Who’d have imagined that cars in hats playing football would be the multiplayer hit of the summer? In truth, Rocket League’s success says as much about how PS4 owners in particular have been hungering for something new and sporty to play together with others as its own qualities. But that’s not to undermine the charms of this chaotic and moreish game, which comes closer than some would dare admit to evoking the sensation of learning a new sport than many more serious-minded simulations.
Outwardly, it’s not much like the real thing. Teams of between one and four cars chase a large ball around a rectangular arena, leaping, boosting and rolling into it as they attempt to fire it into the opposition’s goal. Small nodes are spread across the pitch, refilling a turbo gauge, which allows the cars to reach the ball quicker and even take temporary flight in those moments when a double-jump isn’t enough to nod the ball goalward.
At first, it’s like an infant-school match, or an illadvised kickabout after closing time – indeed, after dozens of matches, sometimes it still plays out that way. And yet, with the help of some thorough tutorials, you’ll gradually begin to better read the game and the ball’s trajectory, mastering the timing of your runs and leaps, knowing when to hang back and when to rush in. Rocket League teaches you how to head and to tackle better than any training drill in FIFA ever could.
The controls borrow from the racing genre, yet there’s tangible nuance in how you combine jumps, flips, rolls and dribbles; while you’ll know how to play within seconds, the skill ceiling is remarkably high. Few players will assume permanent roles, even during fouron-four matches – such is the speed of the game that you can switch between centre-half and centre-forward in seconds. An overtime winner (there are no drawn games in Rocket League) is as likely the result of an unfortunate ricochet as the cap on a flowing team move, but both provoke similar feelings of unbridled elation.
Though developer Psyonix has promised to patch in penalties for quitters, currently there’s no punishment for those who’ll bail on a two-goal deficit with 90 seconds remaining. It’s a problem even before you consider the impotence of the bot replacements (and your AI teammates during the long singleplayer seasons are often more hindrance than help). Still, if Rocket League often feels like a sports game for people who don’t really like sports games, that’s no criticism, and while the compulsion for one more game is fierce enough that it is all too easy to experience early burnout, for some this will become an online obsession that lasts well into the winter months.
Online games default to a three-on-three setup, though doubles matches are more consistently engaging. Four-on-four events, meanwhile, are regularly carnage, full of shunts and jostling as teams vie for possession