The game of football is often referred to as “The Beautiful Game” for numerous reasons. The individual flourish that leads to glory, the tactical nuance of a structured team, or the thrilling ebb and flow of a well-balanced contest. Whatever the reason, would that beauty still exist if, say, Lionel Messi was replaced with an ice cream truck? What if Beckham’s signature cross was replaced with the ability to rocket boost through the air? That all depends on your idea of beauty, but this is the world that Rocket League presents.
It’s probably best not to overthink it. Rocket League, the follow-up to the subtly titled Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, is far more simple than it sounds. At its most reductive level, all you have to do is drive a car and knock the ball into the opponent’s net, and that’s all there is to it. Therein lies Rocket League’s greatest triumph; its simplicity. From the first moment that the pitch renders into view, you already know what you need to do.
You have a few techniques at your disposal to help you steer the ball goalwards. For starters, your car can jump, and double jump at that. Your vehicle is also fitted with a rocket booster on the back that will dramatically increase its speed, whether on grass or in mid-air. These two abilities can combine into spectacular (or desperate) attempts to reach an awkwardly bouncing ball, or pluck it away from the opposing team. While this often creates hilarious pile-ups as car slam into each other, missing the ball entirely, it is also possible to score a wonder goal from miles away, or cover the entire field to discreetly nod in that perfectly placed cross. The curved sides of the arena allow the ball to bounce around in a fashion familiar to anyone who has played five-a-side football, meaning that it is a viable strategy to take the ball around your opponent by bouncing it off of the walls. Unlike five-a-side, though, you can drive up the walls, then use your jump and rocket boost to launch yourself precariously towards greatness. When you first start playing, most matches will resemble the world’s drunkest demolition derby as cars chase the ball, smash into each other, and send each other flying across the pitch. It is possible to boost into the back of another player and blow them up, knocking them out the match for a few seconds. The tools here are simple, but how you use them doesn’t have to be.
For example, it is perfectly possible to jump in the air, angle your car backwards, and boost 50 foot in the air to knock the ball away from the other cars massing below. If you hold backwards and double jump you can perform a bicycle kick, which is especially useful for making saves or in those moments when you have your back to the ball. These are risky strategies that can be difficult to master, but the glory is there for the taking.
It must have been tempting for the developers to make Rocket League more audaciously demented than its predecessor. It’s a testament then that developers Psyonix had the foresight to focus on the failings of the first game instead. If anything they actually held back the ridiculousness of Rocket League, opting to focus on tighter physics, pitches that make sense, and a viability of team strategies. Even the title of the game seems much more restrained than Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. In the case of sequels it can be very easy to over-egg the pudding, but this is a pudding that only uses the finest egg extract.
The game only features a handful of playable modes, all of which play in the same fashion. For all those single players out there, you have Exhibition matches and a Season mode in which you have the opportunity to win the league with your AI cohorts. The only real variables are how many cars you choose to have on the field; anywhere between one and four per team. There is also a Training option which teaches you some of the possibilities open to you.
However, the true fun of Rocket League comes through in its multiplayer modes. You have the usual online and ranked matches, which provide swift and intelligent matchmaking with similarly skilled players. There is an in-built party system, so setting up your own private matches is easy enough. You can also form a small team and take to the public servers, taking on any oncoming opposing teams. The game also supports local multiplayer, which would have been a missed opportunity had it been left out. However you do it, if you can gather a team that works together, you’ll find yourselves dominating other sides that just chase the ball, and that is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. When these elements come together (and they often do), this is one of the most robust and endlessly replayable multiplayer games to come out for years.
What makes Rocket League so compelling is the way in which it rewards all styles of play. It is possible to be the Most Valuable Player on your team without ever scoring a goal yourself. You accumulate points through making saves, centring the ball in the opponent’s half, aerial hits, demolishing other players, and assisting goals. Being a playmaker is just as important as netting a goal, and that is one of Rocket League’s most compelling design choices.
While the replayability is a huge factor (and the game is incredibly addictive), it also remains perfectly playable for those who don’t want to put in a lot of time. Each match is five minutes long, meaning that it is very easy to drop into when you have a few minutes to spare. It does have that certain “just one more match” factor that will have you performing bicycle kicks into the early hours of the morning, but there’s no pressure on you to put in any more time than you want or need to.
There are so many positives that can be thrown at Rocket League, but ultimately, the game is just fun. Utilising the Unreal 4 engine, the game looks nice enough, although the framerate on PS4 barely holds together at particularly busy moments. There is also the shaky start the game had at launch with its online servers, but these are negatives that are easily overlooked. It’s the little things that add up to a package of pure, undiluted fun.
So if you find yourself tired of modern footballers play-acting on the floor, commanding ridiculous transfer fees, or cheating on their wives in crashed Ferraris, you could do a lot worse than Rocket League. If you didn’t pick it up on PS Plus last month, or if you prefer playing on PC, Rocket League is still well worth the £15 they are charging for it. It’s certainly cheaper than a season ticket.
Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again!