It can be hard not being a fan of the sports genre. Actually, I’ll be honest: it can be hard not being a fan of sports. It certainly frees up my schedule, but it felt strange being the only Ohioan who didn’t care that the Cavs couldn’t basket their ball harder than the other team. If only real sports were more like Rocket League, the only type of sport I could ever fully throw myself behind.
Featuring a psychotic mix of soccer and demolition derbies, Rocket League squeezes a ton of fun out of its simple premise. A small team of up to four cars tries to hit a huge ball into the other team’s goal while constantly colliding, boosting, jumping and flipping all over the field. Developers Psyonix complement this fantastic idea with smooth controls, interesting visuals and an insane amount of replayability stemming from how much fun the core game is.
Since there’s not a campaign to speak of, it’s easy to dive into Rocket League and figure out the rules and controls. Just like soccer, all you need to do is knock the ball into your opponent’s goal, except you don’t have to worry about constant time-outs, fouls or changing players. Matches are set for five minutes of play time, making each game a short burst of entertainment that you can easily and intuitively hop into and out of. The frantic pace never lets up, with the clock only stopping when a goal is made.
The cars used on the field are easily customizable, incorporating various colors, paint styles, flags, hats and exhaust colors/materials that give your vehicle of choice plenty of personality. Throwing a mariachi hat on top of a muscle car that’s flying the peaceful Canadian flag just feels right, especially if you cover it in paintings of skulls. These aesthetic changes are unlocked by a simple experience and leveling system that tracks goals made, shots attempted, games won and other common stats. However, none of the unlocks give you an advantage over your opponent, keeping the games feeling balanced and based around skill rather than who has the best vehicle.
Falling in line with the unusual concept, the cars handle like they’re from the future, boosting to breakneck speeds, driving up and around walls and flipping through the air like a Hot Wheel thrown full force across the room. Although it might not be obvious in the beginning, a fair amount of strategy comes into play, as a well-timed front flip can offer a powerful boost when your boosters are out of juice. The ball is much bigger than the cars, making it an easy target, but the floaty physics add a bit of difficulty to matches. Cars flung into the air can turn any direction freely, although they tend to float in the air about five seconds longer than they should.
The ball also falls victim to this, especially when hit into a corner. Watching it roll up the side of the encased stadium is funny the first few times, but waiting a few painful seconds for the thing to come back down and bounce at a height that anyone can hit it at becomes a waste of time when the game is on the line. While the physics work a majority of the time, their tendency to get too floaty in the middle of a heated match can be slightly obnoxious.
Another flaw that Rocket League suffers from is hopefully a temporary one: the servers. Although fully functional as a single player experience, boasting an easy to use Exhibition mode and a customizable yet somewhat sexless Season mode, the fun truly begins when you get more people in on the experience. I was able to connect online and play a handful of 3v3 and 2v2 games, but it was impossible to connect to a more hectic 4v4 experience or the uber-competitive 1v1 mode. Since Rocket League is a free title for the rest of the month, this is a huge problem that will hopefully get taken care of soon.
Since the single player experience is already a bit of a bore, it’s a shame that the AI isn’t top-notch. Opponents certainly put up a good fight, but the friendlies aren’t quite up to snuff. Far too many times I found my strategies ruined by teammates that did nothing but rush the ball and hit it in whatever direction they happened to be facing. More than a few times I watched my team push the ball into our own goal, leading to some screamed grievances. Rocket League is still a ton of fun to play alone, but the less bot players you have to involve, the better it will be.
However, with those few gripes out of the way, it’s easy to recommend Rocket League to just about anyone. It comes in bite-sized blasts of fun that make it easy to pick up and play, whether you’re with a buddy on the couch or (hopefully) connecting to the online modes. It’s a shame that more modes aren’t available at the moment, since the core game does quickly become repetitive when played for stretches, but played in short bursts, it will last you for some time. Even if you don’t care for sports, you’ll be coming back to the stadium for months to come.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
With a core concept that is perpetually fun, addictive multiplayer and simplistic but frenetic gameplay, Rocket League is an absolute blast in short bursts.