For this review, I was playing on the PS4 version of the game, on a PS4 Pro. I purchased the game myself.
Edit 1: Since this review was published, patch 1.4 changes several elements of the game, such as much larger health bars and Team Death Match. Stay tuned to our live streams to hear our thoughts on the update.
Edit 2: The game has been on sale at a 28% discount on PSN, which unfortunately did not significantly change the matchmaking situation in the EU. The next update is said to merge regions, which I believe will help significantly (playing on US-East servers has not been laggy).
Boss Key Productions: A Dream Team
Boss Key Productions and Ion Storm have a lot in common. John Romero and Cliff Bleszinski are both games development rockstars of their era. Both are known to rub the games community the wrong way with their brash attitudes, but at the same time amaze them with undeniably high quality games. Like Romero in the late 90s, "Cliffy B" has surrounded himself with a dream team - people who have worked on games such as Killzone, Far Cry, Battlefield and the Clancy franchise.
Ion Storm brought us notorious failures such as Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 and Daikatana. Boss Key Productions has delivered us LawBreakers. So, has history repeated itself, or has CliffyB bucked the trend of big-name developers such as Romero, Peter Molyneux and David Jaffe on their independent adventures?
LawBreakers is a fantastic game. But that doesn't mean the curse has lifted. This is a story about how making a solid, fun multiplayer game isn't necessarily enough in 2017. It's also an honest assessment on whether I personally recommend you buy the game or not.
So, it's an Overwatch clone, right?
No. But, I get it. Both are 5v5, with classes distinguished by different characters, each with their own weapons and abilities. It makes sense that CliffyB distances himself from Blizzard's heavyweight though, as LawBreakers can't compete. The character design here is bland - I literally can't remember the names or distinguishing features of them all. There are missing features such as Kill Cam and Play of the Game. Perhaps the biggest difference is LawBreakers is far less accessible. But that doesn't have to be a negative.
Where players of varying skill levels can find their niche in Overwatch, instead LawBreakers leans hard into fast action and precise execution. While support characters such as Battle Medic exist (and are highly recommended), every player will face combat. When you are confronted with the enemy, it can be a brutal, white knuckle encounter. You need to use your character's unique aerial traversal and skills to evade, while unloading bloody fury into your victim. This all occurs in a heartbeat, with instinct and reactions often outweighing strategy - while still having to keep an eye on your team's objective.
Maps are symmetrical (and beautiful), with both teams playing both attack and defence roles simultaneously. Scenarios are in either capture the flag or king of the hill flavours. Teams that work together and ensure that they attack in numbers tend to succeed more than those that have a John Rambo with a positive K/D ratio. I think this is my main takeaway from my time with the game. Although it is clearly summoning the fast-paced gameplay of Unreal Tournament, unlike that game, the team that plays together, wins together.
So, it's good?
It's good. It's very good. With a group, a ton of fun can be had. When you and your friends eventually get good at the game, it is immensely satisfying working together, with a mix of attack and defence and taking on all-comers. It helps if you all like different classes, as there are benefits to be had from a balanced team.
So, you like fast paced shooters, you have a group of willing friends, so you are good to go. Right? Now, this is the tough part. Finding a match is often an impossibility. On the European servers, at around 11pm CET, my group has failed to find a game for over 20 minutes. There seem to be pockets of activity on early evenings and weekends, but the community surrounding the game is so small, you will start to recognise the same names in every match.
It's quite novel getting to learn an individual's strengths and weaknesses, seeing them play every night, but that novelty wears off fast when they log off for the evening and you realise that will be the last time you get to play the game until tomorrow.
I'm no market analyst, so it would be hard for me to pinpoint why the game has sold so badly. It certainly isn't because of the quality of the game. Poor marketing and proximity to the Destiny 2 release date have been blamed. Perhaps those bland character designs aren't resonating with would-be players? CliffyB has even admitted that his attitude on social media may have had an impact. The launch of this game alone will be an interesting story to tell, one day.
The road ahead
It's difficult to picture the situation changing for LawBreakers and it's impossible for me to recommend the game when it is so difficult to find matches to play. It gets pretty boring staring at that lobby screen.
I can wholeheartedly say that I personally think the game is great and I absolutely want to evangelise that fact - even if it’s in the selfish hope that I will have more people to play with. I feel a free trial would do the game a world of good, much like it did for Rainbow Six Siege. After each update, they should peel back the curtain for a weekend and let those sitting on the fence have a look.
Playing is often believing and in the case of our recent live stream, handing the controller to Rob for a few rounds was enough to convince him to buy the game that evening. This review took several re-writes as I wrestled with how to conclude. Bosskey are aware of their concurrent user problem and it’s in their camp to fix it. I suggest you hold fire for now, but jump in when a free trial or price drop brings the players in.
If you do grab the game on PS4, join us on our Discord and drop us a line in our #lawbreakers channel! It might be your best bet to get in a match!