“The Ol’ Hat Trick”
It’s not everyday a simple, somewhat absurd idea transcends into an engaging and incredibly good time, yet Rocket League’s a rare and welcome exception. Underneath the hectic presentation of developer Psyonix’s rocket-powered vehicles zipping around a large arena, is a mechanically rich and highly addictive experience with just about something for every player. Rocket League is chaotic, silly and easily some of the most fun I’ve had with a game this year.
Rocket League takes on the strenuous task of making Soccer fun for everyone and executes with flying colors. The staple mode pits two teams of three behind the wheel of rocket-propelled vehicles in pursuit of an oversized, constantly moving ball. The central idea–heavily inspired by soccer–is to strategically ram the ricocheting ball, sending it into the opposing team’s goal. It’s all about split-second judgment and anticipation, but Rocket League doesn’t demand any preconceived knowledge about driving games or soccer, in order to play. As an elevator pitch, it’s fairly simple, but there’s more depth and replayability to be tapped into than meets the eye.As you race at high speeds around the visually colorful and glossy arenas, you’ll be met with an unrestricted sense of movement. Rocket League embraces player approach and freedom by successfully implementing a somewhat simple set of rules and incentives. This creates superbly balanced and newcomer-friendly gameplay at the start of every match, no matter how talented a certain player may be. There’s always opportunity to become a helpful addition to your team, regardless of the scoreboard. This isn’t to undermine the cleverly buried level of strategy under the seemingly disorderly smashing of metal. Rocket League thrives on timing and momentum, and those observant enough are given all the necessary tools to dominate. For example, every player is given access to a jump button that, with a single tap, shoots you’re car into the air. Yet, tapping it twice with a plotted direction will perform a barrel roll, somersault, or bicycle kick, all of which affect the ball differently. It’s, at times, surprising the level of variation and skill seamlessly weaved into the game’s assumably basic mechanics. It’s an accessible learning curve as well, making the moment when you pull off that perfect move all the more electrifying.
All matches start with a five minute timer, not taking into consideration all the starting and stoping that comes with scoring and replays. It’s the perfect amount of time, for matches last just long enough to remain fresh and evenly balanced. The match duration allows for multiple opportunities to switch up your approach as well. On offense, fancy tricks and speedy, strategic driving go a long way in leading your team to victory. Defense is another story, presenting an equally rewarding style of play that takes a lot of skill to be proficient. Rocket League’s unpredictable nature and constant leveling of odds creates a great amount of suspense in knowing the upper-hand can be snatched away at any given time. With this, Rocket League is able to achieve a rare oddity in the space of video game sports. Regardless of what the scoreboard reads, you’re always compelled to give it your all, even when your team’s dragging their feet and there’s only a minute left on the clock. The fast and fluid approachability of Rocket League transitions well into all of it’s modes, ranging from its online to offline offerings. Variants of its standard mode consist of 1v1, 2v2, and 4v4 options as well, each greatly altering a match’s dynamic. There is a single-player offering in the form of a season mode, though going up against A.I. isn’t nearly as satisfying or unpredictable as the game’s online options. During these matches is where it’s revealed the limitations and foolishness of the A.I., on both sides of the ball. Both friendly and rival players can endure multiple slip-ups a match, be it annoyingly blocking your way or scoring a goal for the other team. Yet, the real focus of Rocket League is undoubtably the multiplayer, and it’s glorious, when it works.
Since launch, Rocket League’s servers have struggled to support the flood of PlayStation 4 and PC players looking to jump into online action. The cross-platform matchmaking and party system have had their ups and downs, but at the time of this review, the issues have mostly been ironed out across both platforms. Psyonix is a small team, and the fact the game is available for free all month for PlayStation Plus Members, no doubt contributed to the slamming of the game’s servers. Though inconvenient for those eager to participate in the game’s online component at launch, the mishap is somewhat excusable considering the conditions. It didn’t render the game useless either, as the single-player offering and stellar inclusion of satisfying unlockables were more than enough to tide players over until Psyonix got the servers back up and running. Now, with Rocket League’s servers in a more reliable state, multiplayer is the meat and lasting longevity of the experience. Weather it be online or tense, split screen matches, Rocket League is strongest in the company of others.Conclusion: Rocket League is surprisingly nuanced and well orchestrated for such a simplistic pitch. It’s able to pull off its absurd idea under the hood with robust controls and a top-notch visual presentation. All it took was a few matches and a run through the game’s training option to have the car feel like an extension of my own thoughts. Having near flawless controls is all too rare in games these days, which makes it all the more gratifying when something like this comes along. It executes upon its wild idea with such confidence and commitment, that it doesn’t demand the extra features to make it feel fleshed out. The amount of depth for both casual and hardcore players, alike, will ensure endless fun on the online and offline field. Rocket League’s an expertly executed game from top-to-bottom.
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