Rocket League



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

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