Laser League marks a considerable departure from the norm for London-based developer Roll7. The studio has made a name for itself in recent years with surprise hits like Olliolli and Not A Hero. However, while those games delivered tight, twitch-based 2D gameplay, Laser League takes things to the third dimension. Set in the distant future, the game throws players into the future of competitive sports, where two teams vie for dominance in a neon-saturated arena. I had the chance to dive into an early build of the game last week in a virtual press event with the folks at Wonacott Communications, and while I wasn’t sure what to think of Laser League at the outset, it quickly became one of my most eagerly anticipated games of 2018.
The premise is simple. Two teams of either two, three or four players start on opposite ends of the pitch. Shortly after the match begins, white nodes begin appearing all over the screen. Once touched, these nodes will deploy a laser wall which will begin moving towards the opposite side of the screen. You’re free to touch lasers activated by your team. However, touch a laser of the opposing team’s color and you’re toast. Sound easy? Well, it is at first. However, as the match progresses nodes begin to spawn much more rapidly, turning the entire arena into a deadly grid of destructive energy. When it gets to this point, the game begins to demand almost bullet hell shooter levels of precision as you navigate walls of energy and attempt to wipe out the opposing team.
In a League of its Own
There’s a surprising amount of depth crammed into Laser League‘s package. For starters, the game offers six unique classes to play as, each offering their own special abilities. Blades, for example, can kill opposing players with a quick dash attack. However, this puts them at risk because they have to be pretty much right on top of their target to hit them. Snipes, on the other hand, are more technical units. They can deploy a beacon and instantly teleport back to it at the touch of a button. Not only is this a good way to get out of a hairy situation, it also allows you to kill any characters in the path of your warp.
Out of all the character classes, my favorite one to play with were the Shocks. These defensive players can deploy a sphere of energy to stun nearby enemies. This was great for keeping enemy players down while you work to revive downed teammates. And there’s nothing more satisfying than shocking several opposing players and watching them fall as a wall of energy closes in and reduces them to flickering pixels.
While these special abilities pack a punch, they need to be used sparingly. There’s a considerable cooldown for each skill, which can make moving in for a melee kill a risky proposition. Nothing is more humiliating than missing a shield bash with the Smash class, only to be left defenseless against several fully-charged opponents. That said, be sure to smash and shock responsibly.
The Mod Squad
No doubt about it, the game’s six classes do a lot to spice up the action in Laser League. However, classes aren’t the only thing that adds some depth to the arcade-style gameplay. There are also a number of augments you can use to give your team an edge in the field.
For starters, the Reflex modifier is great for the skilled player. This instantly refills your special gauge for a brief period if you successfully land an attack, allowing for punishing combos – so long as you play with speed and precision. Additionally, the Extend modifier makes your abilities last longer. This is great for classes like Shocks, who can leave a hovering plume of electrified carnage in their wake. Ghosts also benefit from this skill by getting prolonged invulnerability. This can make them the ultimate node snatchers as they run amok impervious to damage.
I found two of the best all-around modifiers to be the Hunter and Medic powers. Hunter simply makes your special meter charge faster, which is a godsend for any class. The Medic modifier is also invaluable as it can revive players with a full special meter. Used strategically this can quickly turn the tides of a match in your team’s favor.
A Neon-Saturated Massacre
The hour and a half I spent with Laser League was nothing short of sublime. The frenetic, competitive action feels instantly satisfying and harkens back to arcade gaming’s golden era. Things may start out slow, but its when the game hits that fever pitched and things turn into a brilliant ballet of lasers and glowing death that everything just clicks and you realize you’re playing something truly special. Laser League does a masterful job scratching that primal, arcade itch. And the wealth of character classes and modifiers provide plenty of room for experimentation. Simply put, it’s the party game you never knew you needed.
Even in its early state, Laser League feels like it could be developer Roll7’s most impressive project yet. If you want to take a stab at the game yourself, we’ve got plenty of Laser League Beta keys to share. Learn how to get your copy here. The full game is slated to release next year on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.