On paper, Rocket League sounds ridiculous. The PC game puts you in control of a rocket-powered car and pits you against other vehicles in a heated game of fantasy soccer. Fortunately, developer Psyonix absolutely nails the concept and delivers an addicting sports game that is fun when played casually or as an esport. Better still, Psyonix has continued to support the game since its 2015 launch with new modes and improved connectivity, as well as fun DLC options. Whether you’re looking for an arcade-style sports game, or a complex sim with intricate systems to master, Rocket League has you covered.
League of Extraordinary Rocket Cars
Rocket League is a startlingly simple game. You control a car by accelerating, reversing, jumping, boosting, and power sliding. The object is to outscore the opposing team by bumping a giant soccer ball into a goal in either 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3, or 4 vs. 4 matches against AI or human competitors. In a very cool move, Psyonix programmed a four-player, split-screen local multiplayer mode for those who want to mix it up with friends in the same room.
In truth, Rocket League is more complex than I’ve described, but not by all that much. An intricate physics engine dictates how your car and the ball move during a match. Where you hit the ball, and the speed at which you hit it, determine where the ball flies and rebounds around the enclosed stadium. Rather than soccer, think of Rocket League as a glorified billiard game, with your car as the cue.
Master of Rockets
Much as in billiard games, your own skill and manipulation of the controls determine how accurately you can line up a shot. Ramming the ball from above results in a lower shot; hitting the ball from below forces the ball skyward. Knowing how to control your car is critical, and experimenting with different vehicles and angles is all part of the fun of learning and mastering the game. Unlike billiards, which is a turn-based affair, Rocket League has lots of skirmishes. You can bump other cars out of position, or outright demolish them if you ram them while blazing across the turf at full speed.
Cars come in several sizes and shapes. The most notable difference is their hitboxes. Larger cars and vans have bigger hitboxes than smaller ones, so hitting the ball is a touch easier with a beefier ride. But there are subtle differences in maneuvering, turn radius, power-slide angle, and so on that make every car unique. The layman needn’t worry about these specific stats, as the cars overall feel similar enough to one another that a newbie can do well with any random car. But, as in billiards, selecting the right cue for the game matters to more serious players, and Rocket League accommodates those kinds of players, too.
To say Rocket League is exhilarating is an understatement. Shooting through the sky to make a last-minute save, vaulting over your opponent to slap the ball out of their possession, or racing up a wall to intercept an errant ball are just a few of the crazy maneuvers you can expect to see during a match of Rocket League.
The beauty of the game is that you get rewards for executing fundamentals, as well as goals scored, so you needn’t compete with your teammates and hog the ball. Actions, such as assisting other players with a goal, centering the ball in front of your opponent’s goal, or clearing your own goal of the ball, all earn you points, so playing defender or support is just as worthwhile as playing the attacker. In that way, Rocket League is FIFA on wheels.
Rocket League features a slew of game modes that are ideal for single player and party sessions, many of which were added well after the game’s initial release. Soccar, the standard, high-flying soccer-inspired mode, is the definitive Rocket League game type. Snow Day is similar to Soccar, but is played on a frosty field, with a much less predictable hockey puck in place of the ball. Hoops is a basketball-inspired spin on the game; giant, elevated basketball hoops with backboards, replace the standard goals. Rumble is a party-style Soccar mode that gives each player a random power-up, which can affect other players or the ball, every ten seconds or so. Dropshot is the most recent game mode; it demands that players juggle the ball to build up power before bouncing or spiking it into the floor. The team that lights up the most floor tiles wins the match.
All game modes let you play causally, competitively, or privately. Private rooms are ideal when you wish to play exclusively with friends. Beyond the competitive modes, you can also tackle training and challenge modes to hone your driving, defensive, and shooting skills.
Rocket League now supports a wider range of platforms. Rocket League is now available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The Switch version recently received visual and performance improvements that let you enjoy the game in a locked 60 frames-per-second performance mode, or a high-resolution quality mode.
More importantly, Rocket League players enjoy cross-platform action, letting owners on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch play with one another. This does come with some restrictions, in that PS4 players are limited to cross-platform match ups with PC gamers only.
However, Switch, Xbox One, and PC players can freely match with one another, greatly expanding the pool of opponents and teammates. This summer, cross-platform support will be expanded with full party support, giving you a friend code option to more easily connect and party with friends on other platforms.
Customization is an important part of Rocket League, if only for the mental satisfaction you get from tricking out your rocket car. You can personalize your car with different paint jobs, flags, and silly hats, all of which are purely cosmetic. You unlock more customization options as you play, which is always nice incentive to replay a game.
You can also customize match conditions. Most online contests use Rocket League’s default settings, but when fooling around with friends, you can increase or decrease the game’s gravity, boost the size of the ball, or even change the ball into a cube for giggles. The results are often a mixture of hilarity and frustration as players adjust to the new physics.
Camera and Ping
Camera manipulation is a huge part of the game, in that you need to learn and master when to lock onto the ball and when not to. Locking onto the ball centers the camera on the ball at all times. The problem is that doing so will not always give you an optimal view of the area around you. This is especially true when the ball shoots straight up. You can adjust the camera settings to alleviate this. Raising the Field of View slider and the camera-distance sliders even slightly can make a noticeable difference, and I highly recommend that you do so if you have camera trouble. Note that pulling the camera back too far can make lining up shots very difficult, so try not to increase the distance much beyond the initial values.
Ping can be an issue when playing online. You should filter matches by region at all times, as ping can greatly affect performance in a match. The game lurches when playing against players with high ping, stuttering whenever the game catches up to reflect where players are on the field. This can result in some inaccurate dribbling and shooting, which is highly irritating: like someone bumping into the pool table as you take a shot in a billiard game. With the many updates to Rocket League since its release, Psyonix has introduced client-side indicators to help you determine what issues, if any, you may have when connecting with other players. If you are afflicted with high latency, latency variance, severe packet loss, or if the server itself is acting up, an indicator appears to let you know. This makes identifying connection issues much easier than it was at launch.
On the graphical side, Rocket League accommodates a wide range of PCs, with settings designed to maximize performance for lower end computers, or visuals for higher end ones. The default resolution is 1920 by 1080, but can be dropped all the way down to 640 by 400.
Rocket League is not at all a demanding game. Its Steam page recommends that your rig pack at least a 2.4 GHz dual-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, ATI 4850 or Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 graphics, and the Windows 7 operating system (though the game is also available on macOS, SteamOS, and Linux).
Texture Detail, Render Quality, and Render Detail can all be adjusted from High Performance to High Quality. Tweaking the settings to favor Quality results in a better looking game that’s more taxing on your system, whereas tweaking the settings to favor Performance results in an ugly, but smoother running, game. Shaders, Ambient Occlusion, Depth of Field, Bloom, Light Shafts, Lens Flare, Dynamic Shadows, and Motion Blur can all be turned on or off to further adjust the visuals to your PC’s power. If you purchased a gaming desktop or gaming laptop within the last few years, you should be able to crank the visuals without issue.
On Steam, Rocket League supports Steam Trading Cards, as well as Steam Achievements. The game has also received tons of seasonal and paid downloadable content since its release. DLC is largely cosmetic, offering superficial content such as decals, antennae decorations, paint types, and wheels. The DLC cars are certainly unique, such as the Back to the Future DeLorean, DC superhero car pack, or even Fast & Furious partnership cars, but they are not powerful or outstanding compared with the standard cars, just different. Rocket League DLC is fairly inexpensive (none cost more than $3.99), so you can add to your garage without spending too much money.
Soar, Shoot, and Score
Even three years after its release, Rocket League continues to surprise and amaze with its intricate physics-based gameplay and charmingly simple premise. The new game modes, improved connection indicators, and expanded cross-platform connectivity have all helped to make an already great game even better. It’s a pleasure to see Rocket League mature like wine, rather than milk, and with its stronger focus on tournament play and the esports scene, we can expect even more improvements as the game ages. If you want to dive into a game that feels like a playground fantasy, Rocket League is a must-own title.
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