Chances are you’ve heard about Rocket League already. Coming out about a month ago, Rocket League was off to the races right from the start. Sequel to the relatively successful Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars on PS3, Rocket League has many of the same features with a lot of professionalism added. The ultimate goal? Boost, jump and push your way through the other team’s defences and land the ball in your opponent’s net. Car, meet your blind date, Football.
I first tried my hand Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars a couple years back with a friend. He explained the ridiculous nature of the game and made me try it. I liked it, it was quirky and fun. Fast forward to present, a new game called Rocket League came out and it’s by the same developers, surely this will be amazing. That’s exactly what it is, having spent the last month with the game. I feel like I’ve exhausted what I can do, and yet I still want more.
Rocket League has a great variety of gameplay options. While it always boils down to Orange and Blue teams, gameplay changes drastically between the tense 1v1 match ups, to the mayhem of 4v4 games. Matches of 2v2 and 3v3 are also valid options, every team size is unique to its gameplay but not that the game is changing. It’s you, your team dynamic is what’s changing and that’s quite impressive. Games play out over a 5 minute match, but just like any sport, will go longer. Every goal is followed by the ball exploding and a skippable replay of the goal. The replay requires everyone to skip before it actually does. Personally I feel a “majority vote” would be more appropriate, having something like 75% of players pressing the skip to actually skip it.
Partying up has been made easy with Steam’s interface, however it’s currently impossible to party with players on PS4. Devs have already said they’re working on fixing that. Even without a party, communication is simple as the d-pad acts as quick chat. Each direction has a category like Compliments, and pressing a direction again will input a different compliment like “Nice Shot”. Joining people’s parties opens up several options. Going into games together will mark you as a party, a tell for the other team to be afraid of your organization. Using splitscreen online is also available. Splitting with up to 4 players works in any configuration of the game, and is made even more comfortable if you’ve got multiple monitors and some tech smarts. I played the game with a resolution of 5960×1080 with 4 players and had zero fps loss.
Private matches are also an option, allowing you to take part in AI matches. AI ranges from Rookie, to Pro, to All-Star. For the daring players in a party of 3 or less, there’s also “Unfair” which allows you to play against a team larger than your own. For those looking to get better, there’s a free play mode and exceedingly helpful tutorials for goalies, strikers, and even aerial hits.
Customization is fantastic. There are 10 cars currently, and 2 more just released. All vehicles have almost the same hitbox, with the exception of Merc who seems to have a small advantage if it’s the only car to hit the kick-off as explained by an insightful player here. While the intention of the developers was to keep all vehicles the same for a balanced game, it seems there are some physical changes, most notably when shorter cars, like Paladin or Venom, tend to dig into the field and get turned around if they land nose first too steep.
Car models aside, there’s also colors, paint types, vinyls, hats, antennas, and boost trails. Colors for either team have good variety allowing to set variations of red to orange for Orange team and sky blue to purple for the Blue team, as well as setting any color as a vinyl accent to your paint. Hats and antennas can be added to give your car some character or humor, or even represent your country with a flag on your antenna tip. Boost trails are probably the coolest thing to play with, with a wide array of sounds, colors, and styles to unlock, you come to anticipate what you’ll find next. Be it “Thermal” which sounds like a space shuttle, or “Flowers” trailing behind you with the distinct sound of hippies.
As of current, map selection is tame, consisting of the field, a surrounding drivable wall, and boost pickups. Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars had 6 varied terrains to play with, each offering to use different skills. Some were bumpy and required better aerial play, while another had space above the net to reinvent shots from above. Rocket League has none of that, all its fields are exactly the same with only aesthetic changes. And yet despite their attempt to balance the game as much as possible, it’s still wildly varied and entertaining just by playing with different people.
The levels are pretty and detailed, and interacting with the ball and other players carries weight. I do however feel as disconnect when it comes to aerial hits. Often times I’ll not be able to tell how close to the ball I am if I can’t see the ground. I’m not sure how ubiquitous this will be or if it’s something that will only affect a group of people. There are people who seem to have no issue at all. But take that with a grain of salt.
Despite what difficulties I’ve had, Rocket League has completely enamoured me and I’ll continue to play until I get better and even beyond. It’s simple in concept, but such a deep game. Every victory feels well achieved, and every loss is a learning experience. I’d like to see field variation for casual unranked games, maybe in the future. With great visuals and responsive controls, I wouldn’t be surprised if this became a fully-fledged e-sport with the way it’s going. Psst, it also looks wonderful on 3 monitors. It’s a little hard to look at your boost gauge in the right corner, but once you get a handle for the game, you don’t need it anyways.
Supersonic: Controls are simple and responsive. Sizing up plays with teammates feels very rewarding.
Acrobatic: Aerial maneuvers respond well. Grounded goals are cool, but aerials? #SWAG
Rocket-powered: Cars travel at the right speed, nothing’s too fast and nothing’s too slow.
Battle-cars: Cars dress-up well but physical differences of cars is so miniscule it doesn’t even matter.
Wanna See Me Do It Again?: It’s nice seeing the goal from a different angle, but can get repetitive.
No Sightseeing: No variation in fields other than aesthetics. (There are multiple, optional field types added with more to come).
It’s football (soccer for you ex-colonials) but with cars. At once something you never knew you wanted but so blatantly awesome you’ll never understand how you lived without it after playing. Each Rocket League match is a perfect blend between control and chaos; a perfect balance of sharp, responsive controls and simple but consistent physics that mix with the barely constrained insanity behind every interaction between cars and ball. You’ll flip and spin and probably spend a solid match singing the Spiderman theme (yes, the one Aerosmith covered) while driving on the walls and ceiling because gravity is more of a suggestion than rule in the Rocket League universe.
The graphics aren’t anything special, but they’re nice. Each pitch is spatially the same thing but feel unique thanks to lighting and decent background graphics. Meanwhile the sound effects are the modern equivalent of the loud, popular arcade machines you’d see in the early ’90s and were quickly turned down in favour of putting Dragula and Black Betty on repeat, only to find them still playing several hours later with no recollection of where the time went. Car customization isn’t purely cosmetic – there’s different cars that fall into three basic categories but all move at the same speed in both forwards and reverse but handle the ball differently thanks to their unique shapes; the Merc van is great at using its side to block shots, the oddly shaped Paladin introduces more chaos while the Breakout provides a nice squared wedge to get consistent results. There’s more cars than those and you’ll find your favourite and decorate it with crazy hats (yes, hats), paint jobs, decals and little antenna decorations like a smiley face ball or your national flag. It’s not a deep customization system but it gets the job done.
Overall Rocket League is pure joy. You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy the game and the standard 3v3 matches have that perfect chaos/control balance that keeps the game fun even when you’re losing. There’s an innocent joy to be had from the bouncing ball and cars flying every which way – it’s the videogame equivalent of throwing a dog’s favourite tennis ball at a child playing with a toy car then laughing your arse off at the ensuing awesome. This is a game that anyone even remotely interested should at least try, it does what it does almost perfectly and with no real competitors outside of 1994’s Street Racer it’s worthy of the elusive five stars.
Rocket League blasts onto the scene with such a simple concept that I’m dumbfounded it hasn’t been done to death by a thousand developers already. It’s one of those games that, once perfectly executed, comes across as an obvious success. It’s basically a simplified version of football, where the human players are replaced by RC cars. Sounds dumb, right? Who would enjoy that? Surprisingly, everyone seems to. It’s all in the execution. You and your team of up to three other players are to score as many goals as possible before the time runs out while preventing the opposing team from doing the same to you. Add in the ability to jump and boost (and for the really skilled players; a combination of the two), and you’ve basically got the entire game covered right there. While most game makers will have you believe that tossing in an over-abundance of unlockable perks and other gameplay-affecting things is the only way to make sure that a game stays relevant on the saturated modern gaming market, indie dev Psyonix seem to disagree. beside some cosmetic unlocks, there are no power-ups or stat-upgrades that give you an advantage. If you win, then it’s because you played better than your opponents rather than because you unlocked more stuff.
The game is heavily skill-based, but that doesn’t mean newcomers should stay away. The tutorials, practice mode and single player league mode against bots all help you learn the basics of the game. The decent (albeit not perfect) matchmaking system helps ease you into the multiplayer scene by making sure you’re – most of the time – matched against players of equal skill. You might still encounter some unfair matches in your early career due to the devs’ decision to use zero as the bottom skill tier in matchmaking and starting everyone at zero. In other words, even if you keep losing, you remain at zero skill, and skilled new players are thus able to beat you and use you as a stepping stone in their own play. A few tweaks to allow slower players to play each other in a skill-tier that goes below zero into the negative, would be beneficial. It’s by and large not a very big issue though, and playing with a friend or two should guarantee you a win every once in a while.
A few problems are of a more devastating nature. Like the fact that the European servers tend to suffer from lag. At least a third of all the matches I’ve played, have had problems with lag. And it’s a server-based issue, affecting all the players in the match. And though the devs have promised to fix the crashing issues, they remain prevalent to this day. When a player crashes out while loading into a regular match, it’s no big loss. A bot takes over, and it’s not half-bad at the job either. But during ranked play, there are no bots. If your buddy gets a crash while loading the match, you’re stuck fighting the enemy team with one man down. Not exactly fair, and definitely not fun. Beside these issues – that we’ve been promised will be sorted out in the near future – there’s little that stops me from recommending Rocket League. Like most real-world sports, it doesn’t need map packs and content-updates (though they’re already on the way, and free too!) to keep itself fresh and fun for dozens of hours. Do play it with a friend or two, though. That’s where most of the fun lies.