The Rocket League National Championships were held on Saturday, November 12. (Courtesy of Psyonix)
Soccer, but with rocket-powered RC cars. This is the core conceit behind “Rocket League,” a multiplayer sports game created by indie studio Psyonix back in July 2015, and it is a conceit that has paid off in dividends for everyone involved. Since its release, the game has sold over six million copies and has been recognized as an officially sponsored e-sport, which is quite the achievement for a game whose predecessor, “Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars,” was barely even noticed upon its own release. But unlike many modern games that try to reach that level of success by exploiting internet hype culture and overpromising, “Rocket League” succeeds by making an experience that is easy to pick up and play, but has surprising depth and strategy underneath the surface.
The vast majority of your time with the game will be spent in online matches, where teams of up to four players try to score points by ramming a gigantic ball into the other team’s goal. Your control over the RC car is not just limited to accelerating however. Like the title suggests, every player’s car is equipped with multiple rocket boosters, allowing them to temporarily move faster as well as double jump and perform mid-air tricks. While the idea of cars doing wheelies and backflips may seem pointless at first (outside of their inherent silliness), these maneuvers actually serve a strategic purpose since they give the player other ways to hit the ball besides ramming straight into it, lending a degree of unpredictability to every match. All of these systems put together lead to some incredibly chaotic matches, with both teams haphazardly slamming into each other in desperate attempts to direct a ball that never seems to fly in quite the direction one wants it to.
If there’s one thing that does need to be addressed up front about the game, it is the seeming lack of content. Outside of a handful of timed skill challenges and offline matches against AI opponents, “Rocket League” does not have any gameplay beyond its standard game-type. Granted, there are some small novelty modes that are enjoyable for a match or two, including a basketball mode which is the only reason this game is being reviewed in The Connector’s the Basketball Issue, but none of them have the same staying power and balance as the primary mode. And while there are a good number of uniquely themed arenas to play in, all but one are designed in exactly the same way, leaving most of them practically interchangeable.
This overall dearth of traditional content may be a turnoff to some, and that’s perfectly fine. But it can also be argued that “Rocket League,” like more traditional sports, makes up for a lack of overall content thanks to an openness for higher level strategy and skill. While one’s first few matches in the game may seem like an incomprehensible mess of cars crashing into each other, one needs to only switch into the more competitive servers to see a more calculated style of play, where careful team coordination and mastery of the car’s movements are as key to victory as scoring the perfect shot. And even if one does not have friends to network with, there are dedicated servers for solo players and a bevy of easy to use chat shortcuts, meaning no player is left out of the fun.
“Rocket League” is an almost flawless exercise in using simple mechanics to create a satisfying and deep playing experience. Once one gets past the madness of its premise, it is not a particularly complex game by any means. But the developers at Psyonix pull off that premise with so much polish and style that a lack of complexity is easy to overlook. It would be nice if the servers for the game were more consistently stable, as this is the type of game that lives or dies on its online play, but some faulty connections here and there are excusable when the core gameplay is this high quality. Even if one is not at all interested in sports games, “Rocket League” is absolutely worth a chance. The game is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 for $20.
Final Grade: B+