There isn’t a whole lot to explain when it comes to Rocket League. When people ask what it is I tell them that it’s soccer with cars. This much is true, because Rocket League’s unrelenting ability to entertain doesn’t require a complex foundation of expansive gameplay elements. Instead it revels in its simplicity and predilection for fun.
You’d be forgiven for not playing Rocket League’s predecessor, let alone hearing of it. Developer Psyonix released Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars in 2008 and the game received little fanfare. Aside from possessing the most Japanese title for an American game ever, SARPBC (it’s succinct nickname) just couldn’t find an audience upon its release on PS3, thanks in part to some unimpressive graphics and a woeful online component.
But here we are, 7 years later and Psyonix had tapped into Sony’s continued dedication to pushing indie developers and marketed their game in the best way possible. Opening up a beta on PC and releasing Rocket League for free through the Playstation Plus service, their unique sports title is being downloaded and played at a staggering rate. And it isn’t hard to find the appeal.
For all of the simplicity in it premise, Rocket League’s learning curve is quite the opposite. The gameplay consists of little more that driving your rocket propelled car around a closed off arena, collecting turbo pickups and attempting to knock an oversized ball into the oppositions goal. How you do that is where Rocket League’s difficulty rears it head. There are 4 variations of matches you can participate in: 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4, and depending on which one you select, they get exponentially more chaotic. The desire to play 1v1 will quickly fade after you get a glimpse of the potential for unrivaled fun when adding multiple cars. Better played with a friend (Rocket League supports split screen and online), strategy begins to become a staple of your routine. Do you attack the ball with everyone else or hang back in goals at the risk of a freak shot? Do you attempt to hit the ball at the very right angle and score or bounce it off the wall, centering it to your teammate and picking up an assist? Are you going to time that volley right or make a complete ass out of yourself and miss completely (trust me, it’s usually the latter)?
Rocket League is every bit predicated on tactical play as much as it it bat-shit crazy flooks. I’ve seen one too many goals – as well as executed them – bounce off a wall in the back half of the field and land directly in the middle of a goal. And you will know exhilaration when this happens. Driving up walls, speeding the full length of the field for a save and doing a barrel roll into a perfectly placed set up is enough to make you yell like you’re at an actual soccer game. It can all get incredibly tense and there isn’t a great deal in Rocket League that isn’t out of your control.
With the advent of a new generation, Psyonix were able to polish their product in a way that SARPBC could never benefit from. Its a lovely looking game. Each pitch feels wonderfully distinct whether they are bathed in neon or seemingly dumped in the middle of a futuristic city, as trains roar past in the background. Blades of grass are crisp and lush and Rocket League bursts with colour and vibrancy. Goals are an impressive highlight -The ball explodes into a cloud of smoke erupting the goals and launching all nearby cars into the air.
There isn’t a huge importance placed on sound design in Rocket League, however it does have a great ambiance. Crowds roar and chant and don’t be surprised if you hear some vuvuzelas go off in the background too. Cars sound good as well, especially when your turbo kicks in.
Although it isn’t exactly robust, customisation is fun and you’re bound to spend a bit of time in its menu. Cars don’t differ in terms of stats but it’s nice to switch them up every now again just for kicks. You can change the decals and wheels and attach some really cool rocket trails for when you boost like money or snowflakes. You can also have a laugh trying out different hats and antennas for your hotrod, SUV’s and sports cars. It’s silly but that’s the point and that replay of your killer goal looks that much better when you’re wearing a sombrero.
Unlocking different items simply comes from playing and more importantly winning, but you’ll do this quicker by acquiring different awards during the game. Things like bicycle kicks and knocking the ball in mid air will net you small amounts of XP while getting goals, saves and assists will grant you larger ones. It’s always fun getting rare awards such as bumping the opposition into the ball to score (pool shot), scoring from a great distance (long shot) or saving the ball inches from a goal (epic save).
Aside from a quick exhibition match, you can jump into a season with different lengths or take your rides online with up to 3 friends. Online is really where it’s at. It gives winning much more of a prestigious feel, especially when you score that coveted goal in overtime. Servers hold up great (providing you select the correct region) and matchmaking is super fast. If opponents leave, others will drop in or worse comes to worst, you can still finish the match against AI and collect all that XP you worked for. On the odd occasion that you do have to wait, the ‘lobby’ is an empty arena – ball included – where you and your buddies can practice until a game starts.
Rocket League encompasses that fundamental feeling we all seek when we play video games; Fun. I’ve said it multiple times but even someone who doesn’t like soccer or cars will be able to find enjoyment in flipping through the air, thrusting the ball into the back of the net with only seconds left on the clock… While wearing a wizards hat. If it does prove to be a novelty, it’s going to take a while to wear off, even more so now that Psyonix has promised continued support and added content in the future.
Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Chaotic, frenetic fun, Pretty visuals; Terrific online component
Lowlights: Cars don’t have personal stats
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (via PSN)