Sometimes there’s something magical about simplicity. The DualShock 4 has no less than 18 inputs, a necessity as our games grow increasingly complicated in design. Laser League takes a step back and puts the focus on a very simple premise. Don’t touch the laser walls. Positioned as a kind of sport, I’ve seen Laser League get compared to the likes of Rocket League and other seemingly simple, quick competitive games. Laser League has an identity all its own, but the simple competitive aspect of it is both pick up and play, while also having mountains of tactical nuances.
All you’ll need for a round of Laser League is a joystick and R1 button. The stick moves your character around the screen, scrambling to avoid the lasers, and the R1 button activates a class-dependent special ability, selected before the match. Players move around the arena attempting to activate white nodes, which then spawn lasers of their team’s color. If you run into the opposing teams lasers, you die. Lose all players on your team, and that’s match point for your opponents. Likewise, get them blasted by the lasers and you’ll find yourself taking your place on the podium. You can revive downed teammates by running over the icon at the location of their elimination.
The deceptively simple concept is full of complexities based on the arena you are competing in and which special abilities make up each team. Nodes produce moving lasers of different lengths and patterns, which vary from arena to arena. Power-ups will also spawn onto the battlefield, potentially tipping the scales in your favor as they do something unique to change the match. Maybe the lasers get sped up. Maybe they pause for a few moments. Perhaps gaps appear in the laser walls. These power ups add a bit of unpredictability and chaos to a game that is deceptively simple, but extraordinarily complex once you dive into the nuanced mechanics.
Step Into the Arena
No two arenas are created equally. The different levels make sure that every match feels unique, each requiring a completely different strategy from players to overcome. Laser nodes may seem unpredictable at first, but each arena has its own special pattern to it, and learning that pattern is key to not finding yourself stuck in a shrinking box of lasery death. There’s a wrap effect to the walls, meaning that if you go through one, you will wrap around to the opposite side of the arena, similar to old arcade titles. Mastering this mechanic becomes crucial to fooling your enemies, avoiding their lasers, and ultimately taking them down.
Aside from different laser patterns though, visually the arenas don’t actually change all that much. It still looks like I’m stuck in Tron. While not a bad aesthetic by any means, I did begin to tire of the bright neon lasers on a dark background. Can’t we go play Laser League on a beach somewhere? Maybe in a forest? I would have loved to see some unique arenas both visually and in obstacles provided to the player. Future support and updates might allow the developer to stretch their creative muscles with the arenas, and I really hope we get some unique content.
Able to be played both locally and online with real people and AI bots, there are a lot of ways to play Laser League. Sometimes it’s best to practice with the different class abilities to make sure you know how to use them properly. Using the shove ability without a good grasp on how it works can just as easily send you hurtling into an opponent’s laser wall. Trying to use expert abilities like stealing laser nodes is just as likely to get you eliminated as it is to win you the match. There’s a lot to be said for team makeups and countering enemy abilities with your own. It may be possible to get by without coordinating (and in the chaos of any given match, anything can happen), but synergy of abilities can play a huge role in victory.
Being both tactical and chaotic, no two matches ever really play the same. There are some amazing plays that come out of clever ability usage paired with using the wall warp. Watching yourself get caught in a closing death box of lasers is a devastating moment, but a teammate getting your revive for the win feels really good. There are plenty of shocking moments when the underdogs can come back in a big way to eke out a victory after seeming like they would for sure lose the match.
Live and Die By the Players
Where the fate of Laser League will be decided is in its online audience. Already I have had a tough time finding online matches. On a number of occasions, I joined a match only to find that two or three of the “players” were actually controlled by AI bots. The game just launched last week, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have found more success by mirroring Rocket League’s start: partnering with PS Plus to provide a huge initial boost to the game.
I’m also not sure if the game is cross-play compatible with the PC, but if it’s not, enabling this feature would help extend the life of a game that is almost completely reliant on how many people are playing it. It’s possible to play local matches and with AI bots, but the excitement and unpredictability just isn’t the same as challenging another team of three human opponents to a lasery deathmatch.
Laser League is an exciting competitive title that is–cliche incoming–easy to pick up and play, yet full of enough nuance that it’s tough to master. The fast paced frenetic nature makes it a game that can be played in short bursts, but also begs for just one more match. Its visual style could use some variation with future updates as the Tron look begins to wither the eyes, but the simple and stark visuals distinctly convey what the player needs to see. Largely reliant on an active player base, Laser League is the type of game that could have some real staying power long past its initial launch.
Laser League review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.