Rocket League Preview

Jet-powered car-driven gladiator soccer is the sport of the future.

If there are two genres that you might say I’m uniquely unsuited to cover, they are racing and sports games. I don’t own a car, I live in a metropolitan area that has a thriving and functional train and bus system, and the last time I did a competitive sport was pole vaulting in college, which isn’t exactly a team-oriented event. So it’s some surprise to me that I adored the time I’ve gotten to spend with Rocket League, a sort of cross between American Gladiators, soccer, and The Road Warrior

Rocket League, a sequel to the PS3 2008 game Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars, combines the best features of arcade racing with a kind of fantasy indoor soccer that is reminiscent of car combat games, minus the weapons—though you can make a car explode if you hit it at full speed, taking it temporarily out of the match. Your goal is to shoot the ball into your opponent’s net, simple as that, and you have a souped-up car to use to do it. Most of the competitive play with other cars involves jockeying for position and trying to keep the other player from the ball. 

I have to admit being skeptical after I watched the first trailer before going to see the game in San Francisco. What the hell is this soc-car game? But I was a quick convert once I got my hands on the controls, though. Rocket League is one of those games that you really have to play to see how fun it really is. 

You car can jump, double-jump, flip in the air, and fire rocket boosts. There’s something really uniquely enjoyable about doing a “bicycle kick” with a muscle car, to club the giant metal ball into a goal, and the kind of crazy jump shots that seem impossible at first are soon second nature in play. Rocket League strips out pretty much anything about soccer that makes it more complicated than that (no off-sides, no out-of-bounds, since a forcefield wall that can be driven on repels the ball) and it all comes together remarkably well.

You can choose from a set number of car types for different hitboxes for connecting with the ball, and the cars in Rocket League are cosmetically customizable; since the game is made for competitive play, most of the beta players have wanted all the cars to be on a level playing field. However, the customizations, achieved from playing in matches, range from cool to silly (such as adding a sombrero to the top of your car). 

The devs said that the game worked best in 3-on-3 matches, and that a 4 on 4 got so frenetic that they named this “chaos mode." Having played in a couple 3-on-3’s, the balance seemed just right; adding another car would most likely make the game too busy. Though there was the opportunity to do solo practice; strangely from my time with the game, mastering even the simplest game mechanics—how to move or properly strike the ball with your vehicle—seemed easier in actual matches against others. 

Rocket League may not be perfect (I would have liked a higher jump or other modifiers), but the devs at Psyonix have fine tuned the gameplay to find the best balance, and have turned off match modifers like different physics, ball mechanics, etc., saving those for DLC. Still, that grousing aside, the game is fun, and matches are fast, crazy, and fun.

Rocket League is being developed by Psyonix, and past the beta, will release this summer on PS4 and PC.