At some point, certain people looked at the beautiful game of soccer and decided that there clearly wasn't enough motor oil or nitrous involved. Those were the people at developer Psyonix, who put together an interesting blend of driving and soccer together for the PlayStation 3 called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. Now Psyonix has set the scope a little bigger with its PlayStation 4 follow-up, more simply titled Rocket League, and the result is some high-octane fun.
Motoring onto the pitch
Rocket League is exactly as the premise describes, taking motor vehicles and putting them on a soccer pitch. The idea is to kick a giant ball into the opposing team's goal, essentially re-creating a giant game of soccer. It's an idea that works exceedingly well, especially considering that the game focuses on simplicity and realistic physics.
There are no power-ups (aside from occasional nitro boosts), no clever boosts or all-powerful weaponry to help turn the tide in any significant way. What you have is the same as the opponent, even if everyone doesn't quite look the same. Everyone is on an even playing field and has the exact same abilities, which largely involves driving cars forward, speeding up, turning on a dime to chase the ball around and bumping opponents around.
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Speeding things up
Rocket League benefits from its concept by tossing aside some of the more undesirable elements of soccer. There are no fouls or flops, no out-of-bounds rules (since games unfold within a dome) and no stoppages in play with the exception of scores. In fact, there are no referees to speak of, period. This allows the game to unfold at a much quicker pace, allowing users to get games in over a short period. Typical Rocket League matches are set for five minutes and when factoring in scores and replays, a whole session runs no longer than 15 minutes.
The simplicity and increased flow also makes Rocket League an easy barrier of entry to a broad degree of players. It's entirely possible to pull off keen-looking maneuvers, like bicycle kicks and forward flips by jumping and flipping around with the right analog stick. However, chasing the ball, defending by clearing balls out or taking shots by striking the ball are skills that anyone can pick up. Switching between the standard third-person perspective and the ball cam can be a bit hairy, but it's easy to grasp after a couple of sessions.
Customization in Rocket League is also one of its strong suits, allowing players to unlock new paint styles or decals over the course of several sessions. The upgrades are all purely cosmetic and focus on making your car your own by allowing for custom paint patters, smoke trail colors and even different antenna toppers.
It's unclear how long Rocket League's online shelf life is, but the online experience was something of a mixed bag. While I had some bad luck attempting to connect to several sessions, the online games I did play unfolded without incident. One game even connected me to a European server, where I proceed to play a full session of lag-free soccer. Even if the online community dwindles, Rocket League benefits from competent bot play, as well as local split-screen play for up to four players. Two or more players taking to the pitch is a recipe for some good times on the couch, especially when it's two people each bringing a team of bots along for the ride.
As far as soccer games go, Rocket League stands out as a fantastic alternative to the more serious sports outings out there. The quickened pace and numerous customization options make this game a more intriguing and unconventional multiplayer option, but one that's definitely worth taking onto the pitch.