I can’t help but feel that Jeremy Clarkson is responsible for this. For all his flaws, his hideously outdated worldview and position as, essentially, king of the baby boomers, Clarkson had one good idea. An idea that happened twice on the now-ended version of Top Gear he hosted. That idea was car football: getting a bunch of cars (generally small hatchbacks) to knock around a giant inflatable ball in the hope of scoring goals with it.
(It’s entirely possible that this wasn’t specifically Clarkson’s idea, and it would at least had to have been implemented by Top Gear’s main producer, Andy Wilman, but I digress.)
On the show, the event was often a clunky, stop-start affair that only really seemed fun after masterful editing. What we saw— as with most things on Top Gear, was artifice with just enough connection to what actually happened to make you question exactly where the script ended and the hosts natural clowning around began.
Rocket League is those car football segments with all the boring bits cut out. Stir in a little bit of Mario Kart’s battle mode, the film Death Race and you have the best representation of a future sport in a video game since Speedball 2000. The end result is unadulterated, pick-up-and-play fun. The controls are easy to understand, and what you have to do in each match is clear almost from the beginning.
This simplicity, of course, does not mean the game lacks depth. The controls allow for a fairly spectacular variety of ways to move the ball around, and the game has a robust physics engine that means hitting the ball a certain way can reliably produce the same results each time. What at first may seem the ball flying off in random directions after bumping or jumping into it, quickly becomes a way of skilfully transferring vehicular momentum into the ball. When you do hit, it feels quite solid— you’ll know you’ve made contact.
Rocket League focuses on online multiplayer, and that’s the first option when you pick up. There’s four basic game types— 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4— with 3v3 being the ‘standard’ mode of the game, and the one where the majority of players can be found. There’s also ranked and unranked mode, and experience and unlocks can be acquired in both. Online matchmaking works pretty well, and I never had to wait more than a couple of minutes to find a game. The only blemish is that the game handles lag rather poorly, so I recommend playing on the most local region you can find (there is an Oceanic server, thankfully).
Matches play out across a variety of well-designed stadiums, all of which help build the feeling of future sporting event that the game is going for. Everything is bright and colourful, and the game’s aesthetic is a little more WipEout than Destruction Derby. I think my favourite visual is the explosion that happens when a ball is scored. The ball explodes into an impressive cloud of particle physics, making it clear that a goal has very definitely been scored (and also ensuring a lucrative future industry in Rocket League ball production).
There’s so much more I could talk about with Rocket League, like all the cosmetic customisation options and the excellent soundtrack, but doing so just makes me want to keep playing it. The game has already been a big hit among my friends, and I can see it growing into a pretty popular eSport if the developers continue to support and balance it. Already, Youtube is full of crazy shots on goal and other tricks people have tried, which is always a sure sign of a game’s success. This is already the biggest sleeper hit of 2015, and it’s only going to grow from here.
Fast, frenetic vehicular football action
Easy to pick up and play
Handles online lag poorly