Games like Doom and Quake shaped my childhood in such a profound way. The gun shooting type is a choice for me, almost a comfort kind, and it’s one that Boss Key Productions’ Lawbreakers slipped into perfectly. Sadly, the launch was anything but successful and the studio behind the first-person shooter has faded into memory. But as we enter a new year and I can’t wait to see what other new adventures we can dive into, I can’t help but reflect on the joy Lawbreakers has given me and how sad i’m it didn’t last.
What I liked
Lawbreakers was released in August 2017 and its goal was to challenge the more traditional FPS experience by implementing a gravity-defying mechanic that was ridiculously fun. While including some of the most anticipated features like a goal-based competitive experience, I really believe there was something really special about Lawbreakers; something that says a lot about the passion of the team and the passion of Cliff Bleszinski, co-founder and CEO of Boss Key.
The overall setup of Lawbreakers encompassed the idea of two teams of five coming together face to face to achieve the goal of the game. One team played the “Law” aspect of Lawbreakers while the other team – you l guessed it – played the role of “Breakers”. There were a few modes to enjoy, but my favorite was Turf War. Capturing three objective points is a pretty standard formula for this genre, but the anti-gravity thrown into the mix made Turf War downright exciting. With a goal set to clear as many points as possible until the end of the match, this entire mode was a recipe for a giant mass of delicious chaos.
Anti-gravity also made modes like Team Deathmatch unique fun. The entire pace of the game was chaotic and free-form. It offered a lot of freedom to the player in a market where the gameplay is most often restrictive. That’s why I love Destiny 2’s PvP so much, being able to manipulate the air even around you for an advantage in combat is exhilarating and Lawbreakers nailed that formula to perfection.
The different roles of each faction offered a variety that truly kept the experience fresh. Riding in a Juggernaut was beyond satisfaction, tearing enemy players apart like rage embodied. Being able to casually throw players like they were gnats was really fun. Although clearly slower, I think the Juggernaut was my favorite role to play because the damage was delicious and the destruction was zero. The Gunslinger was fun too, and I think that’s a subtle reason why I came back to being a Main Hunter in Destiny, and they functioned the same as thieves (like the Assassin role), this which is generally my choice for some Action RPGs.
Another way Lawbreakers exceeded my expectations was feeling like I was dying. As a fan of Battlefield, Medal of Honor, etc., dying in a scary match sucks. I feel like a noob, I resentfully watch the kill cam with my teeth cringe dangerously, and I just wanna muget out of a place of frustration (in the game – easy there, killer). With Lawbreakers, the environment itself was teeming with life and vibrancy, and this chandelier made the act of dying more bearable than many other shooters on the market. The roles have been distributed evenly and evenly, making death seem less like a skill failure and more a strategy failure. Was it the case? Probably not, I have nutty precision, but the game made you feel better about those regrettable, gravity-defying moments of death.
What did not go well
The game itself received a positive critical reception, but sales by no means reflected that eye. What led to the bad sales that ultimately caused the game’s servers to shut down a year later? There are a few contributing factors to keep in mind.
First, Lawbreakers struggled to find its place among other huge releases like Overwatch and the then-dominant battle royale experience PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Despite a positive reception, people only played other games. Lawbreakers, just like games similar to this era like Battleborn, just couldn’t carve out the player’s niche necessary to make it a competitor in a market saturated with shooters.
Some have contributed to the game’s aesthetics being a reason for its demise, but games like Apex Legends prove that this isn’t necessarily the case, as Respawn’s Battle Royale shooter has a very similar style and even similar anti-gravity mechanisms on a much lower scale.
Another knot was the expectations and, let’s be honest, the bragging about before launch. Bleszinski has even noted this in the past, having been incredibly outspoken about what led to the studio shutting down, and even how his own politics became a hindrance when he was open on his own beliefs.
In an effort to experience similar success levels to Warframe and Rocket League, Bleszinski has declared in the past, before launch, the Lawbreakers expedition was “a marathon, not a sprint”, which is true but not in the market in which it was launched. To take on already dominant games of the same genre, a clear strategy to show players what Lawbreakers does differently was key. While the pre-launch trailers hype the gravity aspect and provide insight into a few of the different roles, it’s clear in hindsight that a more aggressive push was needed.
The previous goal before launch was to maintain just the right number of concurrent players to ensure a decent matchmaking experience, hoping that the ease of access would make the game more playable – and enjoyable – for those who jump into a match. That being the cornerstone of the pre-launch strategy, the lower player count and the inability to hook newcomers derailed the rest.
In a last ditch effort to attract new players and save the studio behind Lawbreakers, Boss Key released his own version of the battle royale when Fortnite had just been introduced (at at the time, no one predicted that Fortnite would become the massive success it is today) of the team at Epic Games, which was Bleszinski’s former employer. Radical Heights failed to compete with the heavy hitters dominating this particular market, winning two titles in a row with concurrent weak players and insufficient income to keep the doors open.
Since then, Bleszinski has left games fully (though I would love to see him return, but I understand the desire not to) while Boss Key co-founder Arjan Brussee has returned to his former employer at Epic Games. While there have been many stories of the studio’s rise and fall on social media, Bleszinski launched two games in his own studio and followed his passion. This is something to be proud of. Unfortunately, this passion drove him and his team into an already oversaturated market which only became more so in the following years.
While Lawbreakers can’t make it until the end, it’s a shooter that I really love and miss a lot more than is probably smart. I wish more people had given him a chance and I wish he could somehow have a second life. This team did something beautiful and I will always treasure the short time I spent with them.
What do you think of Lawbreakers and the lifespan of Boss Key? Would you be interested in seeing a revival? Comment in the comments section below and let me know what you thought of the shooter who dared to defy gravity.