick play mode in shooters, there are drawbacks.

Players can and regularly do leave games without punishment. Once one person leaves it’s hard to avoid a downward spiral where your team is dominated, and more players drop out. Its biggest problem is its lack of meaningful progression system. You gain XP and level up as you play but all that does is give you loot crates with cosmetic items. A ranked mode that gives you something to play for and filters out potential leavers is desperately needed.

cosmetics LawBreakers

And, thankfully, it’s coming. The developer’s plan is to see how the game pans out, listen to feedback, balance game modes and maps and then implement ranked play. That sounds good. But it means that the game is basically unfinished. As fun as its combat is, there’s nothing to keep you coming back consistently. As I write this, LawBreakers’ peak player count is falling every day (currently around 1,300), presumably because players have drunk their fill and are losing interest. If developer Boss Key Productions wait too long to introduce ranked matches then there won’t be a fan base left to play them.

That would be a real shame, because LawBreakers is more than good enough to foster a large community. Its zero gravity segments offer something that no other FPS can, and everywhere else it’s a solid, polished shooter. If you like the sound of it then I’d jump in now and build up some experience. That way, when ranked play launches, you’re ready to blast off.

LawBreakers is available now for £24.99/29,99€/$29.99 on Steam or the game’s official site.

27 Comments

  1. KDR_11k says:

    Your description of the zero G stuff sounds like you aren’t using the blindfire to move yourself around?

    • Viral Frog says:

      It seems like a surprisingly large number of people don’t use blind fire at all. The first thing I did when I started the game was pop into a quick tutorial just to give me a firm grasp of the basics. Blind fire was one of the first mechanics introduced.

    • Samuel Horti says:

      Hey, I do use it occasionally but haven’t properly got to grips with it – I’ll make sure I keep practising!

  2. Giaddon says:

    This is a brilliant shooter that has consumed most of my gaming time since release. Crazy fun, always room to improve your mechanical skills and tactical decision-making, wide variety of abilities and weapons that keep high-maneuverability combat at the forefront. Nice variety of modes that shift between attack, defense, and territory control, some with the potential for high drama and instant comebacks (defending a fully charged battery in overcharge is always delightfully sweaty). If you like fast shooters and hate aiming down sights, pick it up now.

    • AutonomyLost says:

      Sounds enticing. I’ve been equivocating on whether or not to pick this up, and your comment is pushing me to do so.

  3. Viral Frog says:

    “As fun as its combat is, there’s nothing to keep you coming back consistently.” – Disagreed. I don’t bother with ranked in any game and I will continue to come back to LB for quite a long time. I’m hoping they pump out some ads, implement ranked for those who enjoy it, and do what they can to bring more people in. At this point, they’ve done basically nothing to try to raise awareness that the game exists. I’ll be really disappointed if this one flops, because it’s the most competent competitive FPS in the market currently.

  4. WhiteHawke says:

    I’m really glad it doesn’t have a deeper progression system. This is a shooter with a heavy focus on dexterity, and I wouldn’t want that soured by +10% damage perks or other uneven playing field mechanics that are still popular in some mainstream shooters (only really the big console shooters though these days, thanks to CS:GO, Overwatch, and PUB:G being fair games). I love Lawbreakers and recommend it to anyone that enjoys fast-paced multiplayer action games.

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      MajorLag says:

      Yeah, I really hate that trend. I’m from the school of “improve by actually getting better at the game” when it comes to PvP.

  5. Christo4 says:

    As others have said, i like the game as well because it’s fast paced, no bullshit leveling up characters and other shit and it reminds me a lot of UT 2004 style of action.
    They really have to improve awareness about it though. It’s barely there.
    And i think a reason not many people got it was because of the price. After all, it’s 30 euros and a lot of people would rather buy PUBG or other games to play with their friends who most likely already have it.
    IMHO, this game should have been 10-15 euros tops at launch in order to compete with them, if they actually wanted a big, stable population and not just a few players who come and go.

  6. Unclepauly says:

    I’m waiting for the weekend to jump in. Played two of the betas and loved it. I’m always on the lookout for games with higher skill ceilings and this fits the bill. Currently debating if I want to spend my time on this or something more tactical. Or I could do both heh

  7. Vegas says:

    I wanted to like this but I ended up returning it after about an hour and a half. I didn’t feel like it did any one thing particularly well. The gravity stuff is inconsistent across maps, I didn’t like the characters very much, and it felt too twitchy to foster the kind of teamwork that makes Overwatch so rewarding. With the difficulty curve as steep as it is, it didn’t feel worth the time I’d need to spend to get good at it.

    • -Spooky- says:

      Teamwork? Overwatch? Do we play the same version?

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      particlese says:

      My feeling currently is that the “blitzball” mode is a complete cluster, owned by whoever can keep their momentum up the best (the human-jet vanguards can be completely nuts in this regard, and I am pretty bad at it with anyone), but the rest of the modes have some really nice opportunities for teamwork that just kinda happens, in my experience – even with a full team of randoms. You also always have the freedom to change character upon dying, if the current you isn’t working out, which I think is a brilliant move to keep the fun flexible. (Maybe Overwatch has this, too, though…)

      I also feel that a couple hours is not really enough to get a feeling for the movement opportunities of the various (yes, bland) characters, but if you felt it wasn’t worth the time to get used to ’em, that’s totally fine.

      • Vegas says:

        Yeah my problem was kind of between the movement and the class system.

        In Titanfall 2, for example, everybody moves more or less the same way. You can wall-run and double-jump. This simple difference from other FPSs gives it a steeper, but more rewarding, difficulty curve. Titanfall reminds me of Tribes in that you can get better at the game’s unorthodox style of movement. It feels really cool when you get good at it.

        Lawbreakers is more like Overwatch – everybody moves differently. However, not only does everybody move differently, but the anti-gravity laws on each map are different. There’s not a movement skill you can learn that would be widely applicable, as in Titanfall or Tribes. So the game relies more on its class/hero system than movement to be compelling, and that doesn’t do it for me, so meh.

  8. Flopper says:

    It’s a shame this game seems to be going the way of Titanfall 2. An amazing game that seems to be overlooked by most. It’s really damn fun. Like fun I haven’t had in years in an FPS.

    People compare it to Overwatch. OW feels like a casual kids game compared to this once you experience the speed of combat.

  9. BaronKreight says:

    Someone told me the creator of this game compared it to League of Legends. Well good luck and God bless!

    • DasBilligeAlien says:

      Before this thing compeltly gets distortd by the rumor mill.
      The creator said that he wants to start small and slowly build it up. Like LoL started as a mod and then became its own game.

      link to eurogamer.net

      The interview.

      • KikYu0 says:

        Jeah Battleborn is doing the Same, dont worry about Playercount.

        Enjoy 40 Minutes Queue, u can Read a Book or clean ur Room while Waiting.

  10. PiiSmith says:

    I don’t really understand the enthusiasm for this game. It is another class based shooter, with the one gimmick of zero gravity. It plays good, but I don’t feel like there is anything special about it.

    The ball game play mode feels very unbalanced. The faster characters do much better in it. They also do better in most of the other game modes. Defensive characters seem rather pointless, seeing how fast the offence can zip in and out. Only when capturing a ball there is the possibility to do anything relevant. There the games devolves into a cluster fuck.

    For my new class based FPS I much rather play Quake then Law Breakers.

  11. BigEyeGuy says:

    I found the zero g areas to be similar to the water combat in the Quake series, why is it there?

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    MajorLag says:

    Can anyone explain to me why “classes” became “heroes” in FPSs? Is it just about aping LoL/DotA or is there something else to it?

    • PiiSmith says:

      I guess they name them heroes because they have a name rather than just being a medic. From a game play standpoint, there is zero difference.

  13. Freud says:

    I hope it will be successful but I suspect it won’t. Even good multiplayer games struggle to survive these days. Oversaturated market.

  14. Kirudub says:

    I just couldn’t get into the game when I tried the open beta. It stayed on my HD for maybe a day before I wiped it.

    One thing that really grated on me was the menu music and the announcer voice. Don’t know why, exactly, but maaaan, I wanted to jam a screwdriver in my ear whenever that Dr-Dimento-on-Meth would talk during matches.

    Like others have said, with so many other MP games around, this just feels like more of the same, but “post-millenial-edgy”.

    Said with a side of sarcasm… I played this game back in the early ’90s, and I’m not sure I care to revisit it.

    And, like many recent MP games, the reliance on other players having good internet makes it a tooth-grinding affair, with me mag-dumping *point blank* into the head of some high-ping chump and not doing any damage, leaving them able to skip away unharmed.

    It happens in every COD game since MW2, it happens (with egregious regularity) with Titanfall2, it happens with BF1.

    Really the only MP game where I can get consistent hit scan is Overwatch. /rant

  15. fish99 says:

    I’d buy it if it had bots. Bots are the reason I still play UT and UT2004 to this day.

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      particlese says:

      I imagine they’d be a real challenge to do well with a relatively small team, but I too would love to see some bots in there. Something to practice or otherwise have fun with, without worrying about messing up other players’ fun or whatever.

      At the very least, though, they could take their tutorial “sandbox” seriously. The static bots become entirely imperturbable once you drain their small amount of health, making it a chore to test damage-dealing and momentum-inducing abilities for any decent amount of time. And the tutorial text has no idea how to calculate word wrap, flickering annoyingly back and forth between solutions – at least on my 2560×1440 monitor, which doesn’t sound like that outlandish a configuration for FPS players these days…

  16. vorador says:

    Good luck to them, since the multiplayer class-based FPS market is currently completely overcrowded.

    Their current numbers don’t look so good.