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Lawbreakers Pirouettes Back Towards the Balletic Shooters of the '90s

By Julian Benson on at

Playing Lawbreakers was like plunging back into the late ‘90s. It’s an arena shooter in the spirit of Unreal Tournament and Quake, where skilled movement is balletic. The gravity is turned down, letting you leap and pirouette across the battlefield, never offering a still target to your enemies.

Layered on top of that are two opposing teams of classes. Each plays with the physics of the maps: the vanguard class is armed with a minigun as a primary weapon, but with a tap of the right mouse button she is able to throw out a gravity pulse that can launch enemies backwards. There was a wonderful moment in one of my games where Kitsune, one of the assassin characters, was swinging towards me on the end of her grappling hook and I was able to step underneath her and launch her off the edge of the map with my gravity pulse.

As well as those two main weapons, the vanguard has the ability to call in a cluster grenade, and also activate a set of rocket boosters on her back that let you jet through the level. Her ultimate makes use of those jets, thrusting you up into the air and shooting back down to the ground, crushing enemies below.

Each of the four classes has the same structure: a main and secondary weapon, and three abilities. Within that frame there’s a huge amount of variation. The vanguard’s boost means it is able to dart about the level, bringing a heavy gun wherever it’s needed, while the assassin’s grapple lets it reach out of the way hiding spots and tie knots around other players in close quarters.

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Both teams have a practically identical instance of each class. Despite appearances, they share the same model mesh and animations, so although they are skinned differently, there is no worry of imbalance.

In my time with the game I was only shown one map and one game mode, Grandview and Overcharge. Grandview a symmetrical map housing two opposing bases that lead you to a central circle where the gravity is basically switched off. At the start of each game a battery would appear in the centre circle and the two teams were tasked with getting the battery back to base and holding onto it long enough for it to charge to 100%. Charge two batteries and your team wins the game.

While the mode draws inspiration from Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, Overcharge becomes its own wonderful thing. Once a team has the battery plugged in and charging up, the opponents must mount an attack, stealing the battery and beating a hasty retreat back to their own base to plug it in.

This often meant one team would be able to hold the battery for most of the game, grabbing it in the opening seconds of the match and charging it up almost to completion before the other team would swoop in and grab it. As the battery gets closer to being fully charged the pressure on the two teams grows. Because the battery’s power doesn’t reset to zero if it’s captured, there was a sweet agony to almost fully charging a battery yourself only to have it taken from you at the last minute and used to score against you.

The mobility of the classes allowed for some great plays. It didn’t take long for the players trying out the assassin character to realise that instead of marching through deadly mess at the map’s centre to get to the opponent's’ base, they could grapple hook around the outside of the map. At any time, a small contingent of assassins could quietly arrive behind your base, sidestepping all the players defending the front.

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I’ve heard, but wasn’t able to pull it off myself, that assassin’s don’t just have to grapple walls - they can grapple each other, meaning they can chain themselves together, slingshotting the last player in the chain a huge distance. In practice, this means you can launch an assassin hundreds of metres above the level, so that they can fall down behind enemy lines.

Another class, the titan, carries a massive rocket launcher, wears thick armour, and can end most fights... if it can get to them. The problem is that all that armour and weaponry makes it a very slow walker. But someone on our team realised that when in low gravity, firing your weapon imparts momentum. If you blind-fired a rocket over your shoulder you would sail through the air, moving much faster than normal.

Soon everyone was using their guns to drive themselves through the low gravity section–machine guns, shotguns, and cannons momentarily transformed from instruments of death into little outboard motors.

I didn’t have enough time to get the full measure of Lawbreakers, but I hadn’t realised how much I missed the acrobatic shootery of Unreal Tournament. Lawbreakers brings that back, but with the added variety in movement offered by all the different classes. In Quake and Unreal you only needed to learn to master a single character; in Lawbreakers, there are four, with more on the way post-launch.