Both this Saturday and the previous week I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the alpha testing for  Boss Key Productions’ upcoming title LawBreakers. A title helmed by director Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic Games, LawBreakers is another entry into the “character/hero shooter” genre currently populated by titles like OverwatchBattleborn, and Paragon. The game’s setting is the far future, where the laws of physics are warped beyond control, resulting in its manipulation for profit. One team is made up of the Law, and the other is(you guessed it) the Breakers.

Players are currently given the choice of 4 characters to choose from: The Titan, the Enforcer, the Assassin, and the Vanguard. Each has a unique kit and movement options, allowing for the choice of lightning fast gameplay (Assassin and Vanguard), a solid middle ground (Enforcer), or lumbering juggernaut (Titan). Each comes with their own unique ultimate ability, similar to the system seen in Destiny and Overwatch. These four characters as a whole, feel fairly balanced, with each character filling a particular role.

Players must defend the Battery as it charges to full capacity.
Players must defend the Battery as it charges to full capacity.

The characters are pitted in battle in what is currently the only gametype, Overcharge. A spin on the classic Capture the Flag, this gametype requires a team to bring a battery placed in the center of the map to their home base, allowing it to fully charge, which will net them one point. The other team may steal the battery at any time and bring it to their own base to charge, so players must vigilantly defend the powering station.

This gametype adds a much needed fresh take on the unfortunately stale CTF, and allows characters like the Assassin and Vanguard to shine. Their high mobility allows for sneaky counter-captures and base invasions, and also serve as an excellent distraction while the heavy hitters roll in.

The middle of the only map in the Alpha test often becomes a Zero-G bloodbath.
The middle of the only map in the Alpha test often becomes a Zero-G bloodbath.

The map we are currently given in the alpha is underwhelmingly average. It is a fairly typical near-symmetrical map, featuring 2 bases and an open middle ground of Zero-G, with a normal gravity path along the side for more concealed movement. The flow of the map is a bit odd, as it really only seems to benefit the Assassin and Vanguard. Their much more vertical movement allows them to move across the map in but a few moments. The Enforcer and Titan are unable to access many of the ledges and pathways presented to the other two classes, so they’re unfortunately regulated to a more defensive role. This might be Boss Key’s intention, but it provides little reason to use anything but the Vanguard or Assassin on that map.

The gunplay itself is mildly satisfying. Health pools are large, so headshots for critical damage are essential for quick kills. Many guns don’t feel like they pack much of a punch, and require you to stay on your target for quite a while, even with a few headshots. Nonetheless, gunfights are frantic, especially when zero-g comes into play. Seeing a body quietly spin away until it collides with a wall is surprisingly entertaining, even after the tenth time.

An Enforcer recovers his health in his base's healing station. Image courtesy of Tony259 of MMOSite.
An Enforcer recovers his health in his base’s healing station. Image courtesy of Tony259 of MMOSite.

However, what really kills the flow of the game is the health regeneration system, or rather, the lack of it. Instead of waiting a few seconds for health points to slowly crawl back, players are instead required to visit one of four healing stations, where they must remain for a period of 3-5 seconds while they recharge.

In a game that is ridiculously fast paced, this is terribly detrimental to the consistency of the gameplay. A player can survive maybe 1-2 firefights before being required to return to their base (or sneak into the opponents’) to recharge. Another glaring issue with the health stations are the standoffs that occur surrounding them. An injured player can easily retreat to a health station and hop in and out while his pursuer tries in vain to kill him. Unless their opponent has fairly good aim, the healing player can easily win the fight as he constantly regenerates health.

Despite the glaring health station issues and the questionable map design, LawBreakers definitely has the potential to become a heavy hitter in the FPS genre, particularly in the resurgence of hero shooters. Though Overwatch currently sits atop this subgenre’s throne, there is definitely room for more. Gearbox’s Battleborn quietly fizzled out, despite their push to compete with Blizzard. Bleszinski is no stranger to competitive FPS, having handled the development of Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. He understands that listening to the community will allow the game to thrive.

A Titan and a Vanguard clash in midair.
A Titan and a Vanguard clash in midair.

So far, I’ve been impressed with the way that Boss Key has handled the alpha phase. I’ve received two emails so far asking for feedback, and this weekend’s test already saw changes to the gameplay, with movement speed being increased across the board. They have also confirmed they are looking into health options, which I honestly hope they choose to replace with fully regenerating health. If that’s not an option, maybe health packs scattered across the map a la Quake?

One feature I’d love is an option to disable the character chatter. The dialogue spouted by the Law and Breakers often makes my skin crawl from the forced edginess and bad humor. The Enforcer drops lines like “Heat Seekin’ Missile, baby!” and “I’d pay for your funeral… but I won’t,” and the female Titan bellows “Big Mama coming through!” as she charges into battle. Spatterings of “take that, asshole!” and equally ridiculous taunting are not enjoyable to me. Don’t get me wrong, I talk trash in games. A lot. But I don’t need my character doing it for me in their stereotypical accents and exaggerated ferocity.

Bleszinski mentioned in an interview with GamesBeat that he wanted to do “a more grown-up version” of games like Overwatch and Battleborn. I just hope that the painful dialogue isn’t what classifies LawBreakers as grown-up, because it’s like a 13 year old was given paper and a pen and told to be as mature as possible.

Thankfully, the game is in its early-to-mid stages of development, and there’s always time for improvement. I’m looking forward to seeing what Bleszinski and Co. can bring to the table, as the FPS genre is in much need of stimulation.