It was only last month that I compiled a list of my top 5 games of 2015. The PlayStation 4 version of Rocket League was on that list. I suspect that the Xbox One version might well show up on the subsequent list at the end of 2016. While fundamentally the same game as on PlayStation 4, it remains one of the greatest online and local multiplayer games in recent memory and undeniable proof that football should always be played with rocket powered remote-controlled cars.
Arguably the biggest break out hit of 2015, Rocket League surfed a wave of fantastic reviews and incredibly positive opinion after being initially released for ‘free’ as part of the PlayStation Plus Service. While the Xbox One version is coming in at a full £15.99, the games’ reputation has now been cemented and I would expect it to prove as big a hit on Xbox One as it was on the PlayStation 4.
The fact of the matter is, whether it be free or full price, £5 or £50, Rocket League is an exceptional game, one that embraces old school gaming sensibilities and is subsequently all the better for it. Few games embrace the ongoing popularity of split-screen multiplayer, but Rocket League does so to fantastic effect. While undoubtedly brilliant online and surprisingly enjoyable in single player mode against bots, Rocket League is inevitably at its best in four player split-screen with each of your opponents well within cursing distance. Not since GoldenEye has a game caused such an ungodly ruckus on my sofa. Whether it be shouts of triumph, screams of despair or bouts of uncontrollable laughter, Rocket League never fails to elicit a dramatic response from its players.
As fantastic as the game might be when played locally however, the same is largely true of its online component. I don’t think I spent more time with any game online in 2015 than Rocket League, and honestly, 2016 promises to be much the same. It’s just so damn addictive, and unlike other online games that can feel like you are slowly being beaten to death when things aren’t going your way, each loss in Rocket League imbued me with a renewed sense of determination to improve my skills and subsequently become a better player.
Those skills, despite the core gameplay remaining unnervingly simplistic, will only be built up over time and experience. The simplistic mechanics that ensure just about anyone can pick up and play Rocket League, consist of little more than driving towards the giant football and aiming it toward the opposition goal. The trick, and ultimate longevity, comes from all of the subtle tricks and manoeuvres at your disposal. Again, there aren’t actually a great deal of them, but mastering the abilities available to you will take a considerable amount of time. Just about anyone will be able to perform the basic jump and barrel roll manoeuvres, but using them effectively during a game is a completely different kettle of fish. Initially, you’ll find yourself jumping past the ball and mistiming leaps, but bit by bit, you’ll get to grips with the physics and your own abilities……..the subsequent results, well, they are nothing short of spectacular.
Be it a well-timed boost, a miraculous goal line clearance or one of the more elaborate mid-air shows of skill, Rocket League is made up of exhilarating successes and infuriating failures. Yes, the somewhat floaty physics will take some getting used to, but once you become accustomed to the unique gravity and the abilities of your rocket powered, four-wheeled Ronaldo, it’ll soon begin to feel like second nature.
Rocket’s greatest success though, is its ability to incorporate the finest elements of football without there being any need for the player to know / like anything about the sport. It has captured that sense of anticipation that is so important to the sport but so rarely captured in virtual renditions of the beautiful game. FIFA and Pro Evo might be fantastic representations of the sport in their own right, but neither relay that sense of reading the game as well as Rocket League. As close to football as it might be though, whether you enjoy the sport or not is completely irrelevant. This is football stripped down to its component parts to an extent that anyone will be able to understand it and just about anyone will be able to enjoy it.
With all of the previously released PlayStation 4 DLC included and a host of Xbox exclusive vehicles and customisation options, this is arguably the definitive version of the game. Sure, it’s a little late to the party, but it’s here now and it’s as undeniably fantastic as one might have hoped. Good in single player, great online and absolutely fantastic when played locally with friends, Rocket League goes down as one of the greatest sports games of the past few years and arguably the best multiplayer game of the generation.
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