Console on and controller in hand, the first time I booted Rocket League it felt as though I had been reunited with a long-lost friend. Looking around, almost everything fans love about its 2008 predecessor has been preserved, expanded, and given a fresh lick of paint. Although not exactly risky or adventurous, it’s the follow-up many have been dreaming of for years and now it’s finally here.
For those who’ve never heard of Rocket League or SARPBC before, the concept behind these games is a delightfully simple one. It’s basically football (or soccer) but with cars instead of players. However, what makes these cartoonish buggies particularly versatile is their ability to travel at high speed while also flipping and spinning in mid-air.
This level of mobility is crucial as players leap and zoom around the pitch, tussling with one another as they attempt to blast a huge metallic ball into their opponents’ goal. Aside from a handy boost mechanic – powered by nodes and capsules left scattered around – that’s all there really is to Rocket League’s core gameplay.
Where this lack of complexity would usually hamstring many games, here it works as a boon. Instead of giving players more HUD elements and systems to pore over, Rocket League focuses almost exclusively on its physics-based gameplay. Whenever players collide, either with the ball or one another, there are a number of factors that determine the speed and trajectory of what (or who) is on the receiving end.
This single physics-based element gives each match a unique sense of unpredictability. That said, victory in Rocket Leagues will mostly come from skilled play. Although there is the occasional fluke shot, just as there is in real football, winning usually comes down to deft handling of the ball as well as teamwork (when not playing one-on-one, that is).
Easing players into the game is a series of quick and effective tutorials. These go through the basic controls while steadily introducing new tactics for you to experiment with. Of course, the best way to improve is by simply playing matches, against AI or real opponents online.
Replacing SARPBC’s series of star-rated challenges, Rocket League offers Season Mode. Here players can assemble a custom made team, throwing down against a pool of AI teams as they aim for top spot on the league table. Where most players will hopefully be spending their time however is in multiplayer.
Again, there’s nothing fancy here. Whether alone or in a party, you can jump straight into regular or ranked online play. Although the servers have been fairly patchy during launch week, Psyonix has now more or less levelled out these issues. From my experience, as someone who has a fairly average internet connection, online gameplay was just as seamless as what it is against the AI, even when paired with gamers from Oceania and the US West Coast.
Up until now, simplicity has been Rocket League’s winning feature. However, there is one particular area of the game that has suffered as a result of Psyonix’s straightforward approach. One of things I, and many other fans, loved about SARPBC was its diverse stock of stadiums; each was different in shape and size, forcing players to alter their tactics accordingly. In Rocket League, however, there is zero variation to be had apart from aesthetics. Each of the current stadiums are of similar size and completely flat.
Bar this one niggling issue, everything else about Rocket League is superb. Sure, Psyonix could have perhaps been a bit more daring yet the safe route has certainly paid off. With the foundation now set, hopefully the developer will start to experiment as it begins rolling out the first of its free content updates.
Version Tested: PS4