Anyone who has seen Tron is familiar with how laser barriers work. Touch one and dissolve into a billion atoms. That's simple enough. Now imagine taking this idea into a more competitive arena. (One not involving Light Cycles.)
That idea becomes Laser League, a 1v1/2v2/3v3 arena game from developer Roll7 where the idea is to survive by avoiding laser barriers of the other team's color. It looks to capture that Tron-esque futuristic atmosphere, but it also brings out the competitive juices that flow in just about any time period.
The first thing to note is that Laser League's presentation feels epic, as Roll7 looks to present Laser League as more of a sports game than anything else. That means an entire league of fictional teams and multiple stadiums. It means arenas filled with screaming spectators. And it means the last team standing getting to pose for the adoring public. In terms of presenting a pseudo sport, Laser League seems to get it right.
But what is Laser League? The idea is that two teams, each donning different neon-colored suits, vie to activate any laser nodes that appear on the playing field. This creates laser barriers that go in various patterns, which can be selected before the start of the game. Run into an opposing laser wall and die. While it's possible to resurrect fallen teammates, if all members of a single team are dead, the round is over. Games are composed of best of three matches, with each individual match being a best of five rounds, similar to a fighting game tournament. And like a fighting game tournament, the loser of any individual match will have the option to change up their layout, while the winner continues riding their setup into the next match.
While the premise of Laser League may be simple, the sheer variety of options will ensure that many of its games will play out differently. First off, there are multiple classes, each with different abilities. For example, there's a Blade class that can instantly kill opponents with his laser sword, a Shock class that can stun opponents with electric blasts, or a Smash class that can tackle opponents and send them ragdolling into laser walls. All of the classes are easy to learn and feel accessible to anyone, giving Laser League a real quarter-munching arcade feel.
As mentioned, there are numerous options that can change up how games play out. The biggest of these options is the map selection within each of the game's stadiums. This influences how the laser nodes appear and what pattern they shoot out when activated, requiring different approaches and strategies. With the numerous map options available, even the local sessions against the game's bots felt fresh. That's particularly nice, because the stadium locales themselves don't have any real distinct qualities about them. Aside from being able to change the laser patterns, the game's stadiums do start to look the same after a while.
Another element that doesn't quite feel so fresh is the game's power-ups. The idea of the power-ups in themselves are fine. There are some that increase a player's speed, while there are others that switch the colors of the lasers currently active. The problem is that the same power-ups will pop up in each round after a certain amount of time has passed. It would feel nicer if the power-ups were a little more randomized instead of knowing that a Reverse power-up was going to appear every round at the same time for the rest of the game.
A League of Its Own
Laser League is delightfully chaotic. It's easy to grasp just by looking at it, but for those who need a few pointers, there's a robust tutorial system, as well as a Playbook mode that helpfully explains the game's more nuanced elements, like the individual classes and power-ups. It's a game that gets more intense with more players, which is why 3v3 online speaks particularly well to me. But it's just as easy to set up local multiplayer, along with bots of varying skill levels.
There's a lot of room for growth with Laser League, which is why I'm hopeful to see more game modes and different map setups eventually make it into the game. But as it stands, Laser League is a wildly fun multiplayer romp and has the potential to stamp itself as a great party game.
This review is based on an Xbox One digital code provided by the developer. Laser League is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, and the Xbox Live Marketplace for $14.99. The game is rated E10+.