We’ve played a lot of grand games this year. With Arkham Knight’s sweeping rainstorms and neon Gotham City, Witcher 3’s rolling plains and spectacular fire effects, Grand Theft Auto V’s sheer scope and fidelity on PC, and Project CARS’ meticulous detail and sheer number of vehicles. Each of those games cost a fortune to make, provided gamers with hundreds of hours of gameplay and were mercilessly picked apart by consumers worldwide and note for their success as well as their flaws. That’s all well and good but it seems strange that we’ve had more fun with Rocket League than we have with any of those.
Rocket League is very simple. It’s usually 3v3 (although can be 1v1,2v2 or 4v4) and you each get a car that controls a little bit like those expensive remote control toys you’d see in the Argos catalogue but never be able to afford. They can do backflips, roll over and simply leap into the air at a moment’s notice. You need all of these skills because rather than racing, you’re playing football, trying to get a ball much bigger than your car into your opponent’s net, while stopping them from doing the same to you. Each arena looks a little different but they all play the same. The only real ‘gimmick’ is that there are power up pads all over the pitch which allow you to refill your boost meter, letting you go a bit faster as you tear across the pitch.
It’s incredibly simply and the only progression comes from cosmetic upgrades you unlock as you play. None of them offer any kind of gameplay difference, big trucks drive just like futuristic tank-type things or tiny sports cars. They all have the same hitbox, they all have the same ramming power. The only thing that stands between you and victory is your own skill.
In the first few matches, it’s chaos. You’re desperately trying just to hit the ball any way you can, you’ll probably score more own goals than anything that when it does go in the opponent’s net, it’ll always be the result of some fluke (although you’ll swear you meant to backflip off the wall and smash it across the arena into their goal). But over time things will change. You’ll start to have a better sense of how you need to hit the ball, you’ll get why centering the ball is so important, you’ll learn that it’s not always worth crowding into a corner to try and hit the ball away. With more time you’ll start working with others, taking defensive positions at the start, setting up other peoples’ goals, taking advantage of mistakes the other side makes. When it clicks, it’s glorious, competitive, and intense. This is a game that could join the likes of Street Fighter, Starcraft, DOTA and Counter Strike as example of near-perfected esports, and this is only the first release.
What the developers have got right seems simple but in reality is a huge list or brilliant decisions. The weight of the ball, the speed of the cars, the height of the jumps, the size of the arena, the polished graphics that never drop below 60fps, the clean menus and easy matchmaking, the fun visual aesthetic, the rewards for making good decisions, the quick menu for communicating across languages, the short length of individual matches. The list could go on, but what it comes down to is that this is one of the most refined games we’ve ever seen.
It might not look like your sort of thing, we don’t like football and aren’t that keen on cars really, but you need to give this a go. It’s currently free on Playstation Plus (In July ’15) or can be grabbed for a pittance on Steam. If you play multiplayer games at all, get it.