EA seems to have a new love affair with signing up and shepherding independent multiplayer games to market, with Knockout City coming from Velan Studios this May. A riff on the classic playground game of dodgeball, it takes the simple multiplayer concept of throwing balls at one another and layers special ball types, expansive maps, and more on top of it.
We got to check out the game back in February, but as Velan gears up for this weekend’s cross-play beta test across PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC, we took the opportunity to dive back in (though, we only got to play on PC at the preview event). Does it still hold up at the second look?
In a word: yes. Compared to games like Call of Duty where you build your perfect loadout, Knockout City pairs things right back down to the very basics. Everyone has the same fundamental abilities to get around the map – running, double jumping and hang-gliding – and the rest is down to being able to find a ball, throw it at your opponents and time your counters to catch incoming balls before you get hit.
The wrinkles come in the form of special balls, a gravity-modifying Moon Ball, a timed-explosive Bomb Ball and a Cage Ball that rolls up your enemies and gives you the opportunity to grab and throw them off the map! You’re also able to roll up into a ball yourself, getting grabbed by a teammate and launched like a mortar to land explosively half-way across the map.
The new cross-play beta introduces a few new elements, with a new map called Back Alley Brawl, a 1v1 face-off mode, and a new special Sniper Ball for you to pick up. Only one special ball is in play at a time during a 3v3 bout of Team KO, and the Sniper Ball immediately has a transformative effect when it appears. Shaped like a rugby ball (or American Football, I guess) you charge it up, the camera zooming in and locking on to target until you can unleash a ball that zips across the map like a bullet. It’s incredibly powerful, and where the already tentative game of cat and mouse between ball-havers and ball-have-nots has you dancing around each other, the sniper ball turns it into a bout at longer distance with with taking cover preferable, almost, to trying to counter.
It’s a really interesting twist and makes me intrigued to see what else Velan Studios can cook up.
However, this hands on time also highlighted just how important network stability will be for this game. Where my first hands on session was as smooth as butter, the game’s rollback netcode and custom Viper game engine working wonderfully, here it wasn’t quite so slick. When it worked, it worked perfectly, but there were a few occasions where latency warnings popped up, and I had half a round where my character was moving erratically, almost as though my controls were inverted. It’s issues like this that this cross-play beta will hopefully help Velan iron our before the game’s full release.
Knockout City holds plenty of promise, taking dodgeball as an inspiration and morphing it into something that blends multiplayer shooter and fighting game together. The cross-play beta is running this weekend from 2nd-4th April, and is available to pre-load for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch.