Starting up LawBreakers delivers a strange feeling of familiar newness, and not just because I’ve played it before. You’ll immediately recognise a bunch of different things – and continue to do so over the course of your first couple of hours – but not necessarily in overtly concrete ways. You might recognise the feel of an action, or the way LawBreakers handles a certain design demand, or the logic behind a particular, overarching system. You might recognise the general purpose of a character class (runner, defensive heavy, medic, etc), or the loose principles behind how a couple of special moves chain together. But it will be familiarity in the abstract. What you won’t experience is the feeling that LawBreakers is derivative of its influences.
Take Wraith, my current class of choice, for instance; the rapid, aerial manoeuvrability specialist of the roster. On paper his core move-set of speed-boosting ground slide into wall-bouncing triple-jumps might be Titanfall down to a literal T, but in practice he’s no more similar to Respawn’s Pilots than a distorted hall of mirrors reflection. It’s the old-school arena shooter influence that does it, I reckon, alongside what seems to be a deliberate bid to avoid and subvert current shooter class expectations. With a faster, more fluid, entirely more omnidirectional flow to LawBreakers’ overall combat model, everything, so far, feels completely reinvented. This particular focus on high-speed versatility underpins greater demands and possibilities at every given moment.
As such, Wraith’s movement skills aren’t so much the route to lengthy gauntlet runs, so much as they’re a launchpad of instant momentum. A rapidly-triggered Go-button that throws him into the sky and then allows him to be everywhere and do anything. Wraith has a staggering amount of freedom for directional changes mid-air, boosted exponentially by his ability to redirect and drag himself through the air with the momentum of his knife melee. Aerial play in LawBreakers feels less like jumping and more like swimming through a slippery, invisible lake thanks to its maps’ outdoor zero-g areas.
Of course, fluid movement needs fluid shooting, and so far LawBreakers has delivered very well across all the classes I’ve tried. There’s a really refreshing combination of meaty gunfeel and light, unrestrained aiming that makes every trigger pull empowering in a feedback sense, but also, more importantly, in terms of options. It’s a while since I played a shooter that so revelled in immediacy, in letting the player express their will with a freedom and directness that at times seems to bypass the controller entirely.
So yes, in terms of core action, LawBreakers gets a great big thumbs-up right now, with a fair degree of whooping and the occasional air-punch. Forget superficial comparisons to other, seemingly similar shooters. This is a game where you can launch yourself out of spawn like a rocket, fling yourself off a wall, reset your slide cooldown as you hurtle the length of a corridor without ever touching the floor, then boost out into zero-g, flying up, down, left, and right, and air-strafing in every direction, as indefinitely as your skills will allow. And then fly to the next objective too quickly and tricky for anyone to keep track of you, let alone give chase. This merry path from fresh respawn to airborne piranha takes roughly seven seconds.
In these early days it’s hard to tell how all of the incoming, cross-class strategy is going to play out, simply because it’s too soon for a lot of the player-base to have pieced together how things work. The rapid-fire success of my many hit-and-run point scores in capture-the-flag variant Blitz Ball, for instance, has so far been a 50/50 result of my swift and canny manoeuvrability and the opposition’s neglect to leave a heavy hitter back at the scoring zone as a goalie. But we all have a lot to learn. I’m very much looking forward to finding out how the game develops over the coming days. It has the scope to evolve marvellously.
As for how I’ll evolve my game? I reckon I’m going to try out the Assassin class tonight. The prospect of twin blades, a shotgun, an evasive dash, legal wall-hacks, and a goddamn grappling hook is just too good to pass up. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.