ROCKET LEAGUE REVIEW

“Whether it’s online casual or ranked matches, no-pressure exhibitions, split-screen local co-op with up to four players, or an intense 36-week season mode, Rocket League is all about getting into the next throttle-pounding match as fast as possible. Unfortunately, servers are still struggling, which means your mileage may vary day-to-day when it comes to online features. But the silver lining is the mostly formidable AI can make even offline matches interesting and tense. The execution of this simple idea is so strong and so engaging that it keeps bringing me back, time and time again, for just one more match.”

Now, nearly three years later and with all the additional updates, features, and new platforms (including the newly launched Nintendo Switch version), Psyonix’s insane formula of rocket-powered cars playing sports has only gotten better with age.Image result for rocket league gameplay

The great news is that the key ingredient in Rocket League hasn’t changed a bit. The rules are simple: two teams of cars drive really fast around over a dozen glossy, brightly colored arenas doing fancy tricks and smashing an endlessly ricocheting oversized ball into the goal. The satisfying heart of Rocket League very much lives in that arcadey feeling of fluid and unrestricted movement.

A game that’s still just as easy to pick up with a skill ceiling that’s hovering somewhere in low Earth orbit.

But there’s a golden layer of strategy and mechanical depth tucked inside the chaotic mashing of metal. Timing a somersault, barrel roll, or bicycle kick to connect with the ball and send it sailing at a precise angle takes notable skill. Those basics, when coupled with expert teamplay and mind-blowing booster-powered aerial maneuvers, solidify Rocket League as a game that’s still just as easy to pick up with a skill ceiling that’s hovering somewhere in low Earth orbit.

At launch, the content around that gameplay felt a little barebones. Since then, though, it’s been substantially fleshed out with smart alternate modes that emphasize different skills and add variety. The Snow Day hockey mode substitutes a dense, oversized puck for the bouncier soccer ball; Hoops is a basketball variant emphasizing aerial play; Breakout is a two-sided floor-breaking mode; and Rumble mode deals out power-ups that disrupt players and influence the ball. It’s all a ton of fun.

And of course, the competitive playlist for the traditional 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4 shines as the great ladder system Rocket League was missing to bring some-term goals to its pick-up-and-play ease, offering seasonal cosmetic rewards and bragging rights as you try to climb through the ranked tiers.Image result for rocket league gameplay

Decisions, Decisions

Overall, Rocket League remains a balanced multiplayer playing field. While the mechanical differences between the free cars and the large assortment of paid-for downloadable cars are noticeable, they’re barely relevant. Sure, some cars turn slightly faster, some have better hitboxes for flipping, but these small differences only really matter at the highest levels of competition, where a few modest purchases don’t seem like too much to ask.

The cache of hundreds of tradeable cosmetic items continues to grow.

Serious players have their go-to speedsters, but even with the continuous influx of brand-associated cars you can purchase and use, you’re still totally effective on the field. That’s a list that includes the Batmobile, a DeLorean, and the platform-exclusive cars like the Mario/Luigi-mobile, Halo’s Warthog, or Sweet Tooth’s ice cream truck.

Meanwhile, the cache of hundreds of tradeable cosmetic items continues to grow. With everything from customizable goal explosions to player banners, there are innumerable combinations that allow you to truly stand out, and almost all of it can be earned just by playing. There’s some grinding, sure, but you’re always rewarded, and even duplicate items can be stacked up and traded in for items of better quality using a rudimentary crafting system that adds another layer to the appeal of collecting cosmetics.Image result for rocket league gameplay

And yes, Rocket League does come with loot crates that you earn for playing online matches (roughly one every 10 hours of play), but here they’re used relatively inoffensively and can be completely toggled off in the options menu when setting up a game. You can’t purchase them with real money, so there’s no real pay-to-win element – especially since these items don’t actually do anything other than make you look rad. Instead, they’re more like optional rewards you get for grinding out online matches that you can open if you decide to spend $1.50 for a key (or $1 each if you buy in bulk). If you don’t want to spend money at all, you can still get at the contents of these boxes by participating in special, limited-time events that award you keys just for playing more Rocket League.
Your Platform Mileage May Vary

The sheen on Rocket League’s sleek, neon-coated look varies by platform. On everything but Switch, it runs from the standard 1080p all the way up to 4K on PS4 Pro and PC right now. (4K and HDR support is confirmed to be coming soon to Xbox One X.) Visually, you can’t really go wrong with any version, since Psyonix has made efforts to ensure that you’re always getting 60 frames per second in one- and two-player local splitscreen game modes on most maps.

But maintaining that frame rate comes at a price on the Switch, which runs a resolution of around 526p in handheld, and 720p while docked. Blown up on a decently sized TV, you can easily see a lot of rough, jagged lines and edges, both during matches and even in menus, and missing visual effects in arenas.

That said, in handheld mode it’s incredibly cool to be able to play Rocket League no matter where you are in a portable enough form that beats the hell out of carrying a laptop and a controller around. But the small screen in portable mode makes it difficult to be as precise, and I regularly found I had a harder time nailing those precise angles that become second nature over time. And that becomes much worse when trying to play local split-screen on the Switch in tabletop mode – half of a small screen is almost comical.

While I did notice some occasional rubberbanding on the Switch while playing on the go – which is likely a symptom of having to use WiFi in handheld mode – the majority of my online matches were smooth and consistent and all platforms.

The Verdict

Rocket League’s colorfully absurd cars-playing-sports concept works so well because the energy of its arcadey gameplay meshes with its deep team-based strategy and variety of modes. It’s exceedingly rare to find a multiplayer game that’s welcoming and approachable for new players and so intricate that the best players can earn a living by mastering its depths. Rocket League is a golden example of turning a good idea into something truly amazing.

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