On the outside, Laser League can look like a generic indie attempt at a competitive multiplayer title. But underneath the static camera, monotonous techno music, and simplistic mechanics is a game with a ton of hidden depth and addictively fun gameplay.
The concept behind Laser League is so simple that you’ll grasp it within moments. Each match consists of two teams composed of anywhere between two to four players each. In order to win a round, you must eliminate all your opponents by either pushing or tricking them into walking into one of your team’s colored laser barriers, which you activate by walking over empty nodes that float around the arena. The flipside to this is that, of course, you’ll also be eliminated by walking into theirs. However, players can revived downed teammates, so every member of one team must be knocked out before the round can end. Matches are best out of three sets, and sets are best out of five rounds.
Honestly, in writing it out, I feel like I’ve made the concept sound more complicated than it actually is. In action, Laser League is so intuitive that anyone can play it. There’s an arena. It’s filled with empty nodes. If you step on an empty node, a wall of light the same color as your team will come out of it. You can walk through your own light wall, but if you touch the opposing team’s light wall, you die. It’s as simple as that. The provided tutorials are helpful in explaining the core rules and mechanics, but after completing it, I almost felt silly for feeling the need to do so.
Laser League’s surface simplicity gains some added complexity from the different character classes available. There are three offensive class types and three defensive class types, each with their own unique abilities. The offensive classes are Blade, Snipe, and Smash, while the defensive classes are Thief, Ghost, and Shock, and all six can choose between one of two modifiers (or three on PC, with more being added to console versions a few weeks after launch).
Blade and Snipe can both instantly kill enemies with their abilities, while Smash can push enemies into barriers or at least knock them down temporarily, making all three offensive characters dangers on the pitch, while also forcing them to play more aggressively. On the defensive side, Thief can switch an enemy barrier to his own team’s color, Ghost can temporarily gain invincibility and travel through enemy barriers, and Shock can gain an electrified forcefield for a brief period of time that will stun enemy players who touch it. On top of all that, modifiers generally either extend the duration of your ability, recharge your ability faster, or add a specific buff to your ability.
Each one of these classes has its strengths and its drawbacks. Ghost is great for saving downed teammates who are separated by an enemy barrier, but it completely lacks any kind of offensive capabilities. Thief is great for opening up new pathways and potentially tricking enemies into walking into deadly traps, but it’s completely vulnerable against offensive classes. Likewise, Blade and Sniper players can eliminate the opposition with their offensive abilities, but have no defensive capabilities, not to mention that the aggression needed to play those classes effectively can be manipulated by defensive players to create traps.
The six classes add a good amount of depth to Laser League matches, and mixing-and-matching for your team composition can lead to interesting strategies. Stacking your team with offensive characters can lead to brute force gameplay, but employing that strategy against a clever defensive team could get you in trouble. On the other hand, having zero offensive capabilities could mean that you’re relying on your opponent to make a mistake in order to win the round, which might not happen (even though it probably will).
The classes are all unique and fairly well-balanced, though there are definitely some standouts. Blade is easily the most powerful class in the game, as it’s quite easy to kill opponents with its charge and slash ability. Likewise, Shock’s stun ability is outclassed by the Bash class, which pushes and stuns enemies for an even longer period of time.
What makes these classes balanced, however, is the apparent differences in skill necessary to effectively utilize them. Snipe, which can also outright eliminate enemies, gives players a much wider range of attack but is much harder to use. The aforementioned Shock class might not be as effective as Bash, but its ability is far simpler to employ. By reserving more powerful abilities to more skillful classes, Laser League makes sure that there is a class for everyone while also balancing out classes that have somewhat similar goals and effects.
Online, players employ these classes in two different multiplayer modes: 2v2 and 3v3 (with 4v4 reserved for local multiplayer). The 2v2 mode offers more opportunity for simple strategies, but the danger is that if you’re paired with a bad teammate, you have much less room for personal error. It’s enjoyable, but ultimately Laser League feels like it was built for 3v3.
Depending on your teammates, 3v3 can be a chaotic mess of ever-changing colors of lights and seemingly random deaths, or it can result in epic, drawn out battles where the tide of a round can shift at any moment. The larger team sizes allow for a little more room for error and more unique possibilities for class combinations, while also making the task of eliminating all three players on the enemy side even more of a challenge. Thankfully, no matter how many players are on the field, online multiplayer felt more or less stable. I rarely experienced any lag or network errors once servers went live, which is especially important in a game that requires precision and quick reflexes.
Laser League’s widely different class abilities and game modes definitely help to add a bit of variety to matches, as do the arenas where matches take place. While every arena utilizes the same dimensions of space, their differing patterns of moving laser barriers mean that you’ll rarely play two consecutive matches that feel exactly the same. Overall, the game’s 4 arenas pack in about 19 different laser patterns, and memorizing these patterns proves to be an incredibly useful and necessary skill. Getting the jump on nodes and activating barriers before the enemy can react will give you a strategic advantage over the competition.
The arenas also pack in multiple power-ups per match. Some of these power-ups affect the players themselves—for example, activating the “charge” power-up will instantly refill your team’s ability meters, while activating the “drain” power-up will clear your enemy’s ability meters—while others affect the arenas. The “switch” power-up might be the most nefarious, as it swaps the colors of all active barriers on the map, meaning you can quickly shift the balance of a match if the other team’s barriers outnumber yours. “Power,” meanwhile, instantly activates all empty nodes in your favor, while “clear” wipes all the barriers off the map and lets you start fresh. These power-ups won’t necessarily allow you to overcome a well-balanced team that’s employing solid strategies, but it definitely lends to more strategy and variety in the gameplay and gives each match a more unique, party-game twist that you often don’t find in competitive multiplayer.
Speaking of, competitive multiplayer games seem to live and die by their progression systems, and Laser League offers just enough at the moment to keep players invested without adding too many superfluous items to unlock. As you play online, you earn XP and level up your account. Hitting different XP marks will unlock items like new uniforms for your character, new patterns for laser barriers that you activate, new emotes, and new avatars. The best part is that you don’t even need to fully level up to unlock these items, as the game generously gifts you new items fairly often. It will give completionists enough to do, and so far doesn’t seem tied to any loot box or microtransaction systems.
Laser League’s visual design, like the rest of the game, is simple but elegant. The neon colors against the dark background make it obvious where you’re safe and what not to touch. It’s easy to track even as different colored laser barriers pass through each other. (Apparently, some color-blind players have experienced issues, but the developer has promised a patch within a couple of weeks.) There’s a lot going on at any given point, and despite all the colors flying everywhere, tracking your own character amid five others is very rarely an issue— though, admittedly, there were a few times when I lost track of where my character was and ended up walking face-first into an enemy laser wall.
I greatly enjoyed my time experimenting with Laser League’s various classes and learning the maps. These elements work well together in action, and led to intense battles of wit and reactions. However, despite how much fun I had with the game while I was playing it, I’m still not convinced about its staying power—due mostly to the simplicity of its mechanics in the long-term. Essentially, all you’re doing is walking around and activating nodes, and I can’t see that kind of gameplay competing for my time with multiplayer experiences that allow you to do so much more. So, I worry about how much time I’ll actually end up spending with Laser League now that I’ve finished reviewing it.
Still, no matter how long I play it, Laser League is a unique, engaging experience. To its testament, it’s the kind of multiplayer game that works equally well for parties as it does for serious, competitive play. Its class abilities and ever-changing arenas will be enough for a specific kind of gamer that prefers multiplayer experiences where strategy and quick decision-making are more important than mechanical gifted-ness. It’s literally unlike anything I’ve ever played before, but still somehow manages to be instantly recognizable.
Laser League’s simple concept belies a ton of hidden depth in its character classes and map-specific strategies—It’s the definition of easy to learn and hard to master, without requiring mechanical godliness to succeed. While its core mode is somewhat lacking in variety and its basic gameplay might get too repetitive for some players, it already feels like a concept that’s been around much longer than it has, and manages the tall order of balancing for casual and competitive gamers alike.
E10+ – Everyone 10+
|Laser League is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Code/hardware was provided by 505 Games for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|