[UPDATE] Since this preview was published it’s received some criticism which I’d like to quickly address. Firstly, I played the game for roughly 15 hours. I’ve since been informed by several sources that it requires 100+ hours to become proficient at Rocket League. Although this seems like a very steep learning curve, I’ve been told that the depth of the game opens up after that point. For a more casual gamer like me, 100+ hours is unfeasible, however, the planned addition of a tutorial could go some way to addressing this issue.
It’s also been pointed out that when players are demolished they respawn in their own half after 2-3 seconds. I’ll own up and admit my error here. As I was rarely demolished myself, and quickly got straight back into playing, I paid little heed to where I restarted. I was basing this view on what I saw of opposing players, and they appeared to be on top of me almost directly after I demolished them (as I was in their half). This is what led me to believe that your car respawned in roughly the same area that it was demolished, and so, I apologize for my mistake.
I also want to clarify that I do understand that passing, shooting and dribbling are all possible in Rocket League – I just found the mechanics to be clunky. Nobody that I came across in-game was able to accomplish much more than a wild scramble for the opposing goal, which quickly became repetitive. I did recognise in the article that this could be due to a lack of proficiency at the game though.
I hope this update clarifies my position. The original preview remains unchanged below.
What happens when you try to cross a racing game, soccer, and FPS deathmatch? Rocket League is what happens.
In Rocket League, two teams of up to four players face off against each other in a game of what is essentially car-soccer. At least, they will do at some point – currently, the closed beta only accommodates up to three players per team. Thankfully, matchmaking is incredibly fast and, in all the matches I played, I didn’t notice any lag or experience any connectivity issues.
At first, I have to admit, I was having a lot of fun. The chaos of attempting to use cars to play soccer is pretty exciting to watch and take part in. There was a lot of shouting at the screen, sitting on the edge of my seat, and just some general Rocket League hooliganism, as the 6 cars tried (and usually failed) to scramble the huge futuristic beach ball into the opposing team’s goal. However, any initial excitement that I felt was more at the novelty of the idea, rather than the game itself. Once the novelty wears off, what you’re left with is a fairly simple game that quickly becomes repetitive.
Rocket League already looks pretty polished in the visual department: vibrant colors and plenty of neon lights lend the game a suitably futuristic feel. That the stadium appears to be on mile high stilts makes everything feel more intense, considering you’re playing football with cars in a stadium that’s sitting at around cloud level. Even writing that sentence makes me wish this was a real sport. To prevent you falling off the side of the stadium, there’s a huge shield that you can drive all over. If you drive fast enough you can even reach the ceiling of it, but gravity always manages to catch up with you in the end. Damn gravity.
The gameplay and mechanics are pretty simple – R2 to drive forwards, L2 to drive backwards, X to make your car jump (yes, jump) and O to boost. Simplicity does work for many games, but I just don’t feel like it’s a good thing in Rocket League. At first, it’s nice being able to pick up the controls very quickly – it’s easy to learn but difficult to master. However, it’s this same simplicity that led me to boredom after only several matches. After fumbling the ball into the big orange goal for the 6th time, I was left thinking “Is this it?”. There’s no button to pass, no way to get the ball to stick near you (like a dribbling mechanic), no button to shoot, no button to cross… the list goes on really. All you do in this game is drive at a massive ball and hope that it flies in the direction that you want it to. I understand that passing, shooting and crossing are (technically) possible if you drive into the ball correctly. But due to the clunky controls and somewhat random physics, it’s difficult to achieve anything other that simply hitting the ball and praying. I don’t know though, it could just be that I really, really suck at the game.
The simplicity issues spill over into the rules of the game itself. There aren’t really any rules to this “sport” other than driving the ball into the opposing team’s goal to score. I’m not asking for the offside rule or anything, but I’d have expected something more than the wild scramble that I experienced. Every car simply drove at the ball with no thought of tactics or even skill. However, this didn’t appear to be a hindrance to them. The few teams that I played against which did have a dedicated goalkeeper, or attempted anything beyond just blindly driving at the ball, tended to lose very badly. This left me feeling that scoring goals, and therefore winning, was more down to luck than skill.
You can also demolish enemy cars, although I never quite figured out the technique of it. From what I experienced, driving really fast into them seemed to do the job though (however, whether they explode or not is seemingly random). This mechanic could have been great, if not for the fact that demolished cars respawn about one second later in the exact spot where they blew up. At most, it’s a very minor inconvenience and doesn’t really have any impact on the match.
Since Rocket League is still in closed beta, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. While playing I only had access to one vehicle and one arena. However, the full game will apparently feature 10 customizable vehicles and multiple arenas, so there’ll be plenty of choice. If the different vehicles have varying stats and abilities, then this could mix up the gameplay nicely. You’ll also be able to unlock 150 items that can be used to customize your own personal battle-car. With training modes, stat-tracking and leaderboards set to feature too, if you’re the competitive type, then you’ll most definitely be catered for. There will also be some free DLC on release, which is always nice.
However, despite these planned additions, there don’t appear to be any new game types being added. This means that there’s a fair chance that Rocket League will remain just as repetitive as it is in the beta.
I was genuinely disappointed that I didn’t love Rocket League, as the concept reminds me a little of my favourite sports game, Deathrow, which is more-or-less basketball meets Mortal Kombat. It was a fantastically innovative game that had satisfying mechanics with a lot of depth. Rocket League sounded like soccer meets Demolition Derby, so I was obviously very excited for another crazy sports game mash-up. However, my main issue with Rocket League lies with the core gameplay mechanics. Some rather significant changes would need to be made in order for me to get excited about this title.
Despite all I’ve said though, I actually really want this to be a great release, as I love the premise. I hope Psyonix forces me to eat my own words (not literally) by releasing a great game this Spring for PC and PS4. Take a gander at the trailer below.