I won’t lie – the main reason my fellow Goomba Stomp writers and I stopped by 505 Games’ private both at E3 was mainly to check out Bloodstained, so when we were first asked to sit down and play a few matches of a competitive arena-based game that involved running around and dodging neon laser walls, my initial reaction was to simply be polite, shake hands with the friendly developers, and hope to soon move on to more-anticipated things. What a difference a few sweet victories (and some bitter defeats) can make. Though Laser League is easy enough to pick up and play, its depth of gameplay styles and potential for cooperative strategy (my favorite kind) slowly began to sink in, eventually causing a demo that had previously felt like a delay to instead feel too short.
The concept of Laser League sounds a bit weird when it’s being quickly (and passionately) explained out loud by excited reps, but once you get your hands on a controller, it doesn’t take long for the general idea to click into place. Players team up to take control of an arena by eliminating members of the opposing squad by manipulating various nodes that will emit deadly beams of light that correspond to their color. These nodes might fire off a laser, or possibly project some sort of wall, either stationary or spinning, which will take down adversaries if they come in contact remains safe to those who initiate it. Of course, your rivals are trying to do the same thing to you, so the contest becomes a frantic chess match of combatants scurrying around the map, engaging nodes and trying to spread their own color while at the same time avoiding the laser traps created by their foes.
To further enhance/complicate things (if you’re not already confused), players can choose between different classes that each have a special ability that can be activated for defensive or offensive aid, and random appearances of power-ups that alter the situation can also quickly turn the tide. Knowing how best to utilize these individual skills and shared power-ups is key, and our demo showcased a multitude of ways to both win and lose. One match, in particular, saw momentum swing three times in a matter of seconds, as a fully-controlled board that looked to squeeze one team off the map was threatened by the sudden appearance of an ability that caused the colors of the lasers to flip – a miracle chance for one side, and a potential disaster for the other (mine). As I watched my opponent race toward the power-up and a what would surely be my undoing, I remembered that I was playing as a Blade, a class that has a special laser-sword attack that can be used when a certain meter is filled. I dashed toward him, both of us in desperation, and just as he had nearly reached his goal I unleashed a perfectly-timed slash that cut him down and prevented an embarrassing defeat.
It may not come across well in written form, but those final moments were as tense and ultimately satisfying as any I’ve had in competitive play; Laser League‘s appeal is definitely more apparent once you get your hands on it. As we continued on with more matches, I enjoyed learning how to work within the confined space, conferring with my teammate (Goomba Stomp’s own Tim Maison) to develop strategies to bait our opponents into traps, breach their walls, raid their nodes, and keep those laser walls constantly closing in. The balance of aggression vs defense leads to a whole spectrum of ways to go about your laser business, as the risks of any tactic must always be weighed against the rewards. Experimenting with different classes furthered those notions, as we discovered how the Thief can steal nodes before they turn off, or how the sniper can lurk in the corner, waiting to take out the careless with a precision shot. Hopefully, this depth will keep the relatively simple objective from getting stale over time, and a wide variety of arenas, which actually do require tactical changes, should also help maintain some freshness.
Laser League is fast and fun, but it’s also helped by an 80s arcade vibe that reminded me of classics like Smash TV, as well as an aesthetic that brought to mind cheesy sci-fi movies like Tron and The Running Man (though that last one might just be my own odd association). Though there won’t be any sweet laser motorcycles or Arnold Schwartzeneggers in spandex, so players will have to live out their 80s fantasies on foot, but the roar of the crowd as some dope gets mulched up by your rotating laser wall of doom should still elicit thrills. Supporting up to 4 v 4 matches, both online and off, Laser League looks to be a great way to engage in some action-packed competitive play, and hopefully won’t need to sneak up on anyone by the time it releases in 2018.
* Note: The game is currently in Closed Beta stage. to register, head here