In the summer of 2015, a small independent game where you essentially play soccer with RC cars took the gaming world by storm. When Rocket League was first released on the PS4, Twitch streams everywhere were broadcasting gameplay, and Rocket League quickly became a game that achieved huge success simply from word of mouth. Now that it has finally released on the Xbox One, does Rocket League still capture the charm it had eight months ago?
In a nutshell, yes.
In a gaming landscape where many “core gamers” turn their collective noses up at sports titles, Rocket League emerges as a competitive sports game that is accessible and appealing to almost everyone. This is true for many reasons, the first of which being the length of games. Unlike Madden, NHL, FIFA, or NBA 2K, Rocket League does not require a 25-40 minute investment to play an online game. You can complete an online game of Rocket League in five minutes. Games are fast paced and chaotic, and though it requires a surprising amount of skill and strategy to be good at the game, you can pick up a controller and jump into Rocket League for the first time and still have a blast.
The controls in Rocket League are also incredibly accessible to all kinds of players, which is another way the game differentiates itself from other sports games. The simulation sports titles we are all used to, have complex and intricate controls and combinations to learn, and while I love these games, they often have a high barrier of entry for someone that is new to them. Rocket League provides the opposite experience. Like a racing game, the triggers will move you forward or backward, and the left stick will steer the car. The A button will make your car jump, the B button will activate turbo, and the X button will make the car slide. There’s a little more to it than that, but if all you do is master the controls I’ve outlined, you can have a lot of fun to Rocket League.
As I stated earlier, there is a surprising amount of strategy to Rocket League. For this reason, this is a game meant to be played with friends. You can easily join a match with random teammates through the matchmaking function, but those games often turn into the equivalent of five year old soccer or tee ball, where everyone just runs after the ball. Doing this will leave you exposed to a team that is organized, and you will find yourself behind 4-0 very quickly.
Playing with friends and communicating through party chat allows Rocket League to really shine as an incredibly fun experience. The great thing is that unlike Destiny where you have to find five other people to party up with in order to do the raid, Rocket League offers games that are 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4, so you can play with just one friend if not many people are online. Playing with people you know allows for great communication and actual strategy, which is the single biggest advantage you can get in this game. As for strategy, a friend of mine put it very well when we were playing on release day. The idea, he said, was to think of Rocket League more like volleyball than soccer. If everyone stays in the zones they should and you employ a bump, set, spike mentality, it allows for a lot of success without surrendering the ability to recover and play defense. Once I started to think of it this way, I experienced a lot more success in the game.
If you’re hesitant to jump into the chaos of multiplayer matches right away, Rocket League’s Season Mode offers a great way to play with AI teammates and opponents in a formal season structure with playoffs. You can play a season as short as nine games, and the great thing about this mode is that it allows you a chance to get used to the strategy of the game and learn positioning without the constant insanity of multiplayer. After playing a 12-game season, I found myself to be a much better player in multiplayer.
Rocket League offers a tremendous amount of customisation to the vehicles, but that comes with a catch. Every game you play, you will unlock another car or add-on. There are approximately 300 unlockable items in the game. There is a way to unlock everything in about two hours (which I did in order to see everything for the review), but part of the fun is playing games and seeing what you will get next. There are a lot of Xbox exclusive items included, such as items from Halo, Gears of War, and Sunset Overdrive. You can also find items from Fallout and Portal to use when decorating your car. Items range from standard flags to put on your antenna to downright silly things like a gingerbread man antenna topper or a Fizzie or pizza delivery car topper.
When you unlock items to customise your vehicle, they are for cosmetic purposes only. Nothing will give you any sort of competitive advantage. I see this as a great thing for the competitive balance in the game, as it does not serve to discourage players that are new to the game because they are getting destroyed left and right. On the flip side, it took away some of the incentive for me to get all of the items. That said, I have always been the type of player that cares a lot more about the actual gameplay and competition than making my car or player look super cool, but if you are the opposite you will love the customisation available to you.
Psyonix, the developer of Rocket League, have been kind enough to include a Back to the Future DLC pack as well, and I had a great time driving around in the DeLorean time machine. The coolest part of this by far came from a moment that would normally make me upset during a game. A player on the other team hit his boost and collided with my DeLorean, destroying it. Instead of being upset, I actually got to see the blue vapor trail and spinning “OUTATIME” license plate on the field! A very cool addition and nice touch to the DLC. Aside from that though, the DeLorean will play much like every other car in the game.
The one downside to the DeLorean, Warthog, or any other licensed property put into the game is that they cannot be customised with any add-ons. If you were hoping to drive the time machine with a tennis ball on the antenna, you will be disappointed. You can, however, customise the color of the lights on the DeLorean. You just cannot make any structural changes to the licensed vehicles in the game. I saw this as a very small negative, because if I buy the DLC pack to drive the DeLorean, I want to drive the DeLorean. There are plenty of other vehicles in the game that can be customised in almost any way you want to.
I’m sure there will be some people that won’t find Rocket League appealing. I just haven’t found them yet. If you are looking for a game with competition that is innocent and silly but still intense, this is a superb choice. Not to mention that Rocket League is tailor made for the words “Xbox record that”. This is a game that you will have an absolute blast playing with friends whether everyone is sober or not. If you like to stream on Twitch, Rocket League is also a great choice because of the short games and chaotic nature of the game, both of which help keep people’s attention in a short attention span society.
The best way I can summarize Rocket League is to say that it is really, really, really fun. For the price and unlimited replay value, you can’t go wrong with this title. Rocket League really is the sports game for everyone, and I highly recommend it.
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A great review for a rather brilliant game. I am however slightly concerned over its longevity. The snow option with the ice puck is great and as long as regular updates like that are thrown in, with different physics in place, then I can see it going from strength to strength. But without those? It would all get a bit boring once the cheevos are picked up. Very much enjoying it though.
Thanks! I think the one thing that helps prevent it from becoming stale is that the games are so short. You can get through five games in about a half an hour. I love competitive team-based sports experiences though, as I’ve played over 600 EASHL games in NHL 16 – so this is right in my wheelhouse.