EA put its marker down years ago, signalling itself as a behemoth of a publishing house over the last decade or so. When it’s not producing its annual football, american football, or hockey franchise, or taking us across the Battlefield or into a galaxy far far away with a Star Wars title, it manages to spring the occasional surprise in the guise of EA originals. There has been Unravel, A Way Out, and Fe to name just a few, but now it is time to venture into the 3 vs 3 field with Rocket Arena. How does it fare in this more competitive marketplace with the likes of Overwatch and Bleeding Edge taking up residence?
The arena shooter has been with us for a while, beginning with games like Quake and Team Fortress. But it’s only lately where it has really come to the fore again, with Overwatch stealing the crown and becoming the influence of many more games. Rocket Arena has its own individual concept – everyone fires rockets, and rockets alone; there are no other guns. Madness, I hear you shout. Well, on the face of it yes. But it’s more complex than that.
You start the game with a tutorial that shows you the basics of the arena and how to play. You pick a character from a roster of 10 colorful personalities, all with different special moves and abilities, before being placed on one of several maps – little islands floating in the sky that have places where you can fall off or be propelled to. The game works as a 3 vs 3 affair, limited in time depending on the mode you are playing.
As you would expect to hear, the main area of attack is centralised around firing your rockets at your enemy, all while trying to avoid the incoming onslaught, dodging and weaving your way as you do so. But it’s not about killing people in Rocket Arena – it’s about hitting them with your weaponry, knocking down their health bar until they are propelled out of the arena. This will give you a knockout. No one dies in this game, and if you get knocked out yourself you just float back into the arena. It’s quite a bloodless game in fact, particularly for one that sees so many rocket launchers involved.
There are two special moves in place for each character and these can be great fun. You might, for example, have the option to utilise a special bomb that falls down from above to blow your opponent off the map. Or you may make use of a shield for a certain amount of time when you’re in trouble. My favourite is the chance to split a character into two, each of whom would fight at the same time, switching between both on the fly.
There are also special boxes lying around the maps and these can give special boosts that last for a short while. There’s a bomb you can throw, a speed boost, and things like a rocket magnet that gathers up enemy rockets through a defensive force field and renders them harmless, whilst a trip mine can be placed to catch out unsuspecting foes. There is so much in fact that the tutorial can never prepare you for how frantic and manic these games are, and even in the early stages of release there are many out there who have mastered the game already. If you don’t spend the time to try and compete, well, you haven’t got a chance in hell.
You can play Rocket Arena across either social or ranked modes, and there are several playlists picked at random. There is the simplest option which sees you having to perform more knockouts than the other team to win the game. Or there is a twist on capturing the flag, with chests that appear. There’s a coin collecting alternative in place too, and a sort of football game where you have to collect a ball and throw it at a goal without getting shot. These are both extremely good fun.
After each game, you can level up the character of your choosing via the Artifact system. The more experience you have the more you can get boosts – things like extra speed or the ability to reduce damage taken from the rocket attacks. There is also the standard bit of customisation gains for each character, in the form of skins, colourings, and clothes, if that’s your thing.
The visual palette is a vividly colourful one, much in the line of Overwatch. The characters are brilliantly designed with a good range of different variations in sex and race, and the maps themselves are okay; not groundbreaking in their visual design, but absolutely fine. It’s well-designed, but doesn’t ever really feel that original. The audio is the same: it does a great job in regards to the effects, soundtrack and all the bells and whistles, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression.
I’ve enjoyed my time with Rocket Arena on Xbox One, especially in terms of the short, sharp games that suit the game composition. My immediate concern though is just how busy the servers will be in a few months and whether or not those who are already dominating the scene will put off any newcomers. There is the promise of Battle Seasons that will ensure continued support in the form of new characters, new maps, and items, but in the meantime this should fill the gap between spending hours on Overwatch. I do however think that the asking price is a bit too high, especially when you have so many free-to-play games that offer the same basic idea. But if you fancy something fun with rockets and mayhem then Rocket Arena is worth checking out.