NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A car soccer game and superior sequel to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.
Reviewed on i5-3230 CPU, 8GM RAM
Play it on 2GHZ dual core CPU, Nvidia 8800 or ATI 2900, 2GB HDD
Alternatively Trackmania, Sensible Soccer
Price £15 / $20
Release date Out now Developer Psyonix
Link Official site
Let’s not waste energy exploring why soccer should replace its paper chain of squalid billionaires with cars, and accept it as fact. A fact which Rocket League proves with simple and immediate ease.
I’ve never played a game that needed a tutorial less. Association football, soccer, wendyball; whatever you want to call it, it’s that, but on wheels. Drive car at giant ball; hit ball into net; score points. Rocket League’s competitive core has existed for centuries, and this helps make a preposterous concept feel primal. This, in turn, is a laughable way of describing a game which would be called moto carball if it actually existed.
Like dry martinis and penises scribbled in an unattended notebooks, Rocket League is a celebration of simplicity. Driving is delicious. Cars ease around like butter in a heated pan, but always feel under your control. You accumulate boost by driving over markers on the arena floor and unleash it is a thunderous rush that fires you across, over and around the pitch. Because matches take place in smooth, enclosed spaces, you can drive up walls and across ceilings. Cars can also jump and dodge, both of which can be used defensively and offensively. The weight of the cars, as well as your ability to apply unruly boost to jumps, adds a pleasingly haphazard element; like athletic footballers leaping to header high balls, but with less shirt-pulling and zero chance of flattening a £2000 hairdo.
Vehicles feel light and buzzy—somewhere between Micro Machines, and those swift, slidey remote controlled cars which only seem to appear on Christmas Day. This contrasts nicely with the fat, beefy bounce of the ball, which gormlessly invites impact like a punchable cousin. And that’s it. I feel almost guilty reducing a review to ‘ball’ and ‘car’, but there are only ever those two things in the field of play, and crucially, they both feel great. It’s helped by a crisp, intuitive camera. You can focus on the ball, effortlessly whizzing around with it always in view, or switch to the standard camera - very useful for rushing back to defend your goal, or smashing into other vehicles. There are no weapons, but certain markers fill your boost and let you obliterate other players. Mercifully, it’s the generous, instantly-respawning type of obliteration. Destruction is the only conspicuous deviation from clean business of driving around and scoring goals, but in most of the games I played it was a rarity—certainly never frequent enough to be irritating.
Destroying other vehicles is one of many actions which accumulates points; imagine Burnout, but with awards for skill not speed. You receive points for things like clearing the ball from your goal line, spectacular saves and overhead bicycle kicks—named so because the more literal ‘quadracycle wheel-nudge’ is a senseless stew of words. Giving everything a points value means it’s about more than scoring goals. The most valuable players I encountered were workmanlike wingers who selflessly chugged along the the flanks, crossing the ball for greedy goalhunters like me. It stops players from clustering in the same spots and reinforces the concept that Rocket League is a team game.
Except, of course, when it’s not, such as when you’re duelling against a single opponent. Alternatively, you can set teams of four against each other, in matches which become so frantic that they’re less like footy, more like a lost, confused beach ball bashed between bumper cars. Playlists of duels, doubles, standard 3v3 matches and the appropriately named Chaos 4v4 mode are all available online, with ranked playlists limited to duels, doubles and 3v3. There’s a reason why online play is the first option on the menu: Rocket League is designed to be played with actual people, and this is absolutely where it thrives. My experience was marvellously robust. I rarely had to wait long for a game, and if players dropped out mid-session they were immediately replaced by AI bots. Best of all, it’s refreshingly simple to get back into another game, so very little time is spent lingering in lobbies.
If playing online isn’t your thing, there are exhibition matches and full seasons you can solo. The length and difficulty can be altered, and while it doesn’t offer much in the way of depth—cars and football, remember?—I still found myself bonding with pretend teammates. Whether online or offline, playing games randomly unlocks new cars and upgrades. These range from simple things like fresh coats of paint and shiny wheels, to pointy hats for your wizardmobile. Upgrades are purely cosmetic, but volume, variety and the promise of driving around with bubbles frothing from your exhaust should be enough to keep you coming back.
The offline modes do reveal the game’s minor inadequacies, however: team AI can be flaccid and unreliable, especially against tougher opponents, and the same simplicity which makes Rocket League immediately playable can cause things to get repetitive when played alone; a criticism that only becomes apparent precisely because it’s so damn addictive. It’s a simple thing done brilliantly well, kept interesting by the thrill of competition.