Rocket League – PlayStation 4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date (NA): July 7, 2015
Genre: Sports, Soccer
Nerd Rating: 8/10
When I was a much younger lad, one of my favorite summer activities was a good ol’ fashioned game of street baseball. (Played with a tennis ball to avoid damaging the entire neighborhood.)
A number of other kids on the block and even a few of the parents would often join us for our friendly community games. One instance that stands out in my memory in an at-bat that I had, in which I was facing off against Tom Hollister, the Uncle of my friend. At this time in my short-lived, amateur street ball career, I had taken an increased interest in pitching, so as is the norm with most pitchers, my batting skills had begun their natural decline. During this at-bat, I remember whiffing past a couple of pitches, finding myself in the dreaded 0-2 hole that haunts batters in their sleep. I dug in, as much as I could considering we were playing on unforgiving asphalt, and prepared to avail myself of the predicament.
Whether I hit the ball or not, I honestly don’t remember. It’s what my friends Uncle said before he delivered that potentially final pitch that stood out in my mind as I prepared to write this review.
“I’m going to strike him out.” Said a confident Tom Hollister, as he prepped his knockout blow. “You know why I’m going to strike him out?” He queried. “Because I know that he really, really wants to hit that ball.”
I stood there stunned for a moment. How had he been able to read me like a book? The truth was, Tom Hollister was right. Every fiber, every thought, every muscle in my body; all screamed out their desire to play hero and smack the yellow right off of that tennis ball. He knew that that singular obsession would cloud my judgment and cause me to take risks, in this case, swinging at a bad pitch, that would cause my downfall. It’s a universal flaw of humanity. We all want to play hero, which can force us into not actually playing the game well.
I was reminded of this memory during many marathon sessions of Rocket League, a fantastic indy darling that has become extremely popular and was awarded the title of Best Indy Game at the 2015 Video Game Awards.
For those unfamiliar, Rocket League is an elegantly simple vehicular interpretation of the sport of soccer. Players join a three person squad to compete against another three person squad in an online duel. The objective: do whatever it takes to launch your vehicle into a large, delightfully bouncy ball, and do whatever it takes to propel that ball into your opponents goal, while preventing the opposing team doing the same to you. Whichever team scores the most goals within the 5 minute time limit is the winner. Any other resemblance to the rules of soccer, fouls, goal-tending, etc have been eliminated to create a simple, yet elegant balance between offense and defense.
Rocket League’s simplicity is its greatest strength. The intrinsic universal nature of the objective, along with an easy to grasp control scheme and a satisfying playtime, makes it a game that is easily enjoyed in quick bursts, or hour’s long sessions.
However, that simplicity is also a downside which rears its ugly head when human nature takes over.
With no defined roles within the 3 on 3 team structure of Rocket League, players are forced to define those roles for themselves. That’s not terribly difficult if you’re someone more adept at looking at the big picture of things, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, and you see that big beautiful ball looming tantalizingly in front of you, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture as your desire to make any type of contact whatsoever with the ball overcomes your senses.
And that’s where the frustration comes in. The other players. Just as in real life, the quality of people that you meet can vary wildly.
It can be infuriating to go to the trouble of positioning yourself for a perfect shot on goal and then have that shot ruined by an over-exuberant teammate, who knocks that ball down field and ruins the team’s scoring chance, all because he saw the ball in front of him, and he wanted to hit it.
To be fair, that submission to human nature is a problem mostly confined to those who are just beginning to play Rocket League. Once you become more frequently matched with semi-pro and higher levels of experienced players, you will see that awareness of how to play as a team increase.
Aside from being an interesting insight into human psychology, Rocket League succeeds as an actual video game. There are few different modes from which to choose, namely how many players you want on each team. You can choose to play in one-on-one duels, all the way up to four-on-four chaos matches, however the vast majority of people are playing in the standard three-on-three matches, thus that will be the match type in which you will be most likely engaged.
Players earn points for performing various actions during the Rocket League matches. Scoring a goal will get you 100 points, a save 50, etc. Those points translate to experience points earned, which serves as the mechanism to unlock a number of different vehicles and customization options. Special decals, tires, even an antennae topper featuring the Video Game Awards statuette. The unlockable’s serve as an incentive to continue playing, however those extras serve as the icing on the cake.
The only real criticism that I can find in Rocket League is that once in a while, the physics seem just a little off. There were a few times when it felt like my trajectory was about to take me on an epic collision course with the ball, yet somehow I ended up missing. It’s a hard criticism to quantify because I can’t quite tell if the sensation of speed is not where it needs to be, thus causing me to misjudge my timing, or if there is something off about the hit-boxes of the cars and the ball, however it is something that I have experienced. That being said, it’s really a minor issue that doesn’t do much to diminish Rocket League’s enjoyability.
With the core gameplay of Rocket League being as strong as it is, it does feel like an opportunity was missed to put a little meat on the proverbial bones. Perhaps future editions could offer the ability to form clubs with other people, and earn points as a team. World-wide, team-based rankings would further the appeal the game has in the world of e-sports.
That’s conjecture for another time though. As it stands now, Rocket League is an extremely addicting indy masterpiece. The concept and the mechanics behind them are instantly recognizable, creating an immediate rapport with the player. The perfect length of the matches creates an experience that is easily digestible, whether you are playing a couple of quick rounds before bed, or having an all night session with friends. Rocket League is brilliant in its simplicity and highly recommended.
Just try to think conceptually about the game as a whole when you start playing.
Rocket League is also available on PC and will be released on Xbox One in February of 2016.
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