If you don’t live in a hole, it’s hard to imagine how you have not heard of Psyonix’s Rocket League by now. It exploded onto the scene last year with a savvy “free on Playstation Plus” launch, and has been an Indie darling ever since. More recently, Rocket League even pulled in some impressive awards at DICE to add to the pile it has already collected. It has been on my list to check out since shortly after the PS launch, but there’s been just one problem – no support for XBox One. While I almost picked it up on PC half a dozen times, I held off because I tend to be a rather solitary PC gamer other than when I join my partner in crime agent86ix – and Rocket League is clearly a game best played with friends. This week all that has changed, and Rocket League has finally blessed the XBone community with it’s car soccer physics mayhem. Read on for my take on why this game has set so many hearts (and other body parts) on fire.
Speed and Impact
The feeling of riding in a Rocket League car is exhilarating, and that is no doubt because Psyonix has been working on Rocket League and its predecessor Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars for the better part of a decade. The bursts of speed, the crashes, the near misses, and those moment when everything goes right… they are core to what makes it so hard to put down. Even without a ball the cars are fun to drive. Boosting is rather par for the course I’d guess, but the jumps and flips play a huge roll in ball handling and feel epic when you land them just right. Pretty much all arenas feature some amount of “wall riding” as well, which is fun in its own right, but can also lead to amazing steals and collisions that you never saw coming. All of this action could easily overwhelm newcomers (and sometimes it will), but the game features a pretty slick “ball lock” camera mode that helps you keep focused on the play at hand even when “circumstances” blast you to the far side of the arena. I found this to work really well, and in my limited experience with real soccer it would match what my intent would normally be – to keep my eye on the ball.
1, 2, 3, 4
Rocket League supports match ups of anywhere from 1 vs 1 all the way to the insane 4 vs 4 mode. This simple variation can change the game from a tactical head to head chess match to a manic free for all chaos-fest, with the flexibility of the more middle of the road 2 vs 2 and 3 vs 3 to split the difference. When I first played the game on PC at a friends place we had quite a crowd, and opted for only 4 vs 4 matches to have room for everyone to play. The results were a maelstrom of boosts and flips, plenty of cheers and jeers, but not that much skill. Since I picked up Rocket League on Xbox One, I’ve focused more on 2 vs 2 and 3 vs 3 matches. With those numbers it is much easier to set up shots and play different roles. When you tag up with buddies to center and then score… well the high fives, they are plentiful.
Bots and Matches
As I spent more time with Rocket League, more secrets of its success became apparent. Intrinsically it is a game type that works well multiplayer, but making the same experience as enjoyable alone is a tall order. Rocket League rises to this challenge with extremely low friction for starting a game, and plenty of fun to be had matching against real competitors or AI bots. Arguably, you can just mash button when the game starts up, and you’ll probably end up playing a game you will enjoy. Matchmaking doesn’t take long, and even when players drop during a match others seem to get slotted in very quick. Playing against real competitors isn’t as intimidating as in most other competitive games because the looney randomness of ping-ponging ball physics punishes all but the most elite players fairly equally. If you want to hone your game or wait for friends to join though, you can always play with and against AI bots that do an excellent job of simulating a “real” multiplayer match up. In fact, there is even a “Season” mode where you can play a long series of matches versus AI teams in an effort to prove humanity’s superiority over computers. It’s probably how things will ultimately be decided, so we should all practice up.