Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you could play soccer with cars? There’s a correct answer to that question (which is yes), and it’s really not that crazy of a question once you think about it. I’m sure we’ve all thought about this scenario or something similar at one point or another, and then we realize how dangerous that would be in real life, so the next best thing logically would be to put it in a video game. That’s the beauty of Rocket League; it’s not a crazy, out-of-this-world idea that nobody’s ever thought of, but it is quite possibly the best possible realization of that simple idea, and it’s just as awesome in its execution as it sounds in theory.
The idea for the game might be simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy game to make. Cars on a soccer field isn’t enough to make a good game; there needs to be something more to give the game depth and set it apart from more traditional soccer games. Rocket League does that by applying features to the game in small, deliberate ways that make all the difference in the end. The field could have been just like a regular soccer field with a normal out of bounce area and goal just like you might find in any field, but those things ruin a crucial element of the game which is the importance of momentum. It just wouldn’t feel as fast and chaotic if the game had to stop ever ten seconds because the ball went out of bounds. So, the creators of Rocket League enclosed the field in a semi-transparent dome with curved edges, allowing players to drive right up the wall and maintain the exhilarating feeling of rush the game offers. Other than allowing the player to sustain their momentum, this game design is also a big influence in the game’s strategy because it allows the ball to round the corners of the field to set up the perfect shot on goal. This is just one example of how such a seemingly simple design tweak can have such ingeniously positive consequences.
In case high speed cars racing up and down a soccer field and up walls wasn’t enough, the developers of Rocket League decided it best to add boosts around the field. Again, this might just seems like a simple, trivial addition to the game, but it makes a significant difference to the experience overall. A match in Rocket League just wouldn’t even feel like the same game without slowly filling up your boost meter to use in case of emergency, as well as the rush that accompanies that moment of boosting across the field to make the perfect save or acrobatic goal. Thankfully, the developers knew to stop here with power-ups. Any other kind of abilities would have made the game feel too arcady; with just rocket boosts, the game stays pure and grounded.
Rocket League is special in how some of its features (or lack thereof) may be considered weaknesses in other games, but in Rocket League, they just make sense and become improvements. For instance, in most online multiplayer games, you might expect to unlock upgrades and new equipment to make yourself better the more you play, but in Rocket League, that’s not the case. Yes, you do unlock things like new car models and car accessories the more you play the game, but these have no effect on the actual game itself other than visually. This keeps the gameplay pure, and it’s comforting to know that if you jump into an online game, the opposing team isn’t going to have an unfair advantage over you. In Rocket League, the only changing variable from game to game is skill.
Following the theme of “things that don’t work in other games but work in Rocket League”; game modes. Rocket League isn’t going to give you countless game modes that are all different from each other. There’s online play, exhibition matches, and a season mode. Each mode is exactly the same in the sense that it’s just soccer, and the only differences are pretty self-explanatory. In online play you can either play in ranked or unranked matches that range in size from 4 v 4 all the way down to 1 v 1. Although I found myself struggling to find matches online early after the game’s release, it seems many of these problems have been fixed the more time passed. Now, most of the time it takes less than half a minute to jump into the start of a new game. Exhibition matches and season mode matches are similar to online matches in every way other than the fact that you play against the AI instead of real, online players. These AI matches are great for practicing for online ones, and although the opposing teams AI actually responds surprisingly well to changes in the difficulty setting, this progress is killed by the unreliability of your AI teammates. Many I time I found myself down and out in an exhibition match due to own goals and poor strategic choices made by my AI teammates.
One of the most striking things about Rocket League is how much like soccer the game actually is. In many ways, I’d even go as far as to say that it feels more like a sports game than most AAA annualized sports games. In Rocket League, you’re not controlling your entire team; it’s just you, just like it is any real team sport. Because of this, the strategy that goes along with playing Rocket League deepens exponentially. You cannot approach every match the same way because it just won’t work out for you. Every match requires your undivided attention, and during every match you must adapt to what going on around you, whether it be the opposing team, your teammates, or the current score. Most “sports” games fail to accurately capture this feeling of being a player on a team rather than being the whole team itself, which is often just unrealistic. Rocket League doesn’t shy away from challenging you to adapt to every match in order to come out victorious, and thank goodness for that.
Rocket League doesn’t come without its flaws, however. The main menu isn’t the efficient user interface we’ve come to expect from modern video games. When playing in ranked online matches, the only efficient way to move onto the next match is to exit completely to the main menu and search for a new match from scratch. Believe me, this might not seems like that tedious of a task, but it definitely feels like an abrupt jerk out of your in-game high when you’d much rather be able to seamlessly jump into a new match. Lastly, lthough the matchmaking has improved tremendously since launch you might still find yourself experiencing moments of lag that dampen the thrill of a match.
Still, these flaws are incredibly minor drawbacks to an overall great game. It’s really important to me that I get my point across that Rocket League is pure, exhilarating fun. Whether you’re blowing the other team out of the water, you’re getting your behind handed to you, or you find yourself neck and neck with the other team, it’s impossible to not be having fun while doing it. The more you play Rocket League the more you realize that it’s not just a good arcady indie game, and it’s not just a good sports game; it’s just a great game, period.