Psyonix' Rocket League was one of the surprise hits of last summer. Launched in July of 2015 on PC and PS4, it quickly garnered a fervent following, and went on to become both an Electronic Sports League and Major League Gaming eSport by the autumn.
I managed to miss it the first time around – shame on me – but now it's been released on Xbox One, I've had the chance to catch up with the game and see what the fuss is all about. And I have seen the light!
Rocket League is exceptionally simple in concept: It's basically a soccer game played with rocket-powered vehicles. Teams of players enter an enclosed arena, and attempt to score goals by driving around using their car to hit a giant-sized, very bouncy ball into the opposing team's net.
Cars can jump, which means players are capable of hitting the ball while it's in the air. Collisions are physics-based, and deliver quite realistic results, with the ball bouncing, rolling, and ricocheting off other cars and walls very convincingly. In a way, playing the game is a weird combination of soccer and pool, with the player essentially using their car as the head of a cue to hit the ball where they want it to go. Or not, as is often the case when you first start playing.
Dotted around the playfield are power boosts that, when driven over, add a charge to a car's rocket meter. This provides a temporary increase in speed that's ideal for quickly crossing the playfield or adding some extra oomph when you hit the ball. Speed boosts can also be used to ram and destroy opponents if you hit them while going flat out. Cars dispatched in this way quickly respawn and rejoin the action, but at a distance away from the ball.
As you might expect, Rocket League features a variety of game modes. Standard matches pit teams of three players against one another, but there are also options to play a duel against a single opponent, participate in a two on two game, or, if you really want a chaotic match, play four versus four. Rocket League also features a single-player League mode against bots, which is an ideal way of practicing the game, and split-screen local multiplayer modes.
While the overall objective is to score goals, players can also amass personal points by contributing positively to the game. Saving the ball from going into the net, clearing the ball, shots on goal, assists, trick shots, and good passes all increment the player's personal points tally, and at the end of the game this is converted into experience that boosts the player's level – along with points awarded for either a win or a loss.
As the player ranks up, new cars are unlocked, as well as decorative cosmetic items such as flags, antenna bobbles, boost trails, wheels, paint, decals, and "toppers" – hats that sit atop of your vehicle. These allow for quite comprehensive personalization of your collection of motors. Speaking of which, there is a wide variety of vehicle types to unlock, varying from a van through sports cars and monster trucks to off-road buggies. I love the way they're rendered: They remind me of the classic Micro-Machines toys – super-deformed, almost cartoon like, with big wheels and high beltlines. Although cars look different from one another, they all perform in the same way, making for an even playing field for all.
And that even playing field makes for some really intense competition. Rocket League is hugely fun – it's such a simple game to pick up and play, but it has a high degree of potential for mastery. When I first started, I was thrown in with other newbies who all just chased the ball around attempting to hit it. The result was a chaotic game with the ball randomly bouncing around, and most goals seemed to be scored more by luck than judgment. As I leveled up, though, I began to run into more experienced players, who were more considered in their positional play. They didn't chase after every ball, but would attempt to predict where it was going, so they could be there to meet it. I also noticed that some players took a more defensive tack, essentially goal tending most of the time, but moving forward when the opportunity presented itself.
Watching these more advanced players was quite the learning experience, and really helped me see the potential for skilled play. Although Rocket League's controls are quite simple, they enable a high degree of finesse, from being able to execute bicycle kicks through volleys to even dribbles. Timing is the key – once you learn how the ball bounces and moves, you can begin to predict where it might go, and be there to intercept it. Passing is also a possibility – particularly when you have a team whose members make space for themselves, rather than clustering around the ball playing kick and run. Indeed, one of my most memorable games was a 10-0 loss to a team that really worked well together. They had a dedicated defender, a midfield guy and an attacker that pounced on every cleared ball and seemed to score almost at will. They ran rings around my pickup group, and really opened my eyes to how well Rocket League can support tactical play when a team really plays like one.
I've put many hours into the game so far, and found it's incredibly addictive. A match only lasts five minutes, and when it's over, you can elect to jump straight into the next one. This makes downtime minimal, and results in it being very easy to find yourself playing game after game after game. Much of this has to do with the excellent matchmaking, which made most of my matches very well balanced in terms of player ability, and, as a consequence, resulted in many close-scoring games. Sure, you occasionally take a drubbing from a team that might have a superstar or two, but for the most part I found games keep you fighting until the very end. This further feeds into the addictive aspect of the game, and I ended up playing quite a number of rematches against teams that I either narrowly beat or lost to. That's definitely a testament to how well the game groups players and keeps the action excitingly close.
Bottom line, Rocket League is a brilliant multiplayer game that's been honed and fettled to perfection. What makes it so exceedingly good is that it creates great moments for all who participate. Whether it's the satisfaction of making a successful shot for the very first time, scoring a last-second goal, or pulling off a spectacular mid-air maneuver, Rocket League is simply a joy to play for players of all skill levels.
While it's easy to pick up and play, truly mastering this game takes many hours of practice. Plus there's a ton of collectibles to earn.
Packing some great tunes, Rocket League's very danceable soundtrack is upbeat and works perfectly for the game.
The visual presentation is excellent: The cars are very well designed, and the playfields are bright and colorful.
Rocket League is simple in concept - it's basically soccer with cars - yet it works brilliantly as a multiplayer game. It's incredibly easy to pick up as a beginner, but learning the intricacies of its controls takes many, many hours. And doing so is a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.