Rocket League Review

GAMING

Rockets. Cars. Soccer. Rocket powered cars playing soccer? Now we’re talking, and the answer is Rocket League, the game NVIDIA is currently giving away with certain graphics card purchases. Rocket propelled cars playing soccer is the entirely of the game, although as simply as the concept may seem, the game proves to be incredibly addicting, with one finding oneself constantly saying “just one more round.”

The main game mode sees the playing is a 3 vs 3 in a caged field/arena. There is a multitude of arenas to choose from, ranging from proper soccer fields to underwater sealed enclosures and a variety between the two.

There are a small handful of cars to choose from in the beginning, but as the player progresses several more can be unlocked, as well as various other aesthetic add-ons such as hats, caps, horns, different sets of wheels and more. All of the cars perform and behave in a very similar fashion, and the add-ons affect nothing other than the appearance of the car.

This might be considered by some to be a bad thing, but it also means that the outcome of a match is determined almost entirely by the player’s skill and not unlocks – there will never be the analogue of a naked player with a peashooter against a tank.

The player controls his car from one of two third person camera angles (although several settings can be tweaked, such as the field of view and camera distance from the car) which can be instantly switched at the press of a button.

The first camera angle locks the view directly behind the player, while the second attempts to place the car directly between the camera and ball (ball cam). Neither of these work for all scenarios, as if the ball is directly above the player the ball cam moves to above the car, removing the reference point of where you need to be. The locked car view means that the ball might not be on the screen at all. In order to master the game, you’ll need to learn which camera to use when.

Other than driving around, you can also jump into the air. Holding the jump button for longer means that you just higher, and if you need to jump higher still you can double jump by pressing the jump button a second time at the apex of your jump. This needs to be done without holding a direction key (or moving your joystick/thumbstick in a direction), as the second jump combined with a direction will result in a dodge.

Dodging left or right will perform a barrel roll, which is essential for blocking certain shots or hitting the ball sideways into the goals. Dodging backwards results in a bicycle kick, and dodging forwards will power you forwards for striking or picking up speed. A gamepad with analogue sticks is certainly the preferred method, as a keyboard will only allow you to dodge in a total of eight directions. The physics is advanced enough that a dodge 90 degrees to the left will send the ball in a different direction than 80 degrees to the left.

You can also boost off (and, of course, drive on) the walls of the arena, and this is one place where you will find the physics has a bit of a glitch. If you’re in the air, no matter your vertical speed, dodging will always “reset gravity” instantly. If you’re jumping up quite fast it’ll be as though you’ve hit an invisible barrier stopping you from going higher, whereas if you’re falling at speed gravity will seemingly forget to work. This isn’t a major issue, as it’s been that way since day one and you’ll get used to it quickly.

Your car also has a boost function, which is powered by picking up orange orbs around the play area. These will recharge the boost by 12% for the small orbs and all the way to 100% for the large orbs. Once picked up, the orbs will reappear on the play field after a certain amount of time. Holding down the boost button results in your car shooting forwards at an even greater speed, allowing you to truly power the ball into the goals or race across the map for a save.

Other than needing them yourself, a common tactic is to collect as many as possible even if you don’t need them in order the “boost starve” your opponents. Boost is also used for flying – yes, with the rocket on the back of your car generating maximum boost you can indeed fly around the map. The boost is used fairly quickly whether you’re on the ground or in the air, with a full charge netting you only a few seconds of use before it is fully depleted.

An alternative to getting high speed without using boost is dodging – repeatedly dodging forwards while driving in the same direction will ultimately get you to the same speed as boost, although it will take longer and you don’t have as much control over your car. Likewise, repeated bicycle kicks while reversing will get you the same speed in reverse, although it’s worth noting that this is the only way to move at high speed in reverse. Boost can only move your car forwards.

There are a plethora of tricks to master, with built in tutorials teaching you most of the basics. Others will need to be learnt on your own, such as the “half flip” which allows you to go from flat out in reverse to facing the correct direction without having to come to a stop.

Another you’ll need to learn early on is the use of the handbrake. It may seem a strange addition in a game that’s based in a large field, but the cars have a fairly wide turning radius, and the handbrake can swing you around much quicker. Coming down from an aerial shot at a bad angle (such as sideways) can often be fixed while mid-air, but if you can’t correct it in time it means that your car will grind to a complete halt. Holding down handbrake as you land will allow you to slide back into the correct direction with minimal speed loss.

Crashing into an opponent with enough speed will demolish their car, causing them to respawn after a few seconds in one of their own corners of the map. This is a neat tactic for removing defenders if there are too many for you to score.

Even without enough speed, bumping into them will nudge them out of the way, either causing them to miss the shot they’re about to take or the block they’re about to perform. One of the most entertaining “achievements” the game has to offer is called the pool shot, where score by knocking an opponent into the ball which then passes the goal line.

The game will take you many hundreds of hours to master, but at no point does it feel laborious. Much like a proper soccer, rugby or cricket game, no two matches are alike and each is as exciting as the next.

Progression is tracked on a global, multiplatform leader board (the game has complete cross-platform compatibility, meaning that you may find yourself against a console player without ever knowing), although other than progressing through the ranks it does nothing to add to the gameplay.

On the topic of matchmaking, the game does a fairly decent job of keeping you with players of the same skill level. At times this will fail badly due to the only available players being more or less advanced than you, which can cause you to gain or lose ranking. This is sorted out within one or two matches, however, as the matchmaking will then put you in games where your actual skill level doesn’t match your rated skill level, and in no time at all you’ll be back at the correct rank.

Other than the standard 3 vs 3, the game also includes 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2 and 4 vs 4, as well as other modes such as ice hockey, basket ball and a mode called “Dropshot,” where the map is divided into small hexagons that can be broken by powering the ball into the same hexagon twice and then scoring through the resulting hole.

Having the ball roll across multiple hexagons means that several can be affected by a single shot, and if the shot is hard and direct enough it can also affect surrounding hexagons without actually touching them.

The AI varies between easy enough to win one of your first matches to frustratingly difficult, especially if you choose one of the “unfair” game modes which pits you against up to four AI players. This is difficult enough in the beginning, but once you’ve mastered aerials it shouldn’t pose much of a challenge as the AI never flies or goes for aerial shots. Once you’ve mastered aerial dribbling there may as well not be AI players, as they will wait on the ground for you to return.

Moving on to the sound and graphics, both are fairly basic although the colours are diverse and vibrant. The sound track is alright, but it does get repetitive quite quickly and I found myself streaming music in the background rather than listening to the in-game music. The game sounds are simple – cars revving, balls bouncing, explosions when you score a goal, and so on – nothing fantastic, but it gets the job done.

At the end of the day, Rocket League is all about the gameplay, and neither better sound nor graphics could enhance it past what it is. None of the bugs are game-breaking, and you quickly learn to overlook them and accept that they’re part of what makes Rocket League what it is.

In conclusion, it’s worth buying. With the game being cheap on Steam there’s no reason not to try it out. When you work out the cost per hour (I’ve put in around 400 hours already) it’s certainly one of the cheaper forms of entertainment

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