Rocket League combines cars and soccer. It’s such a simple concept that seems like it would be better suited as Mario Party minigame. Or a sport played by Wuzzles. Funny enough, and this is a true story, one of the first sketches my boyfriend showed me when he got me into Top Gear was soccer with cars. They did it a few times, and I distinctly remember saying “they should make a game out of this.” Which is a risky thing to say, frankly, since I never remember to be more specific and say “they should make a good game out of this.” Somewhere, deep down in the darker parts of my psyche, I still blame myself for not saying “good game” with the Matrix. Damn it.
Thankfully, the fates were less cruel this time around. In fact, Rocket League is one of the best online indies of all time. When I heard the concept, my initial thought was “it’ll probably control like shit or have massive lag.” I know there are some networking issues, but the overwhelming majority of games I played (and I put a whopping 60 hours into this) ran smoothly. And Rocket League controls really well. Using the turbo boost to pull off air-based strikes and blocks has a learning curve to it, but there’s no complex combos to pull off. The controls are responsive and instinctual.
It’s sort of tough to get more in-depth while reviewing Rocket League, because what’s here is the closest to being perfect as any game I’ve ever reviewed, even though there’s not a lot to it. There are some weird anomalies. Like playing single-player league on easy and watching my AI teammates seem to forget what team they’re on. More than once I saw them take the ball the full length of the field to own-goal themselves. I wasn’t sure if this was just happenstance until I saw the ball start to drift away from my own goal, only for them to casually dribble it back towards it before bumping it in. This happened frequently, perhaps in protest of me being a sissy and picking easy mode. I would have made a joke about it being passive resistance, but my AI teammates physically cleared me out of the way far more often than opponents did. None of this happened on the normal difficulty. I can sum up easy mode by noting that I averaged 20 goals a game during the jump balls, and a couple more a game for when I would miss. Normal difficulty was much more realistic, in the sense that I was eliminated in the semi-finals the first time I played it and won the title despite a losing record the second go-around.
The biggest problem with Rocket League is out of the hands of the developers: the quality of online players. Now don’t get me wrong, most Rocket League players are awesome. But, just often enough to be annoying, a game would happen where the other team will score the first goal and my two randomly assigned teammates would immediately vote to forfeit the remainder of the game. In about a third of such games, when I refused to vote with them, they either just quit out or they started own-goaling me in an attempt to force my hand, all while bitching at me for wasting their precious time. Rocket League certainly isn’t exceptional in this regard. Anyone who has ever played any team-based online game deals with this. Rocket League is only remarkable in how damn fast people are willing to quit. I had a game where we led 2 to 0, the other team scored a goal, which meant we were still up by one, and a teammate voted to forfeit. I figured there must have been some kind of achievement he was going for based around shutouts, but no such achievement existed.
Eventually I got pretty decent at Rocket League. Not great or anything, but I could hold my own. And, all credit to the quitter brigade, because they led to a couple of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had as IGC. I scored a couple moral victories by preventing shutouts by myself against full teams after I had both teammates quit after just one goal. And then there was the game where we started the game 1 to 0, had the other team tie it up, our teammate voted to forfeit and then quit seconds later, and myself and the random dude I was paired with proceeded to win the game when down a player by a score of 5 to 1. And it wasn’t like our opponents were slouches, which made our blowout so satisfying. Later, I played matches against some of my readers, and it was awesome to get to finally play a game where I could play and interact with so many of them. A couple of them hopped into ranked games with me, where we went on an extended winning streak. Which we immediately followed up with a losing streak that no one in particular was to blame.
Rocket League’s biggest successes from a design point of view come down to what the game doesn’t include. There’s a large variety of cars, but besides slightly different collision boxes, there’s no differences in performance in them. All unlockables and the DLC are purely superficial changes, which levels the play field. It makes Rocket League one of the most accessible and enjoyable games of its type in recent memory, since newbs can hop right in and not spend the next several weeks grinding up in hopes of competing with early adopters. Yea, I wish the league play had more options (and more stats, since I would have liked to know how many goals I personally scored), but otherwise, isn’t it more important to refine and perfect what you’ve built? I’ve heard it suggested that Rocket League is a glorified minigame. Fine, so be it. Because I’ve seen games ruined by leveling systems. Castlestorm‘s online mode could have solidified it as an all-time classic, but instead I found myself being matched against players 150 levels more advanced than me, with all the upgrades that are earned along the way. While you’ll still need to put time into Rocket League to get good, when you are good you won’t need to grind away an extra fifty hours just to compete. There’s something to be said about that. Restraint is perhaps something more indies need. Rocket League doesn’t do a lot, but what it does is phenomenal. By the way, if this review sounds to lovey-dovey, I should note that the next teammate of mine who bumps me out of the way of an open shot is getting a foot upside the ass, and I have Bob Lanier and his size 22s on retainer.
UPDATE: Actually, the game does keep track of stats in the Extras menu, but this doesn’t improve things. Single player stats are added to online stats, and thus it appears like I’ve scored 685 goals (ha!) when in reality I think roughly 600 of those came in one 27 game easy league season. This is a massive oversight on the developer’s part, and it ought to be changed.
Point of Sale: Steam, PS4
$19.99 said the “damn women drivers” joke from opposing players NEVER GOT OLD AT ANY POINT OVER THE COURSE OF 60 HOURS YOU CLEVER CLEVER PEOPLE in the making of this review.
Rocket League is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.