Release Date: 30/06/2017
Played On: PC
Available On: PC / PS4
Time Played: 1h
Progress: Played a few matches / Tried a bunch of "heroes"
Developer: Boss Key Productions
Publisher: Nexon

In a time before broadband internet and the proliferation of online video streaming, the only way to see footage of games before they released was to find a web site hosting a file, then wait weeks for it to download over a dial-up connection. This is how it was when Unreal Tournament 2003 was due to be released, and I dutifully sourced a keynote speech from Cliff Bleszinski where he talked about and showed off the latest tech to feature in the game. I think it was only about a forty-five minute video, but seeing those rag-doll effects and new weapon models for the first time really blew my tiny little mind.

The Unreal Tournament series has always been as equally important to my multiplayer experiences as Quake, Counter Strike, and Team Fortress Classic. I used to play these games all the time, so I was even good at playing through the lag that came with a poor internet connection. While others had cable and ISDN links, I was stuck with dial-up, so it was important to learn how to lead targets and predict where they were going to be once the ping caught up.

I'm not too modest to say that I got good enough at it that I was able to compete on a decent enough level. I remember spending hours on the map "Well" in TFC, sniping across no man's land with that satisfying *crack* of the rifle preceding the gibs of an enemy exploding. To this day Quake III is still on rotation at LANs I attend, and I like nothing more than firing rockets at friends who think it's okay to camp that platform in the middle of nowhere with a railgun.

Hence why these days my lack of enthusiasm for multiplayer gaming leaves me wondering why. I have a history of spending night after night playing competitive shooters, and loving every minute. I even used to play World Of Warcraft so much that I made friends through the game and formed my own guild for organised events. No other gaming experience I've had to date, will compare with taking part in a massive raid on the Horde city of Thunder Bluff. Hundreds took part in that attack, and we even managed to defeat half of the city guards before being wiped out by respawning NPCs. These multiplayer experiences were rich and made for great stories that I remember to this day, but if you try selling me a new multiplayer focused game, I'm out. 

I think a part of it is the popularity of Voice Chat in competitive games. When I was playing online, it became second nature to read chat and type messages on the fly. Quick message systems like the ones in Unreal Tournament or Tribes, were utilised deftly with a flurry of keystrokes to shout out enemy positions and tactics. For some reason I prefer the old way of communicating over having a bunch of people talking over each other or spouting abuse because you did something they didn't like. 

Of course, you can mute other people and turn off voice chat, but that becomes a problem in itself these days as nobody really uses text chat all that much anymore. It seems that if you mute other people in a game, you're effectively rolling solo because nobody wants to make the effort to communicate in a more tactical way. 

I'm not saying that any method of communication is better than the other, as it's probably just a sign of the times and something I've grown away from over the years. However, that desire for super fun multiplayer experiences still burns within me, so I find myself trying out these multiplayer-only games every time a new one comes along. I guess I'm getting used to the fact that I don't like them anymore, but when Cliffy B started working on Lawbreakers as his new IP follow up to the legendary Unreal Tournament series, I had to have a look.

Even though I'd seen plenty of coverage up until the beta weekend, I still held out hope for Lawbreakers as potentially the multiplayer game that would get me back into online gaming. Sadly though, it's just as much of a cluster-truck as the rest, and despite having the rusty sheen of Cliffy B evident in its design, I lasted about an hour before uninstalling it from my PC.

There are some positive correlations to be found between Lawbreakers and Unreal Tournament, such as a bombing run mode that tasks each team with carrying a ball to the enemy goal and scoring a point. I played the hell out of bombing run in UT2003, so was pretty eager to see how an updated version of the mode would run. 

One thing I wasn't expecting was how disorienting the map design could be, as the maps I tried in Lawbreakers were relatively small, but there's clearly a focus on vertical gameplay as well as terrain traversal. Add to that the fact that the character models are pretty small and hard to distinguish amongst the chaos on screen, and I rarely felt like I was heading in any kind of useful direction during any of the matches I played. 

Instead it fast became the same treadmill of respawn, run to the point, spin around like a maniac trying to shoot something (anything!), get killed by someone or something you never saw, respawn, and repeat. Even taking into consideration the natural difference that comes from learning the maps and classes, the entire match experience was a confusing mess that didn't seem to have any way of teaching you anything useful.

Compare this to the Quake Champions Beta event that I also had a go at, and there are some clear differences. In QC the maps are large enough to allow for a bit of a breather in between deaths, as you can pick up a few weapons and re-orient yourself before jumping back into the hot spot action. Lawbreakers seemed to only have the hot spot action, without much else going on. There are no weapon pickups, so there's little incentive to explore; and the maps are so small that everyone is funnelled into a central choke point that becomes a scene of complete chaos with little to no structure.

Quake Champions is still an extremely fast and twitchy shooter that remains competitive and challenging, but I never feel like it's completely out of my control. Perhaps it's because I played so much Quake when I was younger, but I think the overall design of that series has always been on point. It's a perfect blend of action and skill, that's both challenging and rewarding, as you're always able to find something to actively improve on.

Contrast that with Lawbreakers and there's really no room to move: you're either in a confusing fight against enemies you can hardly see because they don't stand out, or you're slowly running toward the action after a respawn because there's nothing else to do anyway.

Which brings me to the classes or heroes or whatever you want to call them these days, but it seems we can't avoid the MOBA system of having characters with unique abilities in every competitive game these days. Even Quake Champions has shoe-horned some characters (= champions) into the Quake formula, so the jury's still out on whether that game will be any different from the others. However, Lawbreakers has gone for a much more concrete system where each character has their own weapons and their own abilities. It's very Overwatch in that way, to the point there's even ultimate abilities that can be activated for big kill action whatever type stuff.

It all does nothing for me other than diluting what I loved about Unreal Tournament and online gaming in the first place. Maybe I'm just an old man and out of touch with these brand new fancy toys, but I miss the days when everyone had the same abilities and would race for the best weapons and armour. The variety of loadouts in games like Quake and Unreal Tournament meant that you could have a favourite weapon and always be competitive with it. I always hated the bio/slime gun thing in UT, but would often get destroyed by it when another player knew what they were doing. Although, give me a flak cannon and I'll be lobbing projectiles at you round corners all night. It didn't matter how you liked to play those games, you could always jump in and be competitive with any setup.

Perhaps that hits my discomfort on the head. Maybe it's because so many competitive multiplayer games have adopted the counter-pick formula that they feel annoying and frustrating to play. I want to be destroyed in a game because someone is better than me, not because they picked a character or loadout that will always beat mine no matter what.

So I guess I won't be jumping back into the online competitive multiplayer scene just yet. I mean, if even Cliffy B can't make it exciting, I doubt anyone can.

NB: I played with Keyboard & Mouse, even though in some of the screenshots the game thinks I'm using gamepad because I had my gamepad plugged in.
 

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