I realize that I’m several months late to the game, but if anything I think that only helps this particular review. I am not a HYPE gamer. There’s nothing that turns me off of a game that I’m not sure about more than a bunch of people saying how good it is. This is especially true when none of the people I personally know and trust to judge games are actually playing a hyped game. It’s because of my distaste for hype that I avoided Rocket League by Psyonix until now. The only reason I was manipulated into playing it was that I got it for free from PlayStation Plus and my editor wanted it reviewed. I literally may never have even tried the game if not for this very specific set of circumstances. But I’m here to tell you that THE HYPE IS REAL! You can read this highly detailed and lengthy review, but at the end of it all it will come right back to this sentence: This game is a hands down must play. If you still aren’t convinced, keep reading, otherwise go to the PSN or Steam Store and buy it right now.
Since this is the equivalent of a sports game I felt it was appropriate to start with gameplay for this review. We can and will talk about writing and sound, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters in a game like this is gameplay followed by replay value and graphics. Rocket League is essentially a very user friendly version of FIFA 2015, since it came out before FIFA 2016, with cars and no stoppage time. Basically you are playing a rugby version of NFL Blitz (1997) with modern graphics and controls coupled with soccer style scoring from behind the wheel of a rocket propelled stunt car. And it is glorious. This is a game that took me from pretty much zero interest to “it’s 3 AM, I have work in 6 hours, but I cannot for the life of me put the controller down.” By the end of the tutorial you will be intrigued. By the end of your first match you will be hooked. And not like “Smash Bros Wii U is fun I guess” hooked. We’re talking “I don’t even like shooters and I’ve sunk 200 hours into Destiny” hooked. The only reason I would tell someone not to play this game is if they don’t have time for another cripplingly strong addiction.
The rules are simple. You are in a giant soccer arena that is split in half by color (blue and orange) with two built in goals at opposite sides lengthwise and a chain link fence boxing in the whole thing. You can drive up the walls and even on the ceiling provided you have the momentum to beat gravity. There are two teams on the field ranging from one to four players. 3-V-3 is considered standard play. Your goal is to score as many goals as possible by knocking a giant metal soccer ball into the other team’s goal within five minutes. Gameplay only stops when a goal is scored. There are no penalties, out of bounds, or stoppage of any kind and there is no overtime unless the score is tied, pushing the game into sudden death.
You have a car, which is fully customizable, yet very accessible. All customization except for body type and possibly tires is aesthetic. The only real thing that you have to think about is what kind of body you want to drive and it does matter a lot. There are light, mid-range, and heavy chassis. Each type has its own ups and down. The bigger the car, the more force it can get, but it’s also slower and can’t get as much air. Light cars can speed down the stadium in no time and get tons of air, but they are very hard to control, have basically no power that doesn’t come from momentum, and they’re much lower to the ground which means the ball will fly over you a lot. I drive a mid-range because it’s fast enough and can get some air, but still has a lot of control. I’d say too many players drive exclusively light models. The controls are very simple. Steer with the left stick, camera with the right. You can toggle the camera mode to focus on the ball or the player at any time with triangle. R2 for forward, L2 for backward, circle for rocket boost, and X for jump. Jump is hold sensitive and you can also double jump. You can drift with square, but it’s not necessary for basic play. Cars control very well, but boosting causes weight to take effect. The art of the game is learning how to control the ball without being able to grab it while up to seven other cars are on the field also trying to hit it at full speed from an unlimited number of angles.
There are a few special elements to Rocket League that make it much trickier than it sounds. First is rocket boosts. You can boost as much as you want provided you have the fuel. You can drive indefinitely but boost can only be charged up to 100 and is exhausted fairly quickly. You charge your boost by running over boost pads scattered throughout the field. Normal pads give you 10/100 boost, but special pads, which are only on the edges of the field, completely recharge your boost. Momentum is key in this game. You use it to fly through the air which requires either a well angled jump or driving over/off another car. You can also use boosts to blow up other cars. Respawn takes just a few seconds and can occur an unlimited number of times, but that few seconds can mean a goal for the other team. The gravity is done extremely well. Angle of approach matters a lot too. You can score from one end of the field to another if your angles and momentum are correct. Suffice it to say that I’ve done it once, but it almost never happens during an actual game.
There are a number of nice tutorials and practice modes to help you improve scoring, defense, and aerial play at three different levels of difficulty. There is also a free play mode that can have bots added to it for practice. The game was built for online multiplayer, but there is a single player season against bots and trophies to go with it. The servers are very active and allows for worldwide play with your choice of which regions to play in. The matchmaking is fairly fast and loading times are negligible. There is of course voice and text chat, but what’s really nice is the quick text chat function. There is a pre-loaded set of text-based responses that you can send to the group feed with the d-pad. There are positive, negative, and strategic options to choose from. It’s very convenient considering the fast paced gameplay. I give Rocket League pretty much full marks for gameplay.
The graphics in Rocket League are extremely good. I’m inclined to say that they’re as good as modern Madden or FIFA, but I know that will offend someone so let’s just say almost. There is an intentional element of unrealism that has an almost Ratchet & Clank feel to it, but it’s still mostly inspired by modern sports games. The crowds in the bleachers are what really give this game its atmosphere. You see masses of insignificant fans that can’t actually be identified as people. But they have colors supporting one of the teams. They have generic flags and the crowd does move as it cheers. It’s very fun in an ironic sort of way. The game runs very smoothly. Very few lag or frame rate drops and that’s usually only when many people enter or leave a game in a short period of time. Considering everything that’s going on during an online match I was very impressed by Psyonix’s performance here. The HUD is just the scoreboard and clock in the top middle of the screen and a simple color coded text feed with easily readable text on the top left corner that disappears whenever a few seconds of no new messages has gone by.
Customization is mostly aesthetic and allows for a lot of options such as colors, paint styles, designs, flags, toppers, and rocket discharge. You also have a large number of chassis and tires to choose from. The only thing I didn’t like about the car customization was that when you change chassis all your other customization other than color resets as well. You have to go back through the whole system and re-spec your logo, designs, flag, and so on. Not a huge deal but kind of an oversight in my opinion. Ultimately the graphics will not disappoint you.
The sound is very good. Not memorable to the point where I would say it sells the game, but it is well done. You have separate volume settings for music, effects, ambiance, voice chat, and the controller sounds. The music is good quality, but you only hear it during menu screens. There’s none played during actual games. The sound track is mostly lighter modern stuff like soft techno and indie rock. You can skip songs you don’t like when they start, but I have yet to actually find a full playlist in game. The effects are good. You have sounds for boosting, jumping, hitting the ball, scoring, and of course the crowd cheering in the background. The sound does what it needs to. Nothing more, nothing less.
This is a sports game with no story so there’s not much writing. But the tutorials are very simple and helpful. I actually wish there was more writing in the tutorials or at least a side index that better explained some of the mechanics. Specifically drifting and aerial play. My only real complaint about the tutorials was that once the aerial practice started I was given no help other than advice to boost and jump to hit floating balls into the goal. They failed to mention that it was basically impossible to do with certain cars and just allowed me to keep failing until I finally gave up and just started playing the actual game. No real points for writing, but this is a sports game so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
This game is all replay value but there actually are some real reasons other than it’s fun that will motivate players to keep putting in hours. Firstly there are 55 trophies including a platinum. Many of them you will get just from playing, but some of them will require true displays of skill and possibly luck as well as dedicating some time to play the single player season. There are also a ton of collectibles that you get from playing. They come from different things. Playing, winning, accomplishing certain things, and so on net different types of unlockables for your car customization. There are also special events such as the holiday stuff going on right now that have special items. It’s rare for me to support such a high price for an indie game, but I’d say $20 / £9.49 is pretty fair for a game of this caliber and level of entertainment. If you play it the way people play Madden or FIFA it will make up that money in hours easily.
I have no problem saying that this is the best and most original sports game I have played since at least FIFA 12. It mixes all the best elements of sports and online multiplayer games into one in an affordable and seamless experience that looks awesome in YouTube videos as well. There’s just no other way to say it. BUY ROCKET LEAGUE!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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