LawBreakers is in an interesting position. Developers Boss Key Productions' debut game offers a lot in the way of interesting ideas, but ultimately it is still a hero-based first-person shooter, and there hasn't exactly been a shortage of those recently.
Overwatch has been one of the most successful games of the year, Paladins is still ticking away nicely, Paragon has proven immensely popular during its beta period, and then there's Battleborn, which someone somewhere is presumably playing. That leaves LawBreakers as one of the few big hero shooters to not yet available in some form, and joining that crowd is not going to be an easy task.
LawBreakers does have a few advantages over these games though. It has a dark look and the lore to match, with rampant performance-enhancing drug use aiding the battles between two groups of people: those who take pleasure in breaking the law and those who enforce it. Unlike Overwatch, you probably won't want to let a youngster anywhere near this.
Of course its dark vibes aren't the only difference between LawBreakers and its competitors, there are a lot of new ideas and features too. Unique game modes and interesting class variations are just a few of the great innovations that Lawbreakers is bringing to the table, but there is one feature that really stands head and shoulders above the rest.
"If I had to pick one singular feature to differentiate us, it'd probably be the gravity-based combat," Dan Nanni, lead designer on LawBreakers, told us at Gamescom 2016. "The fact that our maps have gravity distortion inside of them, to the ability of our heroes to add gravity into the maps themselves, that really is a game changer. It adds that vertical gameplay I think is unique to us right now."
Each of LawBreakers' maps turns player expectations on their heads through gravity manipulation. Usually this is focused on an area of the map that has significantly reduced or zero gravity, allowing players to float around and take different routes through to the objective. In the map we got to play there was a central column of anti-gravity in the middle. It was only a small portion and could be avoided completely by taking different routes, but it proved how impactful such a feature can be.
When you enter the zero G area, everything changes. Movement speed is usually reduced, the verticality instantly comes into play and the general surprise factor can disorientate those chasing you. It certainly isn't uncommon to see a team enter the zero G sector and then turn a fight. Mastering the vertical mechanics is a must for anyone wanting to stand any kind of chance in the online arena.
"In the beginning we were focusing on having that central area of zero gravity," says Nanni. "We have a bunch of maps that are based on that stadium-like structure, where if you have played on a map with a field of gravity in the centre you understand how to play them all. That was just for competitive purposes, but we will have way more styles of map than that. In fact, one of the maps that we will soon release will be a change in the formula, and in the future there will be new ways we will introduce gravity into the game."
Even something as small as changing the size of the gravity field could have a massive impact. Some classes will do better in maps with lots of zero gravity areas, whereas others are more suited to ground-based combat. Being in or out of zero gravity areas doesn't instantly make a class worthless, but some have clear advantages in certain situations.
"Most [roles] at least have the ability to fly through the zero gravity quickly, but some can use their blind-fire to traverse faster through the air," explains Nanni. "Other maps are going to be more suited to those that prefer a little bit more ground-based combat, and that is just to give some variety to our maps and to suit people's play styles. There are going to be some maps that will have smaller centre points, and then others will have larger ones, there is currently one map where it probably takes up around 70% of the entire play space."
Gravity fluctuations may be the main selling point for Lawbreakers, but it has other ideas too. One of the game's key game modes is Overcharge, a twist on capture the flag with a single battery in the middle of the map. Teams must try and bring the battery back to their base and charge it to 100%, but while it is charging the enemy team can attempt to steal it back to charge themselves.
Pelting it back to base after claiming the battery, with the entire enemy team in pursuit, can hinge on how a player utilises LawBreakers' twisted gravity. A quick boost upwards with the battery, into a low gravity area, can give you enough time to turn and rain down fire on the pursuers, or lose them completely, securing some valuable extra charge time.
"We tried with Overcharge to create something that was a little bit more akin to sports logic, where an interception can happen, and the dominating team can lose that point," says Nanni. "Some players really love it and then other players are super frustrated by it. We are okay with that because game modes are like sports, some sports you love and some you don't, and that's why we have multiple game modes."
When it all comes together LawBreakers feels exciting and satisfying, which for a competitive shooter makes it very promising. The high intensity of Overcharge, combined with the unpredictability of the gravity, creates memorable moments that other games simply can't match There is still a long way to go before LawBreakers is ready for release, but with such an exciting set of core mechanics, Boss Key Productions has on its hands one of the most interesting shooters due this year.