“Hero shooters” are now a thing. What scale of thing — and the extent to which said thing sustains in both taste and commercial viability — remains to be seen, but from the looks of it, you can’t deny the first wave (here’s imagining, like post-rock, some awfully saturated “third wave” that’s all about the crescendo’s and little about the detail) of releases has gotten off to a good start. Battleborn & Overwatch alike — even if the latter is proving, by quite a margin, to be the more popular front-runner — have shown what a little bit of flair and a considered dose of vibrancy can do a genre of this stagnancy. Least of all when the big-gun’s and the old-hat’s alike are still at it, regardless who’s making them, be it AAAs, AAs, indies or wannabes, shooters have rekindled a bit of personality as of late and that can only be a good thing.
But personality and aesthetic can only go so far before the magic is lost. To keep this genre a float, you need variety. What’s more, generally speaking, you just need some right-good combat and, in perfectly timed fashion, this is where LawBreakers steps up from out behind the curtain. Boss Key Productions’ venture into the heroic/villainous escapade, as we already know, has already spiced things up with its zero-gravity gameplay to nestle alongside its carefully-balanced character/unit range and if you look at things purely from just that, a gameplay stand-point, Cliffy B and co have earned every ounce of lofty intrigue that has come their way. While I myself may be completely new to this particular sub-genre of shooter, playing a few rounds has already given me reason enough to invest further in what Boss Key have in store.
That said, with what’s been presented, played and subsequently experienced by others doing the exact same thing as me — albeit considerably better — it’s clear LawBreakers is not without its own minor gripes that could, if left uncheck, grow into an impossibly ignorable issue. There are three key areas that, personally, I feel LawBreakers would do good on keeping in check, if not resolve entirely. Impossible or downright ridiculous, as someone still dipping my toe into the field of competitive PC shooters, these are the pointers I consider necessary to raise. Firstly (and that point about me having only recently turned to the
dark PC side was in fact a opportune segue), LawBreakers must…and I mean must…offer controller support.
I don’t speak as someone who is inherently bad at using keyboard and mouse configurations. OK, I half-lie; I seldom pick an alternative to my trustee controller. But one has to look at this from the point of those who, like me, haven’t quite warmed enough to the idea of a hero shooter to invest a lot, if not most, of my free game-playing leisure. What’s more, filtering this further down I will admit, if LawBreakers is to remain a purely keyboard/mouse-based system for control, how will this messaging look from the point of those having invested in traditional console gaming all their life and only now are starting to broaden their horizons to what the land of PC gaming might bring?
Naturally the counter-argument to that would be that it’s a matter of practice; getting to grips with the bizarre contrast of layout and putting faith in muscle memory will see you eventually adapt. True, practice never hurts, but in a World where controller support is often present for both ports and PC-only titles alike, Boss Key’s decision to limit the means of input seems like a strange one. To their defense, the developers did note, when this was put to them regarding possible controller support, they were looking into facilitating Steam controllers; the reason given for the exclusion of other peripherals, being that the game’s mechanics would prove too difficult to map out. It’s not my area to agree or otherwise disprove such a claim when game programming is most certainly not my forte, but if Boss Key decide to go down this singular, potentially close-minded philosophy, that could risk the total population of a player-base that could be a celebratory mix of long-time PC users and console users genuinely interested in something new.
Secondly, something far more critical than mere inputs and peripherals, Boss Key have to make sure that LawBreakers, from a level and mode design stand-point, is balanced. There’s no doubting the attention the team have put into the player-character’s themselves and to further my praise in this respect, the variety and scope of abilities, risks, rewards and intrigue certainly make each individual feel as much a threat as they are a target. On that note, level design is absolute paramount. From the maps already shown off, be it in promotional “behind-the-scenes” videos or getting hands-on ourselves, verticality is clearly high on the design hierarchy but not to an extent it takes away from the more tense, enclosed moments of manic corridor-based one-on-one’s.
How this approach factors into the game modes themselves is another story. Especially, which herein lies my concern, when you take objective-based play into consideration and how some maps, seen during the E3 preview I was a part of, often rewarded corner-camping and enclosed static-posts without as much as an opportune counter. This is not a criticism of the game’s zero-gravity mechanic — as much as this is not some bold claim that level design is a piece of cake — but just like any competitive game, where there’s an exploit or a loop-hole, or any other means to reaping loads for contributing little, players will take it.
Thirdly, one which potential consumers will be very eager to follow, Boss Key must lay down their pricing structure…and stick to it. While the developer may have talked in the past about the stigma “free-to-play” titles often come packaged with, at the same time there needs to be a clear financial direction laid out. Will the game be traditionally priced on a per-package structure, or will it be transaction-focused? Will it go as far as to flip the figurative switch and transition from one form to another as Turtle Rock have recently announced with Evolve? It might be early days still, but even competitors like Paragon have already laid out pricing structures, regardless of the fact the game is still in Early Access. But neither extreme seems to be more likely than the other at this point — the disconnect with $60+ investments as much a frustration with the developer as micro-transaction built models often are.
It’s not simply a case of naming a figure either and reinstating that as what you, the creator, believe is the honest worth of the base product (but I’m sure that won’t stop certain corners of the web complaining about the potential low/high demand). Pricing may be regarded as a lesser involved part of the wider experience, but no one can deny it carries tremendous weight when deciding on whether to invest or not. Thus if Boss Key come out — be it a press release, a brief blog post, even an off-the-cuff response during an interview; it doesn’t really matter how they say it — sooner rather than later with a fixed model, better still lay out their reasoning for said model, that’s always going to be better than remaining flatulently silent about it all. In video games, silence is rarely a virtue.
So there are my three main advisory concerns on where LawBreakers has to set itself in motion…in all the right ways. Should Boss Key nail these areas, we might be on course — a shocking rarity it has to be said — for yet another thoroughly enjoyable shooter in such a short span of gaming time. Look out Overwatch, that’s all I’m going to say.