Rocket League – Review

Title   Rocket League
Developer  Psyonix
Publisher  Psyonix
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Windows PC, OS X, Linux
Genre  Sports
Release Date  July 7, 2015

I’ve genuinely never been so annoyed to enjoy a game so much. What is that? Annoyed enjoyment? Is that an oxymoron? Fuck it; shut up – I’m wasting more time talking bollocks rather than telling you about Rocket League, a supremely ridiculously game from developers Psyonix that centres on a concept of playing football using cars with rockets strapped to their rear ends where the boot should be (and for all the confused North Americans, when I say ‘boot’ I’m referring to the ‘trunk’ which you’ll also find attached to Dumbo). That’s it for the concept though – you can guess again if you thought Rocket League was going to arrive, wax lyrical about its revolutionary story-telling, mould-breaking gameplay or mind-blowing graphics, ‘drop the mic’ and then walk out. Hell no. Rocket League has one ace up its sleeve; one trump card; one single secret that gives the finger to everything that has come before it – it’s just fun. That’s it – that’s the big reveal, it’s just fucking brilliant fun.

There is no plot to speak of, and why would there be? This is a game about driving rocket-propelled cars around a football pitch trying to hit a bouncy ball into a big net which, as a result, causes an explosion. Anyone demanding a story for this is a fucking moron, and if they disagree you can send them to me. No story – nothing, none, nada. When you’re having the sort of experiences that Rocket League generates, you make your own stories, create your own tales and adventures, even if they are confined to a steel cage that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Nike advert.

So what have you got to work with, if not a Shakespearean tale? As I’ve already mentioned you can face off against friends or AI (or both), competing to score the most goals in a game of football with rocket-propelled cars. The cars’ handling can take a little bit of getting used to, and I’d personally recommend playing the tutorial, a couple of exhibition games, or one of the shamefully average ‘seasons’ just so you can get up to speed with how everything works. It certainly isn’t complicated to get started, and within fifteen minutes you’ll be zooming around the pitch, up the sides and across the roofs of the cages, doing flips and corkscrews, chasing after the big silver ball. One of Rocket League’s greatest strengths is its accessibility – the fact that someone who has never played it before can just pick it up and be half decent at it in virtually no time.

The games are set up as being anything from 1v1 (fast but tactical affairs) to 4v4 (like trapping eight randy teenagers in a Mini Cooper with one copy of Maxim). From here there is only one game type to speak of, which seems like a shame given there might have been an opportunity to include some more modes, or at least tried to change up proceedings a bit. Alas, as much as it’s an opportunity missed  you still have a great premise to play with. It’s quite simply just football – there isn’t any gimmick or change-up of the rules, other than it has been simplified. There are no throw-ins, corners, or offsides. You simply have two goals and the ability to nudge the ball around the field. The caged pitches mean that you never get a break in play aside from when a goal is scored, when everyone either cheers or curses and gets treated to a little five-second replay, usually showing some incredible feat of skill, luck, or a blend of both.

Although the whole thing sounds pretty shallow (and, to a degree, it actually is) Rocket League has managed to fall into that niche few games do – ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. Any idiot can press the accelerate button, charge headlong into a ball and bounce it around the pitch. It doesn’t even take much to pick up a few cheeky tricks like learning how to forward flip, corkscrew, backflip, and rocket glide. Thanks to the car and ball physics, none of these are redundant moves, and each has a place within the gameplay. Even the power-slide button, seemingly useless at first, becomes invaluable when you need to scoot back to your goal and get attempt to get face-on to the ball as soon as possible.

As easy as it is to get started, the real champions of this game are the players who master how to control the car. The two biggest challenges are redirection of a moving ball when you’re trying to shoot, and trying to play as goal keeper. For the former, most people are knocking the ball in the direction of the goal and letting the bounce and ricochet work its magic to get the win. Although I’ve spent some time with the game, I’m not by any means a ‘master’ of controlling the ball, but I have mastered angling the car and understanding the likelihood of the impact I’ll have, as well as what direction the ball will go in. Players who have really nailed it will be able to use the rocket glide to direct airborne balls – something I won’t be able to do for a while. Trying to defend the goal is equally as tricky, thanks to the frequency and ease of putting the ball into your own net. When goal keeping you need to make sure someone isn’t waiting to poach the rebound and you also need decent spatial awareness given the speed that the opposition, ball, and even your own team are moving at.

As I’ve already mentioned, though, none of the challenge ever feels frustrating, and no loss is ever gutting because you’re just having so much fun. This may not be the case for one-on-one games, as I’ve mostly been playing two-on-two or more. Even the season mode – which is little more than an excuse to practice, farm trophies or unlock car decorations – is enjoyable thanks to the semi-intelligent AI on show. Psyonix have created something that is just plain fun, regardless of whether its your first game or your hundredth. The game itself has all the depth of a Petri dish, but what it does have, it does so well that you can forgive almost anything else.

Except bad servers – the only real downside to this package is that there are some truly awful server antics going on out there, and I can only assume Psyonix weren’t expecting this level of interest, nor were they expecting that they’d have so many players from all over the globe. Everyone is trying to get some match-making going and it’s a very mixed kettle of fish. I can get on a UK-based server and get horrendous lag and a 300+ ping, but then connect to something on the West Coast of America and get something that’s perfectly playable for hours on end. The next day, the opposite will be true, which is slightly jarring. All that being said, this is getting better week on week, so I’m hoping that Psyonix have dispatched someone to feed whatever animal is running on the server cogs.

Rocket League runs on the Unreal Engine 3 and looks pretty good for it. The pitches and cars are vibrating with colour, with all the little modifications you can make to your cars allowing for a certain amount of identity and originality. Everything blurs just a fraction when you use your boost or jets, and plumes of pre-selected smoke come flying out the rear end of your car. There isn’t a whole lot to say about the graphics, but they look good and the developers have done well to make this a colourful and attractive affair.

By comparison, the music is a very strange beast because I was originally very critical of it, given that it sounds like any old electro-dance-pop number and could easily be the backing to any European country’s Eurovision entry, but it has since grown on me, and this certainly isn’t a game that I’d mute and overlay with my own music anymore. The music is composed by the Psyonix sound designer with additions from American band Hollywood Principle. As I’ve said, at first I wasn’t a fan, but having given it some time, its strangely catchy.

Aside from its accessibility, Rocket League’s strongest power is its longevity – it’s just a shame the developers didn’t realise they were on to such a good concept. The actual premise and gameplay is as tight and fluid as I’ve seen from a multiplayer game in years, and it’s highly addictive. It’s got plenty of pulling power, but there could still be so much more. There are a handful of cars, motifs, hats, and aerials to equip your cars but it’s all cosmetic. Why aren’t the bigger cars harder to shunt, but slower overall? Why aren’t the smaller cars faster, but burn out quicker? Is this a missed opportunity? It’s virtually impossible to say, because in messing with the formula, it may unravel the very thing that makes Rocket League excellent, which is its simplicity. There may not be much meat on the bones, but it is really good meat – messing with that may sour what little there is on offer. That being said though, once the unlocks are done and you’ve hit the level cap (if there is one) you are literally left with the gameplay. This is a good thing for the most part – I just hope that it continues to be enough for the players.

  • Amazingly good fun
  • Really easy to pick up and play
  • Tight, fluid gameplay
  • A highly refreshing multiplayer experience
  • Servers can be unreliable.
  • Concerns over future content

As of the middle of July, Rocket League had been downloaded over four million times and had just shy of 200,000 concurrent players. That's a fantastic achievement and shows that the game and community has plenty of legs to it. I do hope that there are future updates, releases, patches, or anything to keep the content coming. Given how tight the gameplay is, this could be extra stages, extra balls, different modes - it doesn't need to mess with the basic formula - just add to it. I said at the start of this review that I was 'genuinely annoyed' to be enjoying this game and the reason for that is simple. After spending a lot of the last ten years playing multiplayer games, from Call of Duty to Fifa, to Dawn of War, I had been absent for almost the last two years, having become quite disinterested and jaded with the whole concept. This allowed me time to focus on my backlog of single-player games. That time, for all intents and purposes has once again been stolen. With that in mind, I've never been so happy to be agitated. I didn't know I needed Rocket League in my life and chances are you probably don't either. Go and give it a try. It might just irritate you enough to get addicted to it.

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One Comment

  1. Rook says:

    I was intigued by this game as friends had been talking about the fun they had with the original game on PS3; Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars. The fact that it was free on PS+ meant it was accessible to a lot more players to try out. I have had good fun playing Rocket League and getting better at being in goal.

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