Driving cars around and bumping a ball into a goal doesn’t sound appealing to me at all, but here’s a case of an idea being executed so well that it’s hard not to have a good time. Rocket League is the sports game that made me understand why I don’t like sports games. There’s only so much control you can have in something like FIFA. You don’t intricately swing your player’s leg to execute an accurate pass — that would be ridiculous — you just press a pass button. Rocket League is the antithesis of this methodology – providing players with complete control over their actions. Where most sports titles apply very constricted controls to complicated real life techniques, Rocket League gives the player complete control over a concise skill set.
The idea is that teams of cars try and hit a ball into the opposing team’s goal. Car soccer. The standard match size is 3v3, but 1v1, 2v2 and 4v4 games are just as valid. Each car has a fairly limited set of capabilities. They can boost, pull sharp slides, jump and flip mid-air. It’s not much to wrap your head around at its base, but mastering the application and combination of each ability in-game takes practice and precision. Flipping backwards into a ball is a good way to bring it to a halt, while flipping forwards is more likely to send it flying. Flipping sideways into a ball ahead of you is likely to launch it diagonally, but get it just right while it’s bouncing on the spot and it’ll go straight to your side. You have to consider the momentum of the ball and the angle of your car, all while an opposing team tries to interrupt your every move. It’s very pure gameplay, foregoing any unnecessary complications. Anyone can drive their car into the ball, and sometimes that’s all it takes, but it takes some skill to set up the right shot and get it straight in the goal. Bring this down to a 1v1 level and things get especially strategic.
The main attraction of Rocket League then, is playing online. While the servers have been pretty unreliable around launch, when they’re up, they’re great. It’s quick and easy to get into a game of whichever size you prefer. If you do have to wait, the game will throw you into a practice field to at least keep you occupied. Offline gameplay is available, with a mode that sees you playing through your own pre-decided season and an option to set up a game with bots. Commendably, all modes, including online multiplayer, can be played split-screen with a local partner. The cars control so well that I wouldn’t have minded some sort of other gameplay mode, sort of like how Splatoon built a campaign around its mechanics, but it isn’t a punishable omission by any means.
The incentive to keep playing is a collection of unlockable custimization options for your cars. There are a bunch of bodies to choose from and paint to your liking. Wheels can be changed, there are some gag antennae to choose from, and, strangely enough, hats. One of these items is unlocked after every game, so I was heading back to the garage and updating my vehicle pretty regularly. There’s no benefit to these details aside from your aesthetic preference, so don’t worry about experienced players having all the best gear.
I didn’t expect Rocket League to be so fun, but I couldn’t have predicted how nice it looks either. Each of the colourful fields has an awesome neo-futurisitic vibe, with coloured grass inside the arena, and immaculate skylines outside. Every stadium looks distinctly different while remaining thematically coherent. The soundtrack is really cool, too, and fits the feeling of the game just right. There’s a level of polish throughout Rocket League that absolutely calls for commendation. The UI is entirely perfect. Everything’s easy to find and fast to get to. If you’re in an offline game and want to head online, there’s an option to look for a game right in the pause menu.
Everything Rocket League tries to do is done 100% right. There are no flaws in anything it offers, but what it offers is very specific. Anyone who has fun with the game will have a great time until they bore of it, but anyone who doesn’t won’t find anything to change that. Rocket League is free for all PlayStation Plus subscribers at launch. If you’re a member and haven’t at least given it a shot, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
DISCLAIMER: this game was obtained for free via PS+ and reviewed on PS4 across 10 hours of gameplay.