Laser League Review: The Future is Neon
Ben Sheene / May 23rd, 2018 No Comments
Any good competitive multiplayer game will leave the player craving more. The desire to dive back in for one more match must override that nagging voice in your head telling you that you have errands to run or pesky responsibilities. That desire must latch on despite the crushing defeat that constant losses will make you feel.
Laser League‘s addictive execution is everything a competitive multiplayer needs. Despite spending hours being steamrolled by teams better than me, I wanted nothing more than to refine my skills and come back to kick ass.
Did you know that Laser League is the sport of the future? I sure didn’t, but someone gave developer Roll7 a time machine and offered them a glimpse into the year 2150. In 2150, two teams of either two or three players face off against each other in neon-drenched arenas across the world. Players activate a node that triggers a lethal laser to appear on the field. Think of the light cycle scene from Tron, those people got into a similar time machine. Now, we are given a glimpse into the future and can experience the sport ourselves.
What makes Laser League as attractive as any other sport is the simplicity in its execution. There’s little a person can’t implicitly understand about “don’t touch the laser.” It’s the same concept as “get the ball in the hoop,” “tag, you’re it,” or “win the race.” To stay alive in Laser League, the first thing you must do is not touch the laser that is the color opposite your team. The first team to eliminate all the other players wins a point. The first team to win three points wins the match. The first team to win two matches wins it all.
Accessibility and mechanics that are easy to understand make any sport great. It’s why a group of friends meet at a local gym for basketball and blow off some steam with friendly competition. Outside of a couple show-offs, those friends aren’t going to expertly nail three-pointers or be almost seven feet tall and dunk with the grace of Michael Jordan. It’s up to the professionals to know when to pass to a teammate or dribble like a god. Those mechanics in between getting points define how a person can get better and develop their technique. And because I know very little about sports, I will let the analogies end there before sounding like a buffoon.
It’s a Team Sport
Laser League is fun because it will only take a few minutes for players to get it. It will take countless defeats and dozens of hours to ultimately elevate your game to the level where you feel like something that could take on those combatants from 2150.
Players start a round by choosing one of six classes that can be equipped with a modifier to add another layer to their specific class skill. Blade can lethally slash a player and kill them, while Snipe can shoot them from long range — these two are the only classes able to do any damage outside of the lasers.
Meanwhile, Smash uses a big shield to knock other players around, especially into other lasers. Thief can steal laser nodes from the other teams to catch opponents unaware. Ghost can turn invincible and pass through lasers while Shock can stun players temporarily and leave them open for death.
These six class modifiers are variations of shortening ability recharge time, increasing ability effectiveness, or making abilities last longer. Six classes with two variations per class means Laser League has an ability pool shallower than Overwatch or Call of Duty. Roll7 is not laying the foundation for the next hero shooter and Laser League isn’t even a hero esport.
Players need to be smart and choose classes that synergize. I often found myself gravitating toward support classes like Ghost and Thief because it allowed me to focus more on defense and revives while creating chaos for the other team. I let my teammates do the heavy lifting by slicing and bashing their way through the opposing team.
Thankfully, players are not restricted to what class they use. One of the more frustrating matches I played was against a team of three Smashes. At every turn at least one of them had their ability recharged and could smash into us, sending us flying into a deadly laser. My team was destroyed in the first match, but at the end, the losing team has the chance to change classes before the next match starts. It’s a smart gameplay mechanic that allows the losing team the chance to come back feeling more empowered and prepared to counter such varying odds.
Abilities also never truly feel overpowered thanks to the care they take to execute. Blade and Smash lunge forward, but players need to be precise because those abilities don’t simple hone in on targets. Players who want to steal nodes with Thief have to activate the ability right at the node, not at the laser (this took me a few deaths to understand). Classes and how they work are as simple as the concept of not running into a laser, it’s the subtleties that make a good player into a better one.
Rounds of Laser League take place in arenas from countries around the world, opening with a wide pan of a screaming crowd and the fevered flash of neon lights. The black pitch that players run around and spawn layers is virtually the same every time, just like a basketball court or football field. It’s the window dressing that changes it up. Glowing ads for non-existent future companies line the walls and the two bright lights of each team change between rounds. It isn’t always easy on the eyes, but the stark contrast means that players won’t get lost in the shuffle.
During my initial few hours of playing Laser Leage, I found myself losing track of what player I was when the action got too hot. After a time, this evaporated as my eyes became better tuned to the chaos.
Roll7 is currently putting new arenas in rotation every week, meaning players are introduced to something a bit different each time. Each arena features different laser patterns that will move and change as time goes by. One arena may have horizontal lasers moving up and down only to incorporate vertical lasers as time goes on.
A particularly nasty arena has a central node spawn that ejects lasers like the spokes on a wheel. These patters can be memorized after a time, meaning that mastery is a further tool on the quest to become a better player. The dizzying ballet of spinning lasers moving in deadly paths is exhilarating as it becomes more familiar. Like Pac-Man, players can go past the borders of the arena and appear on the opposite side, adding another crucial element to the playing field.
To further complicate things, 15 power-ups randomly appear throughout the match. From power-ups that drain opponents’ ability bars to ones that speed up or split lasers, there are ways to distract opponents, trip them up, or screw yourself over. Not ever power-up is effective if your team has the upper hand, and the same applies to a losing team. Becoming familiar with the constant shift of laser and player dynamics means that the best players will know how to capitalize on specific power-ups and node opportunities to grab a win.
Players can dominate in the first seconds by hitting the border of a screen and rushing the opposing team’s initial node. You can ruin someone’s day by killing them, which resets their ability charge, and having them think they are going to save the day because they had no idea they lost their ability to steal a node at the last second for a win. Yes, this happened to me so many times.
Laser League offers one of the most addicting competitive multiplayer experiences in recent memory. I hate to call it simple because it’s not. Yet, the game is so approachable that getting sucked in is the least challenging part of it. Roll7 has incentivized dedication by giving players tons of customization options from silly emotes and character portraits to cool looking outfits styled after different futuristic teams. The game is always rewarding players with experience points and new levels to unlock things. There are even ways to master a class by fulfilling objectives specifically tied to being good at that class.
Roll7’s DNA with its skateboarding series OlliOlli is present in Laser League. Both games presented players with something that seemed hard, but was actually fun and secretly complex. However, Laser League feels destined for something greater. It’s a small indie game, sure, but those are often the titles that break the mold and fuel conversations about the next thing to play for a few minutes that suddenly becomes hours. To put it simply, Laser League is the future.
Laser League was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro using a code for the game provided by the publishers for the purpose of this review.
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