Laser League made some pretty high waves earlier this year, boasting a fresh futuristic take on sports, tethered to that iconic Tron-esque theme. The game is set in year 2150 and Laser League, a deadly competitive sport is the worldwide trend. Coming from Roll7, the talented team that delivered Not a Hero and OlliOlli, Laser League isn’t just a distinct concept, but a wonderful addition to the multiplayer-focused formula. I’ll admit that at first glance, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Though even after just an hour of play, I was hopelessly hooked.
The aim of the game is as straightforward as you can hope. Players select their team side and dive into the fray with the overarching goal of being the last team left alive. Elimination triggers whenever a player hits a laser that isn’t of their team’s color. Activation nodes are placed within the tight compact arenas and once these have been run over, they extend moving laser barriers of your team’s color. Once all opposing players have been eliminated, that’s that. What ensues is an ultra fast-paced game of cat-and-mouse.
Forget that it may sound far too basic on paper, because in practice, it’s anything and everything but. This 1v1/2v2/3v3 arena game is hands down one of the most tense multiplayer-centric experiences I’ve played since Rocket League. The competitive edge within oozes throughout the entirety of play, but it’s easy-to-understand gameplay mechanics also make it quite a suitable party game. There’s also some considerable depth here too, pushing Laser League up and alongside its massively popular peers.
Classes, for example, offer up a sizable range of different styles and attributes to aid you in dominating each and every arena, collectively. Classes lend the game its tactical and strategic edge, being that players can choose from a pool of very handy abilities and combine these strengths to bolster their chances of winning. These abilities tend to vary quite distinctly; the ability to stun the opposition, steal the opposition’s nodes, becoming invincible to travel through enemy lasers and there’s even a melee focused class.
Modifiers can also be used to boost these abilities, with a total of two to select from for each class type. That may not sound like a decent portion of customizable content, but the end result, grouped with the prospect of devising a good strategy, is more than enough to see this experience through. It’s worth pointing out that you can indeed resurrect fallen teammates, though, if all members of one team die, it’s the end of the round/game. Full games are made up of the best-of-three matches, set within the best-of-five rounds.
Despite the fact that many of the arenas look similar to one another, they all tend to function uniquely. This once again injects quite a chunk of diversity into Laser League. Nodes will appear differently as well as how their protruding laser fields project, depending on the map selection. These map options ensure that no game feels the same, which when grouped with the different class types, modifiers and power-ups (we’ll get to that momentarily), makes for some very interesting setups, challenges and outcomes.
Power-ups appear randomly within each arena and offer up obtainable buffs. These include added abilities such as increasing a player’s speed, halting the movement of laser fields or swapping the colors of laser fields. The latter being the most tense in my opinion, especially if your team has the most ground covered. Irrespective as to how you play, Laser League – as described – is like nothing you’ll have played before. Much like the recently released Trailblazers, this game highlights how a simple idea can go one hell of a long way.
The game does come with a decent tutorial for those that struggle to adapt to its format, but in all honesty, this is one of those games that become second nature before too long. Laser League supports local and online play, with bot implementation for those that don’t like playing with others. Bot difficulty can indeed be adjusted to suit your needs. Mercifully, the bots in Laser League – more often than not – put up a good fight. I found playing with bots to be the best place to start before stepping into the online world.
Despite that Laser League is an easy game to understand, if you find yourselves up against stiff competition, the experience and its dynamics dramatically shift. The difference between playing against a novice team and an expert team showcases this the most. When playing against the former, Laser League is more of a relaxed sort of tense yet fun game. When playing with the latter, it’s the polar opposite. Lightning fast reaction is a must, making the process of absorbing every rapid movement and element a forefront importance.
This level of tension is truly nail-biting and edge-of-your-seat material. Dodging fields, chasing after power-ups and staying on the lookout for new nodes and then gunning for them before the opposition does, is nothing short of energetic, super-charged and manic. Throw in all of the class abilities and accompanying modifiers and it’s hard to not appreciate Laser League’s intricate foundation. Importantly, a good team will know how to coordinate well enough to make use of their abilities to form a game-winning plan.
This, again, is where Laser League becomes a very tactical affair. Countering an enemy’s tactical front and destabilizing their strategy is every bit as engaging as the game itself and arguably the most rewarding aspect within. You truly feel rewarded with every passing victory that you score. It helps, of course, that the controls are so well struck. There’s very little to keep on top of, leaving you to worry mostly about movement and reaction speed. Players can also earn XP to unlock new customization options – purely cosmetic, thankfully.
The audio is also top notch, throwing out audio cues that bolster the theme and design of the overall experience. In fact, my one and only gripe with the game is that I wish that the stadium design had more difference to one another. I understand that it’s hard to project different variations of the Tron-esque neon theme, though as it stands, each stadium just feels too much of the same. This, however, is a small concern in the grand scheme of things and is alleviated greatly by the game’s diverse foundation.
Laser League has the potential to stand just as tall as other competitive multiplayer experiences, such as Rocket League. It’s fun, fast paced and constantly exciting throughout. The fact that it’s so easy to pick up and play makes it widely accessible, bolstered further by its unique and articulate foundation and design. This is a game of chaos, strategy and speed, unifying to produce a game that’s truly like no other.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.