Video Game Review: Rocket League

Rocket League has taken the e-gaming world by storm since its release last year on the PC. Now, the developers at Psyonix have brought the physics-based soccer-with-cars game to consoles, and have consequently invigorated console users with the first must-buy of 2016.

For a game that can be explained so simply, Rocket League packs in a lot of depth. While Top Gear U.K. might have done it first with “car football” and “car rugby” segments, Rocket League takes that idea of a slew of Volkswagen Foxes cruising around a pitch and electrifies it to the ‘nth’ degree. The physics engine is where Rocket League shines: while the ball mechanics make it bounce predictably, the cars themselves can ride up walls, double jump, and use nitrous boosts to accelerate. The game moves quickly, and FIFA 17 will have a lot to answer to when it makes its traditional simulation approach later this year.

Most car customizations are superfluous however, as they are essentially just new skins to the base model, and do not change the stats or quality of the cars. That being said, making a bright yellow taxi or a military hummer infuses a little bit of personality into the matches, and helps maintain the theme of over-the-top action.

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For those of you who fear being slandered online over voice chat, there is a single player mode as well, featuring standard season play, offline exhibition matches and training. Of course, the real appeal is going online to trash-talk and prove your skills on the pitch. Online features are extensive and, in contrast to FIFA where you’ll spend minutes upon minutes slugging through menus and multi-player lobbies, Rocket League’s online matchmaking system keeps the games coming rapidly.

The artificial intelligence of the bots in the offline matches are good, and highly customizable. If you put the bots on “rookie” you’ll get a chance to learn some basic controls and mechanics, but the bots will most often score on their own nets. Moving from “rookie” to “pro” is a massive change, and provides a slight hiccup in the skill training process. That being said, there are lots of options to change the many mutators for you to customize exhibition matches exactly how you’d like: from turning gravity all the way down to adjusting ball size, these modifications add a lot of variety to an already-packed game.

Unfortunately, like many ports, the same stability of the PC equivalent is not totally reflected in the console release: there are a lot of crash bugs, and it remains extremely difficult trying to facilitate party chat (as reviewed on the Xbox One version). Furthermore, at times, the soundtrack just seems to stop during online and offline matches, creating a bizarre silence, that somewhat detracts from the energy the game attempts to create.

Ultimately though, Rocket League is a sports game for those who may not like sports games. It’s a breath of fresh air for online gaming, and even one-couch gaming, as the title allows split-screen co-op both in season, exhibition and online play. If the current console release schedule bores you, then Rocket League will infuse some much needed variety into your gaming diet.
Rocket League is available for download on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

-Steve Nadon

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