Rocket League

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A surprisingly complex and fun, fast-paced multiplayer game with great physics and deep mechanics, let down by a terrible matchmaking system


Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

It's impossible to ever say that you have completed a game like Rocket League, considering how most of the gameplay is factored around online multiplayer and repetition. I have, however, worked my way through the offline campaign mode (on a low setting, but it still counts) and played over twelve hours of online matches, so now feels as good a time as any to jot down some thoughts.

In brief: it's a huge amount of fun with a surprisingly steep learning curve. Sure, the basic level of understanding can be picked up in a matter of minutes, but once you play with (or worse, against) someone with even a semi-competent level of mastery you realise there is so much more to the game than a first glance suggests. At a basic level, you drive a car and try to coerce a large sphere into a goal. The overall physics of the game are easy to read and behave naturally enough, whilst creating the occasional moment of spectacle that makes the game both seriously addictive and fun. Instant replays add to the sense of achievement, and a rudimentary levelling system combined with random 'loot' drops provide a sense of progression. However, the real art of Rocket League comes in the form of your boost bar. Again, at a simple, pick-up-and-play level, fuel spawns around the pitched which you collect, charging your fuel bar and enabling you to perform a nitros-style, jet boost at will. At first glance, it's a quick way to add a bit of strategy and style to the game, but dig deeper and it unlocks a whole host of additional mechanics.

Sure, your jet boost can be used to simply get you to one end of the pitch before your opponent, cutting off attackers or letting you get a shot on goal. But it can also let you drive up walls and across the ceiling; when timed with strategic jumps it enables you to fly with extreme precision; veer into an opponent whilst boosting and their car will explode, respawning them at their base and removing a potential threat or hindrance. These additional mechanics can be combined to give you complete control over a game, both when attacking or defending. Watching a player who knows how to 'fly' well is mesmerising. In the right hands, boosting can be almost impossible to defend against and truly excellent players will completely dominate matches.

That level of inequality is Rocket League's greatest asset and biggest weakness. On the one hand, it is extremely fun and awe-inspiring to watch someone with high levels of technical skill at the game rinse you or your opponents; on the other, it's extremely frustrating. In either circumstance, you may as well not even be playing, which makes a lot of players simply leave the game. In turn, that leaves you at the mercy of Rocket League's frankly awful matchmaking system. New players will be thrown into the game, see the score and simply quit again; when this is you, it feels like a complete waste of time, and when it's your teammates it leaves you a man down in a match you are already likely losing heavily. Eventually, you'll end up with an AI player, or bot, controlled by the game itself. Bots can be extremely skilful and seem to have a sixth sense in predicting player behaviour, but they will also drive into walls, tackle their own teammates and fail to stop easy shots on goal. Given that a standard game is 3 vs 3, a large number of games will get reduced to one side having two AI players and one human, which is incredibly dispiriting when you come to the final screen regardless of which side your on. Either it negates your win or makes you feel hard done by in a loss.

On top of which, the initial matchmaking seems largely arbitrary and often unfair. You will be consistently matched against players with much higher rankings and skill levels than you do. You will be consistently switched out of teams you've been playing well with when starting new games. You will not be informed why any of this is happening or whether there's some way to stop it. The game doesn't really go in for explanations, with even the main tutorials only covering basic gameplay rather than 'advanced' (but completely necessary) features like boosting, and offers absolutely no help outside of matches. I still have no idea how half of the loot system works, how to tell if I have multiple of an item (or if that's even possible) or what to do with the "crates" that periodically drop instead of usable items. I'm also just taking it on faith that any differences in handling of the various cars is purely imagined and that the odd symbols that appear when selecting customisable parts are meaningless. Plus, whilst tooltips state that different pitches/arenas make the ball behave differently, all I've worked out so far is that I have a disproportionately high win-rate on the British stadium, with no clue as to why (and, of course, no way of choosing to play on it).

The same can be said of the options screens, with which the best bet is to simply Google if something is possible rather than dig around yourself. For example, I found the default camera position far too close, meaning that a lot of the time the ball was simply impossible to see when defending, being effectively 'behind' the camera. Hidden deep within the games huge number of options, however, is the ability to pull the camera out and reposition it. Once set at the maximum distance, I found it not just easier to track the location of the ball during crucial moments, but generally found it easier to play the game and predict an opponents movements.

The end result is an admittedly extremely addictive game which, when the matchmaking works, is incredibly fun and rewarding, but where a string of poor match-ups will leave you close to hurling away your controller with rage. I will definitely continue to return to Rocket League for occasional bouts, especially if any of my friends start playing it, but overall it's an experience that would benefit from some serious tightening up.

Made By Me, But Made Possible By:


Build: Gatsby

Deployment: GitHub

Hosting: Netlify

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