The stadium roared as the score tied. Seven seconds left on the clock and I was expecting it to go into overtime, already planning how I would out maneuver my opponent at the go. He caught me slipping though; where I had seen a dead clock, my friend and rival spotted an opportunity. I can’t be sure if it was skill, luck, or a combination of both, but I saw his orange car fly over mine and nail the ball square. It shot towards the goal and the sight struck me with fear. I hit the power slide, launching myself back after swerving the wrong way from my momentum, but I wasn’t going to make it.
My adversary had taken advantage perfectly. The ball was gliding to a picture perfect goal ensuring my defeat. It was a sure thing, I was just going through the motions, thinking there was something I could do; however the ball slowed, not having the momentum we both thought it would. I sped past and pulled right, hitting the edge of the ramp and launching myself up at an ugly angle, sending my vehicle into a downward spin. The ball struck the side of my car though, knocking me off course and sending it bouncing back the other way. I actually heard the angry cries of my dueling partner before it hit that I had saved the game. I stood and threw my hands up, controller held high, almost knocking my headset off. I had been given another chance, the opportunity to win in overtime, but I wanted to live in that moment just a few seconds longer.
I know next to nothing about sports, but I have no problem realizing when something is entertaining. Other than wrestling games though, the only sports-based titles I have really enjoyed were Mutant League Hockey and Mega Man Soccer; both examples of titles that took the sport and put a twist on it. Sure, it is a little sad that it takes rocket-powered vehicles to make some Americans show any interest in football, but the change is exactly what Rocket League has done well, and Psyonix found a winning formula in the process.
Though the player controls a tricked-out RC car, this game is simply the basic idea of soccer stripped down and streamlined even further so that it is easy to pick up. The ball is hit by player or AI cars in an attempt to get it into the opposing team’s goal. Cars have a limited boost that can be refilled by hitting power-ups, and learning when to use that boost seems to be the most important part of the game. Vehicles can race up and along the walls, jump, flip, bicycle kick, and power slide to help them maneuver the ball and drive circles around other competitors. It may not sound like much, but simple is one of the things that helps the game work. Do not be fooled though, one game against someone who has mastered these maneuvers can make a player realize how little they actually know.
Matches give the player XP and leveling up unlocks different cars, decals, and silly items to make their car stand out, but most of it is goofy. Everything seems cosmetic, and none of the other cars are particularly better or overpowered, other than a possible difference in hit box size. This seems to keep the game fair and I have not noticed any pay walls or micro-transactions so far, which is a welcomed surprise for a game that could easily be fitted with them. In fact, the developers have already said that there will be some DLC, but they are planning to give away elements to expand play for free as well. I am interested to see how the developers will keep the game drawing in new players. Old sports games are cheap and usually not hard to come by. I can’t recall how many SNES sports games I have let go for free, but Rocket League is a sports title that I think we will see stick around a while as long as they update more than just the pitches (fields). It has a lot of replay value already, and the developers look to have some ideas on how to make it all stay interesting, but hopefully they won’t overdo it.
When something is this easy to get into and addictive, the only way to make it better is by playing it with friends, which I highly recommend—especially if they are competitive. Rocket League has been getting a lot of attention and I see it pulling in fans that are not into soccer, but I am curious if fans of the sport will find this to be silly when they can just go play FIFA. It was a free download for PS4 Plus subscribers for July and is available on Steam for twenty dollars. The game did have a small audience already, as it is a sequel to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars—a name most people just abbreviate for good reasons—which had a small dedicated following.
I honestly wish I could get into more traditional sports games. There is that saying “why play the video game when I can go out and do it for real,” but I think it might also be my lacking in a certain love for the game. Rocket League is something I cannot do in real life though, and a sport I can honestly get behind and be excited about. This game may not be for everyone, but I plan on putting a few more hours in and see if it changes my tastes.