By: Jeff Cater
Rocket League is a title that I don’t quite know how to describe to anyone without a giddy squeal of joy accidentally popping out. The game pits players against, and with, one another in order to get a comically huge ball into the goal. Sounds pretty simple, and therein lays the beauty of this game; smart design and an awesome concept by developer Psyonix Studios make Rocket League one of the year’s best casual/competitive titles!
While the controls are fully customizable, the default settings are actually very comfortable. Steering your rocket-powered car is managed by careful calculation with the left stick. Pressing “X” produces a jump (or double jump, if pressed mid-air), and tapping or holding circle drains your boost meter and ramps up your speed drastically.
I found that switching the handbrake binding to L1 (from square) to be more comfortable and manageable, though it was sometimes instinctive to mash square anyway. Rocket League is insanely easy to pick up and easily draws in players with its bright visuals and tense gameplay.
While Rocket League isn’t packed with cutting edge technology, it still looks fantastic. Each arena has a familiar feel due to their structure, but they feature different aesthetic touches to mix things up. Some arenas have rain inside the enclosure (don’t ask how), while others have a Sandlot-style played-in feel. Individual blades of grass even wave softly in the breeze and darken when driven on.
Examining replays and noticing how many tread marks have been made is just one of the exciting, small details Rocket League produces visually. Numerous pieces can be fitted to your vehicle, of which there are several to unlock and choose from. Different paint patterns, “hats” and boost trails look great and often produce fun effects — my favorite being the “Grass Boost Trail,” which leaves grass clippings in my wake while making my tiny rocket car sound like an even tinier, but somewhat more intimidating, lawnmower.
Even with all these different effects in place, the frame rate remains remarkably stable, only dipping noticeably on nighttime maps; those shadows know how to induce hiccups.
Mike Ault ought to be just given things. He composed the soundtrack that has consumed my Spotify queue lately (and likely yours as well as long as you even think you like techno music). While the music doesn’t play during matches, it amps you the hell up while you’re waiting for the next match with catchy, pounding beats and beautiful vocals.
Aside from the wonderful soundtrack, stadiums fill with applause and shouts when goals are scored, the various boost effects create aural chaos and the super-satisfying THUMP of a goal being put in make Rocket League an absolute pleasure to play.
How can I type without crying with joy? My friends and I have begun to refer to Rocket League as “N64 fun.” What that mean is Rocket League is the type of game that you can show your seven-year-old nephew and 65-year-old parent and both would immediately ask to try it.
The game can be one-on-one, up to four versus four, or you can try out your skills in 1v2, 1v3 or 1v4 matches, which I did not have the balls to attempt more than a few times. When you start a match and the buzzer sounds, players rocket toward the center of the arena to get the tip-off on the ball.
From that point on, it’s all about physics and skill to get that damn, floating bastard into your opponent’s goal. To expedite this, coordinate with a team and assign positions according to where you spawn. See, after a goal is scored and the replay ends, players start in different formations. The further back you are from your friends indicates that you might want to hang out around your goal until you can read the situation and respond.
Next goal you’ll likely spawn to the side-flank position, which usually means you’ve got to get there first and initiate favorable placement. By doing this, Rocket League is subconsciously training its players to fit any role and respond accordingly, which factors into how great online matchmaking feels.
It attempts to match you with players of similar skill, usually ending up with very good matches where team play can simultaneously be completely silent and effective. Silent cooperation is difficult in most sports games, but as you play Rocket League it forces you to become proficient in a role without you even knowing it, so you’ll soon know your responsibilities as soon as the round starts.
At its core, Rocket League is pure and simple fun with nothing shoehorned in to degrade the experience. There are training modes and tutorials available to get you better at the more complicated mechanics, such as scoring aerial hits on the ball. After a while of playing, it’s rare that you’ll actually be able to hit the ball when it’s on the ground; that’s because the best players tend to switch between the default camera and Ball Cam (triangle) and calculate a jump trajectory and take flight.
Few things can match the joy of scoring an off-the-wall goal upon the first 10 seconds of joining the match, which I did because I’m completely bad ass. I mean, check that out. Friggin’ sweet.
You really can’t beat Rocket League in the fun department, and I fully endorse getting it whether you have to pony up the $19.99 or (even better) get it free for PS Plus subscribers. Those sweeties at Psyonix have even promised some great DLC down the line, and I truly cannot wait. These are the kind of developers that deserve support; they put hours of love into their product and community relations, and they’re prime examples of how this industry is changing for the better.