Rocket League’s second beta isn’t perfect, but, I have to admit, it is a very fun experience – much more enjoyable than the time I spent with the game’s initial beta. The novel concept, tense gameplay and at times insane car acrobatics create many exciting moments. Psyonix are definitely on their way to creating a unique and enjoyable gaming experience, even if it is very bloody hard.
When I originally previewed Rocket League, it’s fair to say that I didn’t have the best of times. The first beta allowed players to jump straight into the game against human opponents online in 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 matches. I played about 15 hours of the game, constantly encountering wild scrambles for the ball, zero tactics and just a very repetitive experience in general. Simply because I had little-to-no idea what I was doing, the whole experience just felt pretty random and unenjoyable. However, I did see promise in the concept, so I knew I’d be back to try the next closed beta – and now here I am.
If you’re unaware of what Rocket League is, I can briefly explain. It’s essentially a football game (or soccer to my American friends) in which you play as a car, instead of a human. If it sounds a little insane, then I can assure you, it is. But insane is good. There’s only really one rule to the game – score as many goals as possible. You’re even allowed to demolish each other without being penalized. However, the complexity doesn’t lie in the rules, but rather in the controls of Rocket League. Even after many hours of play, I still feel like I’m only an initiate, unable to even attempt many of the impressive feats that I’ve seen veterans of the game perform in montage videos.
The first thing I have to address, is the simple addition of a tutorial in this second beta. It’s done so much to improve my experience with Rocket League. Seriously, it feels like a totally different game now. After I released my mixed preview, I was criticized by several fans of the game, who told me that I needed to play 100+ hours to even get half-decent at it.
This may sound like a pretty excessive learning curve for new players. However, the new tutorial has gone a long way to addressing the incredibly high difficulty. I found myself enjoying Rocket League much more as a result, since I knew the limitations of what my car could and couldn’t do. It also affected the skill level of the players I was facing – teams were actually using tactics and skill.
However, Rocket League is still a game that demands a great deal of respect and time if you want to master its subtleties. The ball itself is similar to a massive futuristic beach ball. It reacts a great deal even at the slightest touch of your car, which can at times leave you frustrated and wondering if the physics engine is totally on the ball (all puns intended).
This makes any precise play (such as dribbling, passing or crossing) all but impossible for new players, and still very difficult even after prolonged play. Even the second time around, I found it took a good few hours before I started pulling my weight even a little bit. Bearing in mind, this was after I made sure to get 100% in every tutorial on offer (game basics, goal-keeping, ground shots and aerial shots).
This high level of difficulty can lead to many instances of frustration for new players, as you’re unable to get the ball to do exactly what you want. It’s maddening when you’re waiting for the ball to slowly descend, only to have your long timed jump misfire completely, sending the ball careening somewhere unintended (sometimes even at my own goal). However, at the opposite end of the scale, when you connect your car perfectly with the ball it’s insanely satisfying, especially if you score from it. I personally found that it was much better for me to take the role as team goal-keeper at first. It’s a great way to learn how to actually connect your car with the ball, without having to really worry where it goes – as you’re only attempting to clear the ball away from your goal.
After quite a few matches of hanging back, I finally decided to take the plunge and try my hand at being a striker. I’m happy to say that I scored my fair share of pretty good goals (not all of which were luck). However, I don’t think people will be calling me the car-version of Lionel Messi just yet.
I found that I, and most of those I played with, were able to eventually master the ground shot. It involves timing a jump perfectly, then doing a mid-air dodge all the while aiming your car in the right direction. Yes, I know it sounds hard, but that’s because it is. Really hard. It took hours of play before I was able to aim the ball with any precision. Again, this did get frustrating, but it was very rewarding when I eventually became somewhat adept at it.
Aerial shots were a completely different story altogether. After many hours I began to believe that they were a thing of myth, only ever seen in the montage videos of the best players. However, just as I was giving up hope I managed to score the car equivalent of a bicycle kick, mid-air. I’ll be the first to admit it was mostly luck, but every player in the game took the time to tell me what a great goal it was, even the opposition.
This very neatly moves me onto my next point: how much good sportsmanship there is on display in Rocket League. No matter how badly I played, or how useless my attempt at saving/scoring was, people were always incredibly nice and supportive. I know this isn’t strictly related to the game itself, but I felt it had to be mentioned. If you’re scared of playing Rocket League due to the high difficulty, and fearful of being lambasted by opponents and teammates alike, don’t be. For the most part you aren’t going to be judged or abused (as with any game, you still might come across that one guy who’s a dick). It’s a far cry from the notoriously hostile communities of League of Legends and DOTA.
I still personally found that my levels of excitement and fun started to diminish after 45 minutes to an hour. This could be due to there still only being one type of battle-car and one stadium (the final game will feature 10 customizable vehicles and multiple arenas) Or it could be that Rocket League is a lot more fun in small doses. I always found myself drawn back to it after I’d given it a rest for a few hours. The same could probably be said for any other intense multiplayer experience. The other possibility is that I may just have been mentally exhausted after an hour, worn out after many nail-biting matches, crushing defeats, and the dizzy highs of scraping a narrow win.
It’s fair to say that my experience with Rocket League this time around was far more positive than the first. I suppose with any game that only involves fellow human players, there’s always the risk that none of them will know how to play, and they’ll all walk away thinking the game is, well, a bit rubbish. This pretty much sums up what happened in my first preview, after all. So I’m glad that I gave Rocket League another chance, and the latest beta goes a long way to smooth out the bumpy experience I had the first time around. There’s great fun and will give you some of the most satisfying and rewarding moments of your gaming career to be found – but only if you’re able to commit to it. If you do have a bad experience with Rocket League at first, I’d urge you not to give up on it. Be patient and allow yourself to be bad at it for a while; once you improve, the game gets a whole lot better.
In my last preview I said I wanted Psyonix to make me eat my words. Well, here I am, eating them quite happily with a side-salad of rocket (terrible pun, I’m sorry) and humble pie.
Rocket League releases this Spring on PS4 and PC, and I hope to see you on there.