When I first heard about Rocket League – a pseudo-sports title that can effectively be summed up as “soccer with cars” – I rolled my eyes. I thought it was going to be yet another title released via PlayStation Plus that I was never going to play. Sure, it’s not the best attitude, but it’s the truth. And boy was I wrong.
The premise is simple – you, the player, are put behind the wheel of a very acrobatic little vehicle on a rectangular field. At each end of the field, there is a goal, and the objective is to use your car to knock a large metal ball into the goal to score yourself a point (or goal, whichever you prefer). The team with the most points wins the match.
Matches can be played on your own or with other human players online, but regardless of the format, there can be up to four cars per team. Matches can be a single exhibition, or played out in seasons – and that’s it. The options are limited, the game is simple, but it just plays so damned well.
Controlling your car is very straightforward, for the most part – one trigger makes your car go forward, the other makes it go backward. There’s a jump button (and yes – there is a double jump), a handbrake, and a turbo button (which uses up a meter, filled by collecting pickups). The beauty, though, lies in the fact that your car is so manoeuvrable – on jumping, the right stick controls how your car sits in 3D space, while the left stick can actually choose the direction that the car shoots on a double jump. This can allow for some surprisingly complex movements that essentially equate to kicks on goal – there is even an in-game medal that is awarded for pulling off a scissor kick.
It’s this manoeuvrability that makes the game so fun – learning how to direct the ball exactly where you need it to or how to save a goal by essentially sideswiping it can be surprisingly satisfying, resulting in a game full of both extremely tense and amazingly uplifting experiences. While I’ve played the majority of my time with the game on my own in season, there have been so many moments that I’ve wanted to share with others, only to realise that I’m playing a video game, and those around me probably don’t actually care that much (not that I let that stop me from showing them replay after replay).
Computer AI isn’t that great initially – playing as a Rookie is quite easy, so much so in fact that I found myself winning virtually every match by at least 5 goals. Upping the difficulty to Pro, however, flipped things entirely – I found that the competition increased dramatically, while my AI-controlled team members continued to flounder about and make stupid mistakes. But this is where the online component kicks in – playing online means that every player on both teams can be controlled by another player, and it’s both frustrating and hilarious at the same time. Communication is key, but given players are trying to pull off technically complex movements with a video game car means that things almost never go the way they are planned. It’s a huge amount of fun.
There’s plenty to collect in the game – a bunch of cars, decals, tyres, hats (yes, hat), flags, and various animations for turbo – there is a lot to get through. In fact, I’ve put in more than 20 hours into the game, and I’m yet to unlock half of the collectables. The good thing, though, is that it is all cosmetic – every vehicle feels the same (mostly), so no player is disadvantaged in any way. It’s this level of “fairness” that makes the game such an enjoyable one to play online – although there are some very good players out there already (I hear that the e-Sports industry has raised an eyebrow at the title as well, and it would be great fun to watch pro players).
Something else that I find refreshing – the trophies are all achievable. There is not a single ridiculous trophy in the bunch (although one does have you needing to drive 500km, and another requires players to collect every collectable, both of which are likely to take a good number of hours).
Overall, it’s a simple concept that’s been iterated to the degree that it’s nigh on perfect. My biggest issue with the game is that there’s just not much to do – after finishing a couple of seasons and playing some sessions online, I feel like I’ve achieved everything I’d like to achieve. That said, I’m pretty keen to collect the platinum trophy, so I expect I’ll come back from time to time. Moreso, however, both free and paid DLC are incoming, both of which will bring more collectables, play modes, and trophies, so I expect this will not be an issue for much longer.
It would be remiss of me to mention that this is in fact a reboot to the underappreciated (or so I’m told – I never played it) PS3 title Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars – which I understand is very similar and also extremely fun to play. Clearly, the concept has been lovingly iterated on and improved almost to the point of perfection. In fact, for a game that I expected was simply another PS+ fill-in title, it’s turned out to be one of the best (dare I say “must play”) titles offered on the service. If you do miss it while it’s free, do yourself a favour and buy it, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not for everyone, though – our own Dave Haldane may have something to say in the comments, if you’re after an alternate opinion (Editor’s Notes – That’s probably just because I’m not any good at it!).