Rocket League Takes The Racing Genre Into The Deathmatch Arena

Rocket League: Hands-On Preview

[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_02Rocket 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.

Rocket League: Hands-On PreviewSince 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.

Chris Corbett

Chris Corbett

Junior Editor
Chris loves gaming, ginger beer and facial hair. Probably an unhealthy amount. He plays loads of different games (with ginger beer in hand) and loves writing about his experiences.
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  • Volodesi

    If you think the game is boring and repetitive. I would just suggest you visit the forums and look at the Rocket League Beta montages people have put up. Dribbling is possible in the game. You just have to use skill to do it. Instead of having some silly button to do it for you. It can takes hundreds of hours to get good at this game.

    • Thanks for that Volodesi – I’ll pass your comments onto the author and hopefully he’ll be able to address them for you.

  • BigFunny

    I agree with Volodesi. Yeah you can have your opinion but don’t post unvalidated facts, such as respawning right where you blew up after a second. You respawn back at your goal after 3 seconds. And it’s not random, rather there is a speed with which you have to run into someone to “demolish” them.

    Also, tactics are a huge part in the game. I don’t know which games you were playing in, but having a goalie in the goal at all times is essential for winning.

    The controls are not clumsy, you are. As Volodesi said, it takes hundreds of hours to practice, and there are enough people that dedicated to show how the game does not simply “get boring”, just as real football never gets boring.

    • Chris Corbett

      Hi BigFunny thanks for the feedback.

      As I’ve said to everyone else, I’m just writing about what I experienced. Demolishing a car seemed to have no impact on the game. Every time I did it to someone they were back in the game right away and it seemed they were respawning exactly where they died. I certainly wasn’t respawning right back at my goal every time.

      And I’ll concede that there could be more to this game, but I was writing about my playtime with it. I spent at least 15+ hours playing, and nothing seemed to change. I thought this gave a fair representation of the game. Does it not seem like a fairly steep learning curve that it takes over 100 hours to even begin to get proficient at the game?

      Also, to quote the article “I don’t know though, it could just be that I really, really suck at the game”, so I did take me possibly being clumsy into account.

  • Martintheboss

    Thank you for taking the time to review the Beta. This beta was focused on matchmaking only. So yes only one car and stadium, when playing for the first time it can get repetitive.

    But thankfully Psyonix was aware of this and in the full release there will be a tutorial and trainingmode that will explain all the things you encountered as problems.

    If you give it you fair share of time then also you can achieve greatness. I recommend you watch the vids posted at the Psyonix forums from players who played it more then once.

    • Hi Martintheboss,

      Thanks for your comment. Don’t worry, we’ll be keeping an eye on it as it progresses further through development; we don’t review unfinished games, hence there not being a score at the end of the article. We’ll be coming back to it again, and Chris certainly thinks it has a lot of promise – but that it isn’t quite there yet.

      We wasn’t expecting this to be quite so controversial, to be honest!

      If it helps, we utterly love Psyonix’s other game, Nosgoth! You can check out our preview of that here –

    • Chris Corbett

      Hi Martintheboss, thanks for the feedback.

      I can assure you I did play the game more than once. I played for at least 15+ hours overall (I wasn’t properly keeping track). It’s great that there’ll be tutorials in the full release, every game I experienced was just a wild scramble.

      As I said to Fyshokid, I can only write about what I experience. Had I been much more positive I would have just been lying. Every game I played, without fail, involved no skill, but I can see how a tutorial could go a long way to address that.

      I was told that I’d only get a proper idea of what Rocket League was like if I played 100+ hours and got good at the game. That seems like an incredibly steep learning curve to me, but again, the tutorials could address that.

  • Fyshokid

    I think it should be noted that this was posted on the official forums, and people are a little annoyed at the fact that you seemingly played a few matches against new players, and decided that that must be all the skill there is in this game. Yes, the game seems random, but that’s only if the players don’t know what they’re doing. The game always tries to matchmake players of equal skill, so that’s probably why you were playing with a bunch of crappy players. After a few days, most players get pretty comfortable with the controls, and that’s where tactics and stuff start to come into play.

    I think it’s cool that you reviewed the beta, but had you spent a little more time with it, you’d (probably) see that having no pass buttons etc., are what makes this game so skillful. Dribbling is definitely possible, and “driving blindly at the ball” will make you lose every time against players with just a little experience.

    I’ll end this comment with a couple of videos, which I think show off the game quite well. The first being my own, and the second from a different forum member, which shows a bit more variety in goals:

    Of course, if you still don’t like the game, then that’s fine too 😛 Just sayin’, there’s a lot more to this game than you think…

    • Chris Corbett

      Hi Fyshokid, thanks for the feedback.

      Those videos are great, I certainly didn’t see anything like that when I played though. Sadly, I can only write about what I experience. When I was playing it was just a violent scramble with pretty much no skill involved. People are telling me that it takes 100+ hours to even start getting good at this game.
      While I appreciate that there’s clearly more to this game than I experienced, for someone who’s just jumping in that’s a very steep learning curve.

      I played for about 15+ hours which I thought was a fair time to get an idea of what the game was like. I also let three friends play with me (who were much more critical of the game than I was).

      My opinion in this preview is coming from someone who’s a rookie, and I even recognise that in the article “I don’t know though, it could just be that I really, really suck at the game.” I feel I gave a balanced account of the game and even said I saw a lot of promise in it. Had I been more positive , I would have just been lying about my experiences.

      • Fyshokid

        Can’t fault you for that. 15 hours is really quite a lot, actually, and I can’t hold it against you if that is really how you felt. I think most of the regulars reading this got the impression that you had only played a few matches, and based your preview off of that, without giving it a fair chance, but this seems to not be the case.

        It’s been confirmed that the next beta (due within a couple of weeks) will include a tutorial/training of some sort, so that might help a little. But again, it’s unrealistic to believe that every single person who plays it will actually enjoy it, regardless of skill, and I’m sure Psyonix appreciates hearing some criticism once in a while 😛

        • Chris has just popped out for Lunch, but he said thanks :p

          • Fyshokid

            No problem. I appreciate the honesty 🙂

          • If it helps, we really love Psyonix’s other game, Nosgoth :p

  • Bullying Fanboy

    You’re an idiot

  • BostonApu

    how do you play the game for 15+ hours, for the purpose of reviewing it, yet never notice cars dont respawn in the same spot?

    how can you call a game repetitive when you’ve never learned all the game mechanics? you can’t start repeating stuff until you do it once. i mean you never even learned to pass but its repetitive.

    also did you really ask for a pass button?

    those 3 things make it hard for me to even believe you spent 15+ hours on it. im not a huge gamer, dont review games for a living, and spent maybe 10 hrs on the beta and i feel i know a whole lot more about the game than you. (also no i never played the previous game)

  • BostonApu

    i wont ever be back to this website after you deleted my comment for no other reason than you didn’t like it. i didn’t curse or call anyone names. i made legit points

    • Chris Corbett

      Hi BostonApu, as far as I can see your comment is still visible, it’s possibly not showing up for you due to a glitch or something.

      I’ve addressed some issues people had with the preview in an update at the beginning. I can assure you that I did play the game for 15 hours though and admit I made an error on the point of respawning after demolition.

      My reasoning behind passing, crossing and shooting buttons was simply that I found the controls to be clunky and that every game I played was just a wild scramble for the opposing goal.

  • Mike Law

    I love this game. 😀

    This game is more a skill based game though, so the time you put in is about pushing what you can do in matches. Rather than putting time in to unlock more powerful stuff to make things easier.

    P.S. You should try this game locally with some friends, it’s a really good sit on couch with friends game. Reminds me of older days. 😀

    Anyway, hopefully tutorials for ball control and Ariel touches will make the learning curve easier for newer players.

  • Edward Tischler

    Fysho and Martin have both already addressed what I would tell you myself, but you also need to keep in mind that matchmaking is skill-based. It tries to match you up with people who are at a similar skill level. As you play more, and be more successful, the game tries to match you up with more skillful players. If you did not see “skillful” play, it’s because you’re new; 15 hours is quite little. Your excuse of being a “casual” does not help your argument at all.

    When I saw the title, I was immediately drawn to the fact that you associated Rocket League to a Deathmatch arena game. Any player who has played the game enough can tell you that deathmatch is not even close to a good description of this game.

    You say simplicity will not work, but it has worked for Psyonix in car soccer since 2008 and has drawn millions of players over the years. You are obviously saying your own opinion, yes, but it is also obvious that you were drawn to the game simply because it had a slight recognition of vehicular demolition and not because you actually know what the game is about: soccer.

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