“Rocket League” Review
Psyonix’s second RC car soccer game is one of the best sports games in recent memory.
What Is It?
Psyonix made a good first step in figuring out how to make the idea of RC cars playing indoor soccer work with Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, even though it was certainly rough around the edges and needed more work to truly reach the potential it offers. With Rocket League, I believe that Psyonix has nailed that concept completely. They’ve tightened and polished the core mechanics so that it plays like a dream that is accessible for the more casual players out there while having the depth to let the veterans do great things that dazzle most and frustrate others at the same time. This is probably the best sports game I’ve played in a long time.
The problem with SARPBC was that its offerings of modes obfuscated the core fun of driving around the arenas, pulling off acrobatic moves, and the pure sport of competition with things like minigames and tournaments against AI teams that put the focus on the wrong parts of the game. Rocket League throws that superfluous stuff out and offers just pure multiplayer here against bots, friends on the couch in split-screen mode, or online with up to seven other players or any combination of those three options. The only way it gets close to the original’s weird modes is its season mode that is more of a way to capitalize on its sports focus of the game with some basic standings and stat tracking when you want to play solo in games that aren’t just exhibition matches.
Why Should I Care?
Where Rocket League really shines is in the online multiplayer as you’ll get no better way to learning how to best play the game than in live competition. Each match begins with players lined up on opposite sides as they crash into the ball situated in the center of the arena as the ball is put into play so that the chaos can begin. Players have the expect brake/gas buttons on the triggers, but then you add on boost, jump, and emergency stop buttons to fill out your compliment of basic moves with combinations of those actions. The depth is added with double jumps, flips and spins, and aerial moves that make the skillful players beautiful to watch while the rest of us look foolish. All around the arena are boost pads to help you fill up your boost meter to let you speed around the arena or get some extra force into shots, passes, or defensive moves.
Your goal is to obviously get the ball into the net on the opponent’s side of the arena, but how you do so requires skill and coordination to set-up teammates that usually doesn’t happen if you or your teammates play like maniacs that drive at the ball non-stop without any tactical ambitions behind it. That is certainly how most of us were when we started, but most players I see move beyond that as they play more of the game and learn the strategies that are necessary to succeed. To help with that aspect of the game, online multiplayer is separated into a variety of playlists based on team size and ranked/unranked play that lets you jump in for the level of commitment to quality play that you prefer.
Ranked has some issues since there wasn’t an elegant way for those left behind when a teammate quits mid-match when I recently played that playlist, which is unfortunate with rage quitting being a big problem for many multiplayer games these days. The other major issue with Ranked are the people that are too concerned about their ranking points, so they initiate a forfeit vote quickly when they fall behind instead of trying to fight back into a game since comebacks are not rare in Rocket League. The other issue I’ve seen in multiplayer in general is that one person with a terrible ping that gets into games with me that causes major issues with warping that is a big buzzkiller since the vast majority of my matches are smooth, but I’d love to see Psyonix figure out a better way to keep those with bad pings out of groups of similarly good connections to minimize those issues even further.
Though the game plays so well, there is another instrumental part to Rocket League’s appeal in its cosmetic items. With almost every completed match comes a new cosmetic item from new cars down to new paint jobs, tires, decals, boost trails, toppers, and antenna flags that let you customize your cars to a great degree that ultimately has no effect on the gameplay, but you’ll probably have some placebo effects because your car looks so cool or dumb. The one issue is that with all of the items that have been added in updates or DLC, the lack of loadout options so you can switch to new styles of cars quickly is a minor disappointment in an otherwise great game.
The post-launch support for Rocket League has been nothing short of amazing as the developers took the opportunity they were handed when it became a PlayStation Plus title at launch on PS4 and focused on updates and cosmetic DLC to keep players engaged while allowing for more money to come in, which has worked out well with the recent announcement that they’ve nearly reached nine million players after six months on the market on PS4 and PC. The developers have been on the ball to add new stuff to the game for free in the form of new arenas, new modes and features, and even new cosmetic items to give people more reasons to keep playing or return if they dared to play something else. The DLC are all cosmetic items with two new cars in each pack and a bunch of related items to mix and match with them along with new trophies or achievements to earn, which have been very popular purchases for PS4 players repaying the developers for offering such a great game to them for free with PS+ at launch.
In particular, the mutators have been an awesome addition to bring in some Unreal Tournament-style customization to the rules of the game. They allow for a game where the gravity is low like you’re on the moon or the ball is extremely bouncy and hard to predict or the ball is a cube and bounces accordingly or even a weird mode where everybody within a certain distance of the ball moves in slow motion like you’re experiencing framerate or connection issues. They’ve made that stuff into its own unranked multiplayer playlist called Mutator Mashup that is a blast to jump in and experience the goofiness of whatever it randomly cooks up with each new game. You can mess with this stuff in local matches if you want to try out some gametype ideas of your own.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Rocket League is one of those rare sports games that serves both the casual and hardcore crowds really well in ways that we see out of games like NFL Blitz, NBA Jam, Tecmo Super Bowl, NHL 94, and others with the surprising thing here being that Rocket League isn’t based on an already established sport. It’s a spin-off of indoor soccer that is easily accessible by almost anybody in ways that current iterations of FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer could never do without simplifying their mechanics and rules to get rid of the stuff most people don’t care about. Rocket League doesn’t have to be realistic and benefits greatly from that.
With Cross-Play support between PS4 and Steam players, Rocket League’s community has stayed active for almost the entirety of its six month existence with the server downtime at launch due to overwhelming demand being the only serious issues we’ve seen. The future of Rocket League looks to be strong with Psyonix confirming more big updates and cool DLC for 2016, which is exciting having followed them this far after purchasing every pack of DLC. The only potential disappointment coming up is the Xbox One release of Rocket League that has been confirmed to not support Cross Play with at least Steam players, so the pool of players there could be in serious jeopardy if the game isn’t a Games With Gold title at launch. I may still jump on that version to have a go-to game on Xbox One whenever I boot it up.
|Platform:||PlayStation 4, PC|
|Release Date:||July 7, 2015|
|Editor's Note:||This copy of the game was provided free via PlayStation Plus at launch. $12 has been spent by the reviewer on the DLC as it has come out. The reviewer has spent over 15 hours of in-game time playing the game, as in time spent in matches that usually last about five minutes each.|