It’s been a long time since we’ve sat down to play a game and been instantly taken in by it. Most RPGs don’t become that addictive until you’ve shovelled away at least a dozen or so hours.
We don’t like game tutorials in principle here, but we highly suggest you complete them in Rocket League. The instant you’ve completed a few steps in them you’ll understand what the game is about and why it’s so enticing.
Rocket League is based on soccer; there are two goals on either side of a fields and two teams of players. The winning team is the one that scores the most goals. What separates it from Fifa and Pro Evo are the players. There are no preening multi-millionaires here, only cars. And not just any cars, rocket cars.
What separates these rocket cars from normal four-wheeled vehicles is the fact that they can jump, double jump and boost. The combination of those three features, plus the ability to move while airborne means that any given match will consist of a veritable circus of cars flying through the air, trying manically to score goals.
The ability for your car to be an acrobat is aided by the field. Much as is the case with indoor soccer, the ball is only ever out of play when a goal is scored.
There are no sidelines for it to gently roll out of, stopping play for a throw in or corner kick. Instead, the edges of the field curve upwards to the walls, which again curve to a roof. These walls also offer a bit of magnetism to the cars, meaning a wall never turns into a dead end or corner, but rather a continuation of the field. With enough boost you’ll be able to do a full loop of the field, its walls and and the roof.
You don’t stick to it too strongly, though. If you loose speed you’ll slide off the wall, or you can choose to jump of it when you please.
This extra dimension of area means you always have more options to approach a situation than you initially thought.
The “regular” floor of the field offers some interesting features too. It is littered with points that fill your boost meter. Most of them only provide a small boost, but certain pads in the corners of the floor will refill your boost meter completely.
The floor of the arena is also divided with a centre circle and halfway line. Each section closest to the goals are bathed in the colour of its team to help players who lose their bearings at any point.
The soundtrack helps immensely in creating the real atmosphere of competition. A virtual crowd will cheer and celebrate when you score it chants a countdown from the last ten seconds of the game.
We’re saving our favourite for last, though. Scoring a goal in this game feels good. It feels great. And it feels great every time it happens. Once the ball passes the goal line it disappears in a massive explosion that sends nearby cars flying. The boom accompanying it never fails to hit a cord; it becomes an ear-worm that tempts you back to the game.
While the field does give you a lot of options, it’s really the cars that make this game.
When you’re not on the field there are a host of customisation options. The eleven car types aren’t branded vehicles, but gearheads out there will be able to see where the developer Psyonix got the inspiration for the models.
An important thing to note about the cars are that, while they have many designs and some are obviously bigger than others, they have the same mass and behave almost identically. A developer spoke on Reddit about the hitboxes for the models:
The differences in hitboxes are much more subtle than you might expect. A boxy-looking car seems like it needs a bigger hitbox because the car itself would in reality be more massive. However since all our cars are boxes, boxy-looking cars fill out the hit box more but sleek cars usually have protrusions which require us to have the same size hitbox anyway. Both of them would have the same mass and physics response. As a rule, we only allow very small variances anyway.
On top of the body designs you can change colours, wheels, decals, toppers (hats), flags and “rocket trail”. You can unlock everything through normal play at the moment, but more could be added through DLC or microtransactions (or just given away if Psyonix feels generous).
For the most part your little metallic avatar is invincible, able to bounce back into the action after an endless stream of eye-watering crashes. You can, however, temporarily remove an opponent by slamming into them while boosting at full speed. You will get some points, but they’ll soon pop back into existence.
The game of the game
As we mentioned earlier, it’s worth completing the game’s tutorial modes before you head into a real match. Although the game has no predefined positions for players to..uh, play, you can train in “Goalie”, “Striker” or ‘Aerial”. Rather than referring to positions, Goalie and Striker focus on saving and scoring goals respectively. Aerial lets you hone you skill in the air by reaching floating balls.
These three tutorial modes all come in three difficulties (“Rookie”, “Pro” and “All Star”). We were barely able to complete the Rookie mode, and we failed to pass more than a single challenge in Pro and All Star, but some of that was down to our own ineptitude.
Finally a “Free Play” option rounds out the training.
Now, to more “serious” modes.
“Season” is the closest Rocket League has to a campaign. A lot of the types of seasons you can play are customisable. You can tinker with the game’s difficulty, your team size (1V1 up to 4V4), season length (9 games up to 36) and the amount of teams in the playoffs. You also get to choose a team name and emblem, which will affect your team colours.
Your AI team mates and opponents do their their jobs surprisingly well. Even on the lowest difficulty they’ll jump and fly through the air to try and get the ball. They’re not perfect, however; at some stage, the urge to throw controller through the air will seize you when, say, you lose a game because of one of your AI teammates scored an own goal.
“Exhibition” let’s you muck about with single games, and you’ll finally be able to choose your favourite out of the seven available fields. There are also two extra difficulty modes: “Solo” and “Unfair”. Solo is very similar to training’s Free Play and Unfair will let you fend off against multiple bots on your lonesome. Expect to be massacred.
Finally there’s online mode.The normal game can be played from 1V1 up to 4V4, but the Ranked online play does not have a 4V4 option, and you’ll be able to select your region as either Europe, Oceania, US East and US West. Unfortunately there’s no Asian or African regions yet, so you’ll always have to put up with a fair bit of lag.
Lag by the way, can become a huge problem, due to the speed matches move at. Cars sometimes seem to phase in and out of your HUD as if they just exited hyperspace, knocking you off course or scoring a surprise goal. For the most part the ball remains visible, but it has the nasty habit of flying about like a deflated balloon, which makes hitting it far too difficult.
We’d love to see some improved net code to sort this out, or some servers closer to home. If Rocket League really takes you in you’ll have to bear with it for now.
To help match people with those of a similar skill level, the ranked matches will have a constant “Score” attached to them. You will start at 100 and winning, losing and performing in game will raise or lower this score.
Speaking of score, every game ends with an FPS-like rundown for each player. Almost every action in game contributes to this score, and it racks up your experience points.
We’re a bit confused as to what the experience points and the levelling system actually does in the game. At level 12 we were billed as “Semi-pro” but would often be paired against lower level “Rookie” players when playing unranked online matches. A cause of this may be that we earned most of those levels in offline play, and the online mode only looks at past online experience. Another explanation could be that the levels are just there to act as a system to give you a sense of progression and to unlock parts for the cars.
As you may have guessed by now, we recommend picking up this game as it’s more than worth its asking price.
As a potential eSport, it has a bright future. There’s already a community around it which the developers actively partake in (its subreddit already has almost 50 000 subscribers already) and the ability to play against opponents across the PC and PS4 versions will mean the player-base feels big no matter where you play. Oh, and it’s immense fun to watch.