Rocket League is a tightly crafted, fast paced, chaotic dive into the world of sport, and being along for the ride in this early stage is liberating; witnessing tactics evolve, metas born and Rocket League celebrities heralded as they soar above the pitch, effortlessly landing aerial connections while attracting thousands on Twitch.
The first draft I wrote of this review was too cold, too precise and didn’t, I felt, convey the sheer joy experienced when playing Rocket League. It didn’t capture the sweaty hands as a tight, ranked match went into overtime, nor the bellowed expletives when a team mates reverses the ball into your own net, nor did it truly capture the muffled joy when, at 2 a.m, you and your team land a perfectly executed set up and goal.
Rocket League is drama, it’s theatre and it encapsulates so perfectly why we love both sport and gaming. The sheer absurdity of the premise, cars playing football, coupled with perfectly crafted, calculated gameplay where every design decision, every facet of the game works in unison to make Rocket League one of the best multiplayer games I’ve played for some time.
Rocket League breaks down into seven types of match grouping ranging from 1v1 to 4v4 in unranked games, and 1v1 to 3v3 in ranked coupled with some training exercises to teach and refine some of the games more nuanced techniques. If you’ve read a review telling you the training is useless or they were “already good” before encountering the training they’re lying. Rocket League is a simple game, certainly, but the skill ceiling here is as impressive as it is intimidating.
In the easier difficulty of Rocket League you’ll find yourself, and the AI, driving around on the floor and nudging the ball around gently, pausing on the ground when the ball balloons up into the air, waiting politely for it to bounce. As you crank up the difficulty, or if you jump online, you’ll quickly discover that patiently waiting and gentle nudging won’t cut it. Pro players send their cars skyward, carefully controlling the lean of their vehicle as they slam the ball goalbound. At the other end you’ll find them hang in the air, waiting for a ball you were certain was in, only to divert it away and send it up the pitch. It’ll be disheartening for some but such is the simplicity of mechanics in Rocket League that seeing a well executed aerial strike is more inspiring than it is demoralising.
That’s what sets Rocket League apart from many competitive games. The barrier to high level play isn’t as great as something like Street Fighter or Starcraft, there no additional thing to do. No insane combos or unreal APM to master alongside the game itself. That simplicity is what will make Rocket League a great esport title.
That’s what Rocket League is becoming; an esport. Not only for its tightly crafted, addictive gameplay but also because it understands the three crucial areas it involves itself in; gaming, sport and football. The depth and complexity on show here comes not only from the mastery of advanced techniques, but by understanding the flow of the game; something which sports fans will instantly take to. The ebbs and flows, the peaks and troughs, the last minute winners and the drama of the beautiful game unfold over the course of intense 5 minute matches.
In fact, using the words “ebbs” and “troughs” while describing Rocket League is something of a misnomer. There are none. The length and pace of the game is such that there is simply no downtime. No simple pass among the back four while you take a breather, no keeper wasting a few seconds holding onto the ball. Every touch is goalbound, every missed shot has the potential to put your team on the back foot and every position on the pitch is dangerous.
What that creates is sporting tension. The reason we all watch it; whether it be cricket, football, rugby or the rubbish sports that the Americans made up. That tension, that pressure builds over the course of tight matches while the sweat trickles down your forehead and your hands get clammy. The risk taking stops, the errors are cut out and people begin to panic. One crack, one mistake will cost you a match in Rocket League; a poor clearance, a missed shot, a misjudged attempt at a tackle will see the ball fly into your net and explode to cement the ignominy.
And that is the beauty of sport. The passion, the drama, the tension, the pressure forcing the best to stand tall and deliver in exceptional circumstances. Rocket League allows that, encourages it, nurtures it. The infrequent crashes on the PC version (along with invisible players) blights an almost perfect experience and shouldn’t detract from what is one of the most highly recommended games this year.