If there's been one winner in gaming this summer, it's been Rocket League. Psyonix's "SocCar" racing/soccer hybrid has ridden an empty release window, wide availability, and positive press to become the surprise hit of the summer. The question now is whether it has legitimate staying power, or if it's a fad that will fade as meatier games start dropping in August.
I wrote about some of Rocket League's virtues last week, highlighting its appeal to non-sports fans, its goofy customization, and its strength as a local multiplayer game. It's the kind of game that I might have enjoyed with friends on the Nintendo 64 back in the day.
And as it turns out, it's a great palette cleanser. I jumped into it last night after a long run through Bloodborne, playing a thrilling match that saw my team go down a member early on before rallying with three goals in the final two minutes to tie the score. Such games are common in Rocket League, and their rapidfire nature nicely balance more time intensive games like Bloodborne and The Witcher 3.
Of course games like Rocket League come and go. I was discussing it with a friend a couple days ago, and they opined that it would be a short-lived sensation that would drop off the collective radar in a month or two. I can see both sides of the argument.
The case for Rocket League continuing to thrive
Rocket League sits on a terrific foundation. At its very core, it's just ridiculously fun to race around an arena with sloped walls and try to knock a ball into the goal, and it's made even better by cars flipping through the air and crashing into one another. Rocket League also brings with it a great sense of speed that makes scoring attempts and saves thrilling.
I wouldn't call it incredibly deep - even it's possible to choose from a variety of cars - but there is definitely a degree of skill required. "Heading" the ball out of the air with a properly timed jump is particularly difficult. It fits nicely into the familiar "easy to pick up, difficult to master" niche that can give competitive games a long lifespan.
Rocket League is relatively new, so it doesn't have a dedicated community site yet, but give it time. Its subreddit has reached 46,000 readers and is still growing, and outlets like Twitch and Youtube have provided similar places for fans to gather. Some of them are bound to stick around.
In the meantime, being free for PlayStation Plus subscribers is proving to be a boon for Rocket League, and its availability on Steam means that those who don't have a PlayStation 4 can enjoy it as well. The bigger the community gets, the more likely that it will become self-sustaining. At that point, it will be up to Psyonix to keep up their enthusiasm with a steady stream of new content.
The case for Rocket League falling off
I don't know how many times I can write this, but Rocket League truly is the right game for the right time of year. It couldn't have timed its arriveal any better. It's a widely available arcade game that's incredibly fun to play in the era of Twitch. Hindsight is 20/20, but it's not surprising that word-of-mouth has propelled it to immediate success.
As I said, though, it doesn't strike me as being particularly deep. It has customizable parts and a multitude of cars to choose from, but customization doesn't seem to be a huge part of the overall experience. Ranked play is enjoyable, but it lacks the stickiness of a bigger, more refined competitive mode like FIFA Ultimate Team. No, it's not fair to compare Rocket League to one of the biggest sports sims around; but for better or worse, FIFA will be its competition in a month or two.
Rocket League's comparative lack of depth is both a strength and an achilles heel. It's brilliant for getting people into the game and keeping them there for a little bit; but once they start to drift away, there's nothing to reel them back in outside of the occasional party. Again, it's probably not fair to judge a downloadable game by such standards, but that's the difference between being a fun novelty and a long-term success.
In Rocket League terms, the ball has dropped in the center of the arena and there's no one between Psyonix and the goal. They can either slam it home with a boost and score, or they can watch someone else nudge it out of the way.
To their credit, Psyonix seems to be aware of the opportunity at hand. In a recent interview with PlayStation Universe, a Psyonix spokesperson called the developer's future plans for Rocket League "very aggressive," promising a mix of free and paid DLC including new maps. The eSports community has also taken notice, with the ESL setting up European and North American division for Rocket League. The first "Kick Off Cup" was held on July 12.
With Rocket League having now surpassed 4 million downloads across the PC and the PlayStation 4, there's every chance for it to continue to thrive through 2016 and beyond. But even if it doesn't, Psyonix can still count it as a huge and unexpected win.