I believe it was Forza Motorsport 4 in 2011 that initially introduced me to the concept of a crossover involving cars and football. What a novel idea to have a kick about in a Porsche, I thought, however it does wear thin after a game or two. And then a few years later Psyonix, in 2016 to be exact, brought their rocket-powered car and ‘soccer’ hybrid over to the Xbox One. It’s such a gimmick that it’ll die off in no time. Imagine my surprise when Rocket League became an instant favourite, having clocked almost 80 full days of game time since then. So, yeah, five years after its launch I’d like to offer some insight into the addictive experience of Rocket League and how the phenomenal success also comes with a few downsides.
Would you believe that Rocket League is actually a sequel to a game from 2009? Well, it is, to the lesser known and not particularly well-received, rather ordinary, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars on PS3. Even before crossing our Xbox radar, the follow-up Rocket League had garnered plenty of downloads via PS4, where it launched on 7th July, 2015 alongside the PC version. This is in part due to immediately featuring in the PS Plus promotion, ensuring plenty of attention headed its way. And then everyone wanted a piece of the action, which eventually led to a release for Xbox One on 17th February, 2016.
That’s merely the beginning of Rocket League’s journey towards global and mass market dominance though, culminating in over 10 million sales digitally so far and a thriving eSports scene. It’s maintained its place at the upper echelon of gaming through a consistent effort by developers Psyonix to improve the overall experience, adding tons of new content for free along the way. In doing so, they’ve managed to keep players interested for a period of time in which most multiplayer offerings have long died a slow and painful death, mainly through stagnation.
Compared to now, the game itself was fairly barebones upon its arrival, with the only notable options being to play a career mode against bots or partake in standard matches online (1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4). The gameplay is what matters however, and the unpredictable nature ensures no encounter is the same as the next. Obviously, the overall aim stays the same as you battle it out using rocket-fuelled cars to roam arenas for five minutes, hoping to whack the oversized soccer ball into the net more times than the opposition does. Everything else is just a high octane rollercoaster ride of excitement where you just never know what can happen.
Unless you’re on the wrong end of a drubbing – not something I’m familiar with – the matches can change in an instant and the craziest things can happen. Driving full pelt into the ball to score a screamer from your own half to spark a comeback isn’t unheard of, and neither is trying to show off while in goal only to completely miss the ball, making you look like a fool. It’s the physics which really enhance the volatile match-ups though, with the ability to caress the ball and add spin entirely possible. And that’s without mentioning the rocket boosted flying antics, seeing the very best folks glide through the air majestically to make contact with the ball.
Having sunk way too many hours into Rocket League personally, I can’t remember any match where repetition is an issue. But the amazing moments are certainly ingrained in my mind, such as pulling off a backflip goal to level up the scores as the clock reaches zero; making save after save and shouting “You shall not pass!” as I single-handedly kept my team in a game we ended up winning; and going on an unbeaten run of over 50 games. I love this game, but the meteoric rise has seen a familiar foe enter the fray; one which rears its ugly head in almost every massively popular title, from FIFA to Call of Duty. The toxic gamer.
Over the years, encountering these kinds of gamers has become an increasingly regular occurrence. A single error of judgment and they’re on your back for the duration, berating you incessantly with no real purpose. It’s even worse if you’re losing, because it’s always your fault and the abusive comments that get through the chat filter are a whole new level of disgrace. There are also the quitters who leave you in the lurch, essentially seeing the rest of the match turn into a training session. And don’t even get me started on the disgusting team names people conjure up.
Thankfully, Psyonix have implemented the ability to report such terrible behaviour and some of the offenders do receive punishments as a result. This is one of the least exciting features to arrive through the many free updates however, with fresh match types being among the best. There’s Snow Day, where you hit a puck around instead of a ball; Hoops, which challenges you to make dunks; and the floor collapsing mayhem of Dropshot. Rumble has arguably been the best addition though, with Mario Kart style power-ups in your arsenal. It’s endless fun as you punch the ball from afar, plunge it to safety, spike it to the roof off your car, or simply freeze the ball in mid-air.
The regular updates have also brought in tons of customisation items to cosmetically enhance your car. Whether earned by levelling up, performing special event tasks or seasonal objectives, you’ll have a plethora of designs, toppers, boost styles and more at your disposal. There have even been crossovers with huge franchises like WWE, DC, Ghostbusters and Rick & Morty, to name a few. It’s impressive how the developers always come up with exciting cosmetics that can often be garnered without spending any dosh.
Due to supporting cross-platform battles, and having transitioned into a free-to-play game on 23rd September of 2020 (you can pick it up right now from the Xbox Store), Rocket League bought itself even more longevity for a fair while yet. But one has to wonder if Psyonix will ever risk the idea of developing a sequel that makes the most of the next-gen consoles and introduces new inventive game modes. Could they just continue to tweak and enhance the rather excellent gameplay, all while still bringing enjoyment to the masses?
That’s the big question, and the answer isn’t clear as of yet. Don’t worry though, because Rocket League is terrific and has grown exponentially since 2016. What do you think about the longevity Rocket League has provided to date? Have you got any great memories you wish to share with us? If so, please leave a comment below or reach out via one of our many social media channels!