UPDATE: This review has been updated with an additional paragraph to provide impressions of the game’s belated Xbox One release.
There’s a lot of applications for so-called ‘Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars’, and I suppose that soccer would be one of them. Even if that might not be your first instinct when imagining how one can employ the those souped-up rigs however, you’d be surprised at how fun and ludicrous a game of soccer can be, with those Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars that you may or may not have heard about.
While it doesn’t bill itself as one, Rocket League is actually a sequel to another game, aptly titled Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars, also developed by San Diego-based independent game developer, Psyonix. You probably haven’t heard of, let alone played Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars, as it slunk onto the PS3’s digital game catalogue in 2008 with virtually no fanfare, was met with mediocre reviews, then seemed to fade into obscurity. That game was also a game where Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars played a good old game of soccer. Fortunately, Rocket League does the experience far better, and finally makes it a deceptively addictive experience that you’ll have a hard time putting down.
Rocket League, despite the obscurity of its predecessor, released with much more promotion, even having multiple pre-release test builds on PC, before fully launching on both PC and PS4 at the start of this July. PS4 owners with PlayStation Plus memberships even get to snag it for free during its launch month! Better still is that the game supports cross-platform play, meaning that PC and PS4 players can play together on the same servers, not being constrained to people solely on their platform of choice.
On both PC and PS4, Rocket League is a lot of fun, even if its range of launch content is currently a bit wanting. Still, as a free PlayStation Plus reward especially, this is a game that social gamers in particular will have a lot of fun with, even if those opting to play solo will still find a surprisingly engaging and rewarding set of challenges to enjoy with just the A.I.
Rocket League looks nice and lively, having a solid selection of arenas in which you can engage in matches with opponents. Each arena is given a distinct backdrop, with each even having the option of including rain effects, and all of it looks surprisingly immersive and cool. Some particularly stylish arenas even have some good lighting/shading touches, and both grass and stone foundations alike look pretty well-detailed on both platforms.
The vehicle models also look pretty solid, with several cosmetic makes at players’ disposal, and the ability to continually unlock new cosmetic features and decorations for your car as you play. There’s quite a lot of ways to tweak your ride, including giving them a patriotic flag or an 8-ball on their R.C.-car-like antenna for example, and regardless of what kind of car you opt to make, it always looks very cool. There aren’t any real changes to performance, handling or anything of that sort that players will be able to discern, but even with the changes being completely cosmetic, they’re still fun to experiment with, and help to give each player their own sense of individual identity when playing online especially, never intruding on gameplay all the while.
The graphics are pretty well identical on both PC and PS4, with both platforms sporting sharp, engaging visuals that won’t blow you away, but will certainly get the job done. You may be able to engage a tad of a visual boost on PC if you have a very high-end rig on optimized requirements, but even then, Rocket League’s system requirements on PC are pretty basic, even on max settings. Considering the highly promoted cross-platform play in the game, it seems apparent that Psyonix forced visual and performance parity with the PS4 version of Rocket League in the PC version of the game, though that makes sense when players on both platforms have the option to share servers and online matches. The PS4 version always runs at a full 60fps clip during normal gameplay, thankfully, and performs quite well overall, with the PC version usually maintaining steady 60fps performance as well, though some lower-end PC’s may see some framerate dips, even if they meet the minimum system requirements.
Regardless of whether you’re playing on PC or PS4 however, Rocket League has some good visual polish, and looks plenty satisfying. It doesn’t have the same level of graphical polish as a triple-A sports game release, obviously, but its kooky world of vehicular recreation nonetheless comes to life with buzz and fanfare.
Rocket League’s limited suite of music largely consists of just one simplistic dubstep-style theme while navigating menus, and that’s fair enough. In matches proper, it’s the cheers of the audience, the explosions of demolished vehicles, and the bursts of scored goals that completely carry the sound design, with the music staying silent during actual live gameplay.
As ridiculous as it is, the simple, but well-executed audio does capture the feeling that you’re playing a sport, albeit a fantastical sport. The enthusiastic applause and shouts of the audience help to get you in the game as you take on a bevy of online opponents, just as the zipping of rear rockets will have players focused and engaged on the arena around them. The scraping of metal and crashing of ricocheted vehicles also sounds nicely sharp, giving Rocket League a great sense of might and power, even with its tight, highly agile controls.
Rocket League is devoid of voiceovers, and doesn’t have any commentary or anything of that sort, but what can actually be said about a platoon of vehicles knocking around an oversized novelty ball to try and smack it into a tight goal recess? In this case, less is more when it comes to the audio, with Rocket League having pretty simple sound work, but great sound where it counts.
Rocket League has one simple mode of play at this point, with the option to practice and refine your skills at your own pace as well. The game is essentially an arcade-style sports game, taking a lot of inspiration from soccer, but largely being a fictional sport where teams of anywhere from one to four players take on opponents in rocket-powered vehicles to knock a large ball into a goal area. It sounds absurd, but once you play it, you’ll immediately see the appeal.
Even if you opt to ignore the Practice Drills, which help you refine your ability to work with the ball and navigate about arenas, Rocket League is a very simple game to play, even for more casual, inexperienced gamers. The game is playable with a mouse and keyboard if you’re playing the PC version, though PC players will have the best time if they utilize a gamepad. In fact, you can even brandish the PS4’s Dual Shock 4 controller on PC for the most authentic control experience, since it’s the only one you’ll have with the PS4 version, though if you’d rather use an Xbox One/Xbox 360 controller instead, that still works nicely when playing on PC.
Anyway, playing Rocket League is as simple as using the left stick in conjunction with the shoulder buttons to both accelerate and reverse, with the face buttons either making your car jump, using a rocket boost that can be restored by collecting continually re-spawning boosters on the arena floor, or using a handbrake that allows you to power slide for quick turns. It’s an incredibly straightforward control scheme, and one that just about anyone should get a handle on pretty fast. You can even use the remaining face button to ‘glue’ the camera to the ball’s location, if that makes things even easier on you.
Rocket League may be quite simple to learn and play, but mastering it is significantly more challenging! The game’s physics are very loose and responsive, and if anything, they might be more responsive than you’d like them to be. It’s tougher than you would think to race to the ball and line up the perfect shot on an otherwise unattended goal, especially when you can have anywhere from one to four players all charging at you for the same ball, and potentially demolishing you along the way!
In fact, as much as Rocket League is mostly about scoring goals, you are capable of destroying other players, albeit very temporarily. If you boost hard into another player and connect with them dead-on, you’ll blow up their vehicle, which grants you some added points for the end standings, in turn helping you accrue EXP and level up, which is solely used for the sake of online matchmaking. Players respawn quickly, so you should never sweat being demolished, though this is a surprisingly effective way to get rid of an aggressive player who believed they were on a breakaway. You do get points for doing other things besides player destruction of course, such as knocking a ball away from your goal, moving a ball towards the opposing goal, and, naturally, scoring goals or making assists with other players’ goals. Destruction actually isn’t even emphasized all that much, but it’s another skill you should heed in your arsenal, since it can make the difference between an opponent scoring, and your team stealing the ball.
When you factor in that players can drive on walls and ceilings, Rocket League gets even more crazy as well! This potentially allows you to slingshot off of a wall, knock the ball in front of the opposing goal, where another player can speed forward and tap a couple of buttons to knock the ball quickly into the enemy goal, using pitch-perfect timing. Again, this is harder to do than you would think, but when you pull off this tight teamwork and co-ordination, it’s absolutely intoxicating!
This appeal is why playing Rocket League with friends is the ideal way to experience it. You can engage in local matches with bots or other human players, and this is fine, but the best way to play Rocket League is definitely by assembling a few of your Steam/PlayStation Network friends to make up an online team in the 4-vs.-4 ‘Chaos’ playlist. Here, you can use Party Chat to formulate and execute plays together, and actually function as a team. This isn’t impossible to do when playing online matches with strangers, granted, but during silent online matches, players tend to just charge the ball and dogpile on top of each other. The game doesn’t lose its fun factor in that case, but it does become more shallow, and will probably make you long to call your online buddies to the pitch.
If you want to take a break from the marquee online play in Rocket League, you can play through a Season, which has you taking on a selection of fictional teams for a fictional accomplishment. You can decide how long you want the Season to be, and the game auto-saves between matches, so you can come back to your Season whenever you please, especially given the quick, snappy appeal of all of Rocket League’s matches being merely five minutes long, even online. Unfortunately though, the only reason to play a Season will be to amass trophies/achievements, since there’s no reason to go back to a Season once you complete it the first time, especially when you can just do one-off Exhibition matches against bots, and achieve the same result. Frankly, this mode feels like a bit of an afterthought, when the emphasis in Rocket League is clearly on playing with other people.
Fortunately, even if you do simply want to play with and against bots, the bot A.I. is generally pretty good, even if opposing A.I. bots tend to be a tad more competent than the ones on your team. There’s three difficulty settings, and both Pro and All-Star give you nicely competent and engaging A.I. to play with, though Rookie difficulty makes opposing players become hilariously bad pushovers. Still, playing against bots on the Rookie setting is helpful for farming trophies/achievements, for what that’s worth.
If you want to refine your technique when it comes to shooting for the net, deflecting enemy shots, or performing trick shots in the air, you can also engage in Practice Drills at your own leisure. This isn’t mandatory, but it is helpful to know if you plan to take on the ruthless online players, especially without friends at your back. A tutorial lays out the simple controls, and from there, the Practice Drills unfold sort of like puzzles, albeit mostly simple ones, given that Rocket League isn’t a complex game at all.
Again though, the main draw is going online and continually unlocking new cosmetic goodies for each match you play, whether you win or lose. This is a simple incentive, but it works well, and it helps to distract from the otherwise bare-bones package of Rocket League. PS4 players even get an exclusive unlockable vehicle that should be quite familiar to longtime PlayStation gamers that have experience with a certain other vehicle warfare-related game series, and that’s incredibly cool!
On the downside though, you’ll have seen everything in Rocket League in just a few hours, with only a couple of the trophies/achievements actually requiring serious effort to attain, though completionists playing on PS4 will definitely appreciate that version sporting a Platinum Trophy to chase. The game doesn’t stop being fun at that point, especially when you play online with friends, but there are no other proper play modes beyond the main soccer-based gameplay, and that’s a bit of a let-down, even if Psyonix implied that some alternate modes may eventually come in the form of DLC. Still, for its launch, Rocket League feels a little anemic, and like it’s wanting for just a couple more clever variations on this effective play formula, beyond the same old soccer-style matches that do get repetitive without the benefit of more unpredictable online opponents.
This also brings me to the main issue with the otherwise addictive and highly enjoyable online play, and that’s the fact that the servers are a little unreliable at this point. They were far worse during the game’s launch week, and at least they don’t kick you out of matches abruptly or anything like that, though players that do drop out are thankfully replaced by bots, avoiding the match being interrupted for anyone else. Playing in a party generally works well too, though there are a few issues with the party sometimes being broken up between matches, and having to be re-formed. Fortunately, playing in a party in matches themselves seems to be fine on both platforms though.
That said however, I did play quite a few online matches where connection issues cropped up, violently knocking my vehicle around a pitch and completely taking control away from me. There were also quite a few instances of stutters and lag whenever the warning of a bad connection came up, and it came up more than it should have. Psyonix is thankfully working hard to stabilize the servers, which seem to be buckling under the higher-than-expected player count across both platforms, especially with cross-platform play in the mix. Even with cross-platform play turned off and players limited to one platform however, I still ran into connection stability issues that disturbed the flow of matches, even if they weren’t so unstable as to obliterate matches entirely. The PC version seems to be stabilizing a bit faster than the PS4 version when it comes to playing online, though both platforms need more reliable online servers, especially with online play being such a focal point in Rocket League.
If you can put up with the online hiccups though (which are bound to be fixed eventually), you’ll find a simple and accessible, yet engrossing and addictive arcade-style sports game that’s so fun to play, that even people who normally hate sports games will probably get a good kick out of it! Regardless of your opinion of soccer, you have to admit that playing the sport with Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars can only make the sport better, right?
Rocket League has taken over half a year of additional time to release for the Xbox One, though fortunately, the wait has been worth it. The game’s Xbox One port is very well polished and put together, with the game still being as fun and addictive as it ever was. The Xbox One version also comes with all of the free updates that have been gradually added to the original PC and PS4 releases of Rocket League, as well as the game’s suite of DLC up to this point. Making things all the better is that the originally unreliable multiplayer servers from the debuting PC and PS4 builds of the game have launched perfectly stable and functional in the Xbox One version as well, allowing this new port to avoid the launch woes of its two cousins.
The only downside to the Xbox One port of Rocket League is that it unfortunately doesn’t offer cross-play during online gaming. Xbox One players are restricted to playing online with other Xbox One players, unlike the PC and PS4 versions, which have the option of playing with people on the opposite platform as well as those on their same platform. Naturally, PC and PS4 players also won’t be able to play matches against Xbox One players.
Still, the Xbox One port of Rocket League is a great one all the same, and one that seems to match the technical prowess and entertainment value of the PC and PS4 builds pretty much entirely. While the exclusive Twisted Metal-themed car from the PS4 version is predictably absent on Xbox One, the game compensates with a litany of exclusive Xbox-themed vehicles to apologize for the extended wait for Rocket League to hit Microsoft’s console, namely through the featuring of several exclusive vehicles modeled after the Halo, Gears of War and Sunset Overdrive franchises. If you already have Rocket League for PC or PS4, then the Xbox One port is the same game, and you’re fine sticking with the version you have, but if you’re an Xbox gamer that has missed out on this great competitive game until now, your version of the game is just as appealing as the other two!
Rocket League isn’t completely hitting its potential yet, suffering from a bare-bones suite of content and some pretty intrusive online connection issues on both its platforms, but it’s a huge improvement over its forgettable PS3 predecessor, and is a lot of fun to experience for all would-be players! Learning the fundamentals of the game is incredibly easy to do, but there’s a very rewarding sense of challenge in learning to work with the hyper-reactive physics, and co-ordinate stylish plays with which to light up the playing field as you take on the online opposition!
Hopefully, you have plenty of friends to call upon on either Steam or PlayStation Network, depending on your platform of choice, since this is a game that clearly beckons you to bring your friends along for the fun. The $19.99 price may be a tad steep for now, considering the lack of play options, but if you’re interested, Rocket League definitely merits a purchase, even when it seems like it’s still got new features and play modes on the way that have yet to be patched in. PS4 players especially have no excuse to pass it up this July, where it’s a free reward for PlayStation Plus members that can be snagged throughout the month.
On both PC and PS4 however, Rocket League is a great execution of a very simple, almost primal idea in the realm of recreational competition. There’s not outwardly much to it, but there’s more strategy and skill involved than you would think. Given its accessible, yet engrossing gameplay and extensive suite of continued rewards, this is a game that will keep you coming back to the pitch for quite a while, even if there’s no variation to the fundamental soccer-style matches at any point.
Rather than having you wondering why soccer needs Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars though, Rocket League will have you wondering why the sport was ever played without them.
- Agile, highly satisfying controls and physics
- Playing online with friends is a real blast
- Tons of cosmetic unlockables that are enjoyable to amass
- Needs more play modes
- Unreliable connections when playing online