I find that one of the most interesting things about Rocket League is the fact that virtually nobody knows it’s a sequel. Developer Psyonix first launched the car-football craze back in 2008, with the release of — deep breath –Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.
Rocket League is an almost identical game in many ways, complete with all the polishing and graphical upgrades you’d expect of any successor. The brilliant, finely tuned gameplay is retained, and truly shines in what I think is the one of the most universally appealing sports games ever created.
For the uninitiated, Rocket League is football, with cars. It strips away all the conceivably dull or confusing things newcomers might find within the sport, and just lets you whack a ball in a net.
If you want to play it as simply as this, you can; random strikes of the ball will often result in a lucky goal, and the pure satisfaction found in this is enough to promote such a reckless playstyle. However, this is just scratching the surface. Under the hood, Rocket League hides a whole layer of strategy that once mastered, turns each match into a finely planned exhibit of various rocket-powered moves.
On the PS4 the cross button will launch your car in the air, and you can use the right stick to flip, roll and dodge mid-flight. Boost is mapped to circle; after a jump, you can hold the button down to send your car flying across the stadium, timing it perfectly to strike the ball into the goal. It’s incredibly rewarding when you pull it off, because it leaves your opponent with virtually no chance against your aerial assault.
Whatever your playstyle, it’s ridiculous fun, especially with friends — this is the type of game to show to the non-gamer in your life. Get your dad, your sister, your dog, get everybody!
Rocket League is hugely accessible, and like the Nintendo Wii back in 2007, it allows casual players to have just as much fun as the hardcore. You can customise your car in the garage, altering everything from wheels to paint jobs to teeny-tiny top-hats perched on your roof. Once you’ve designed your speedy monstrosity, it’s time to enter the arena; you can play single matches, or a full season, either with well-scaled AI bots or other humans. And that’s pretty much it.
Rocket League is a repetitive game, but each match is so choc-full of exciting moments that you won’t even realise. The ball will bounce wildly from wall to wall, cars will blow up before your very eyes, and rocket boost will shoot out of every exhaust pipe in a frantic concoction of colour, sound and fury, that makes each match wildly unique in its own right.
However, whether or not you win said matches will be dictated by your commitment to teamwork.
Will you assign one player as the goalkeeper, making them the last line of defence while you push forward in seek of that vital goal? Or will you forgo a defence entirely, and have your whole team frantically switching between both ends of the field in a desperate attempt to keep the ball out of your half? It might not seem like it at first, but Rocket League is absolutely a collective effort; like all good team games, the lone ranger is not rewarded, and carefully planned passes to your teammates will always win out against random punts up the pitch.
What few problems there are with the game rear their head when you go online. The servers are frequently unreliable, and at times it took me upwards of ten minutes to find a match. Other times, I wasn’t able to find a match at all, the game either informing me that I wasn’t connected or refusing to connect itself. For a game that thrives on quick play sessions, leaving me stuck in matchmaking hell for a long period of time severely dented the experience.
Thankfully, offline multiplayer is there to save the day.
Rocket League gives couch co-op a much needed shot of adrenaline, almost single-handedly resurrecting the mode in an industry where fewer and fewer titles include it. Like other great local experiences – Borderlands, Mario Kart, LittleBigPlanet – Rocket League isn’t a stripped back version of its single player. It’s feature complete, and with four local players joining in on the action, it quickly becomes a riotous experience. Get your friends round on a Friday night, order some food and have a Rocket League tournament. – you won’t regret it.
Car customization is also well implemented. It’s purely cosmetic, meaning that every single vehicle has the same stats, and every player starts on even ground. Game settings are also customization; change the ball bounciness to see it zap across the field like a pinball, or change the gravity to slow things down, and watch everything float majestically through the air. Combine the customization with the simple gameplay and each match becomes a pure frenzy of excitement. Rocket League is arguably the poster-child for the PS4’s share feature, each game producing a vast number of moments worth dumping on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform. Every vehicle controls perfectly, allowing you to line up shots and align correctly for saves, with ease — meaning that creating these moments is entirely in your hands.
Rocket League does for sports games what the Nintendo Wii did for motion controls — this truly is a game for everybody. It’s visually arresting, all the smoke, sparks and fire gorgeously balanced against the metallic sheen of your four-wheeled monster truck. But the real winner is the gameplay; it simplifies a potentially confusing sport, and adds just enough new mechanics of its own to make this one of the most fun games money can buy.
• Strategy is rewarded
• Great fun with friends
• Offline mode
• Car cosmetics available
• Unreliable servers