Many of you know Cliff Bleszinski from his tenure at Epic Games, where he led development for the Gears of War franchise. In 2014, he created his own development studio called Boss Key Productions, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last week, I had the chance to visit Bleszinski’s new studio to check out the team’s first project, a PC-exclusive title called Lawbreakers, which is a first-person, multiplayer shooter.
The World Of The Future
Even with its multiplayer-based foundation, there is a background story that sets up the world of Lawbreakers. The world is slowly recovering from an anomaly called “The Shattering” that revealed various gravitational anomalies all over the planet. The game’s conflict centers around two major factions called Law and Breakers. Both sides will fight at various locations that are affected by The Shattering, such as Santa Monica’s boiling waters and a newly-built train station underneath Mount Rushmore. For our demo, we played on a level called "Grandview," a research facility in the Grand Canyon that also contains a strange gravitation phenomenon in the middle of the map.
The game mode we played was called Overcharge, a somewhat-similar variant of Capture the Flag. Both teams must capture the large battery in the middle of the map and take it back to their base in order to charge it to 100 percent. Once it’s charged, the team holding the battery must defend it for an additional 20 seconds to win the round. The first team to two points wins the game.
Each team had five players, but we could pick from four characters only. It should be noted that the game is still in an early alpha state, and the developers will continue to add more characters, maps and modes for the game. Still, the limited roster featured diverse classes for both sides.
There’s the Assassin, who was agile and primarily used dual machetes. The Enforcer carried an assault that inflicted more damage with each shot. The Vanguard could easily move around with afterburners and deal heavy damage with the gatling cannon. And then there’s the heavy Titan, who was slow but carried a dangerous rocket launcher.
In addition to the primary weapons, each class also carried a secondary weapon as well as three additional abilities. These abilities range from the Assassin’s Dash, which offers a quick forward boost, to the Titan’s Pulverize move with which you can jump in the air and then crash down onto the ground to deliver a damaging blow to anyone in range.
Fight For the Battery
None of the rounds take too long (the gameplay video we've posted here was less than 12 minutes), but as expected, there’s plenty of action in that short amount of time. Throughout most of the map, you’re running and jumping around just like any other first-person shooter. However, that changes in the middle of the map. The battery that you need to capture and bring back to your charging station is in the middle of an anti-gravity bubble, which can make for some exciting gunplay.
The lack of gravity means that you can float around and get the jump on enemies from above or below. Your movements have to be somewhat carefully calculated, though, or you’ll easily miss your intended target. Even the recoil from your weapon can dictate your movements, and you can take blindfire shots behind you to propel yourself around the area. Truly, Newton’s First Law is king in this space.
One thing that took me a while to get used to was being unable to sprint for too long around the map. The Assassin, Enforcer and Vanguard can also sprint for a short amount of time, but then you have to wait for them to recharge if you want to use them again. Conversely, the Titan doesn’t have any sort of sprint mechanic at all. It’s a way of keeping the game fair on both sides. These maps are small, and if you sprinted around it you could easily gain an advantage. With these limited dashes, you have to plan your moves ahead of time and use each ability at precise moments.
But at the end of the day, teamwork really does make the dream work, if you will. Our opponents easily defended the battery with Assassins that made mincemeat of any character that approached their base. Titans and Vanguards had various vantage points that both teams used to thwart any lingering foes while Enforcers ran around picking off any strays. Small tunnels were deathtraps for anyone, but doubly so for those holding the battery.
As exciting as it sounds, there are a few things that the developers could improve to make it easier. At the top of the list is a more definitive way to tell friend from foe. At the moment, the only way to discern which player is on your team is if they have a small white chevron above their head along with their name. In the heat of combat, it’s not the most efficient way to spot an enemy.
For the most part, the UI is well-made, but there is a problem with the various abilities on the bottom-left corner of the screen. Just like with the tiny chevrons, it’s hard to tell whether or not your ability is ready for use, especially if it’s at the corner of the screen. However, various indicators -- like the Enforcer’s limited sprint -- are implemented next to the crosshairs. I don’t see why the rest of the abilities can’t be placed around the center of the screen in a similar fashion.
Too Early To Tell
I found the entire experience to be quite enjoyable. I tried all four classes and easily found one or two specific classes that matched my preferred play style. Overcharge never lets up with its fast-paced action, and you can always find a fight around the next corner.
A possible kneejerk reaction after playing Lawbreakers is that it’s reminiscent of a few classic shooters. Quake II comes to mind, due to the small areas and fast gameplay, and you can tell that Bleszinski and company also incorporated some traits from his previous work on Unreal Tournament.
Lawbreakers is supposed to have what Bleszinski called “modes with competitive drama,” or moments in gameplay that could go on a highlight reel, and there were a few times in the demo where developers and players alike exclaimed at various plays. However, it’s somewhat difficult to ascertain how it this game will distance itself from other FPS multiplayer titles.
I also didn’t see anything (yet) in terms of any sort of progression system. It’s not exactly a written rule that multiplayer games need this mechanic, but it doesn’t hurt to have some motivation in terms of rewards to keep you going into the next round.
Then again, there’s more work ahead for the team at Boss Key Productions before we get a better idea of what the final product will deliver. What I played in Raleigh was exciting -- and it shows promise -- but I would wait a little longer to see how Lawbreakers separates itself from the competition before plopping down my money.