The RPS Verdict: Rocket League

Rocket League [official site] is our Game of the Month for August, so Adam, Alec and Graham gathered to kick the tyres – and steer the balls – of the surprisingly nuanced cars-wot-play-football multiplayer game.

Graham: Rocket League might be my favourite multiplayer game in years.

Adam: It’s my favourite competitive multiplayer game since my FPS phase, which petered out sometime around Quake 3. I’m enjoying it more than any FIFA or racing game I’ve ever played competitively, and I’m absolutely in awe of how carefully balanced it is. I hate the term ‘balance’ at times because I tend to enjoy games that simulate a space and the things in it, placing the accuracy of the simulation above catering to the players. Rocket League somehow manages to be a wholly convincing futuresport that seems to have sprung fully-formed into being.

That last statement gives away the fact that I wasn’t even aware of Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, Psyonix’s original stab at the concept, until Rocket League was on my hard drive. Did either of you play that, or anything similar?

Graham: I didn’t play that and would haven’t had I known that it existed. I wouldn’t have played Rocket League either, were it not for the strenuous urging of some friends. I looked at the screenshots and thought, “This looks like an Unreal Tournament mod from 2003” and took it for a novelty. From the name of the predecessor, I half suspect its creators thought the same.

But it’s not! Every distinct part of its design is wonderfully considered and polished and it’s-too-soon-to-say-perfected but I want to say, after playing around 70 matches online, perfected. Its appearance as a novelty is the result of its simplicity – cars go fast, hit ball into net with car – which can make it a difficult game to explain the nuance and brilliance of. But I feel like we could pick any part of it and go deep on why it helps produce a wonderful multiplayer game. Like: the ramped edges, the ball which explodes when a goal is scored, the sharpness of the handbrake turn, the ability for air control using boost, that unlocks are randomly given rather than tied to linear progression, etc. etc.

In fact, what one thing would you pick?

Adam: I’d go with my realisation that it’s a tactical game rather than a knockabout game. And then the realisation that came straight afterwards, which was that it’s actually both of those things. Teamwork pays off and understanding how balls are centred and how blocks and tackles work can really help – but sometimes you see the most outrageously (un)fortunate bounce and just have to accept that the Rocket League is, like a real sport, punctuated with unlikely moments and desperate gambits that pay off.

All of that goes back to the brilliantly simple design of the arenas, which it must have been so tempting to clutter with bumpers or powerups, and the physics, which always feel spot on, the occasional bit of lag aside. What say you, Alec?

Alec: For me the genius is that there’s no downtime. There’s not even any thinking time. The cars move so fast and, at least at the level I’m playing it at, there’s almost never any second-guessing where the ball’s going to be. It’s all go, all the time, always a hair’s breadth from a possible goal. Unlike a football game, where you’ve got to factor in taking a while to cross the pitch or which player to switch to or even exactly where you need to be, second to second you’re busy, and moving, and screaming during a match in Rocket League. It’s not possible to get bored, it’s not possible to get confused. Essentially, it’s the impossible football game that telly adverts for Match of the Day or a World Cup show – where every single moment is the height of drama, and there’s none of the bits where 22 tired men slowly pass a ball to each other and wait for the whistle to blow.

This constant frenzy means that when I’m playing Rocket League, I’m primarily being instinctive rather than tactical. Clearly super-players will be doing the latter, but I will never be one of those, and the fact I’m always in HIGH ALERT mode means something at the back of my brain is in control, rather than the measured, anxious bit at the front – and I think that instinctive bit at the back is much better at games than the annoying bit at the front which tries to think about them. All this means Rocket League is GO GO GO – it is drama all the time.

Graham: I love FIFA as a multiplayer game. When you’re sat alongside someone, playing it on the same machine, there’s little better. But it’s pretty bad over the internet against friends or strangers. The netcode is shaky, in part because it’s got 23 moving objects to track. It’s predominantly one vs. one which means you’re at the whim of an opponent who can disconnect at any moment or simply put the controller down and walk away if they don’t want the demerit of disconnecting.

Rocket League is, unlike any sport games and most competitive multiplayer games, great even when played against strangers. About 60 of the 70 matches I’ve played were sans friends, and it’s always been i) near instant to get into a match with others ii) with no problems with lag or netcode iii) with a friendly community who are about my level (or at least not grossly better) iv) and if ever anyone should disconnect, they’re instantly replaced by either another human or a decent bot. When it’s that slick, I could just sit there for hours hitting the button again and again to play another game. And I have.

(From Pip’s post of excellent Rocket League screenshots)

Adam: What if somebody were disinclined to play because they didn’t like either football OR cars. I know it’s hard to imagine any RPS reader who doesn’t have posters of John Terry and Jeremy Clarkson adorning their parlour, but if such a person existed, could the possibly enjoy Rocket League?

Alec: I mean, that’s me. Admittedly I’ve got a picture of Richard Hammond’s tiny bearded vole-face printed on my y-fronts, but that’s nothing to do with cars. I only follow football during world cups and get bored the second England get knocked out (i.e. after one and a half matches), but like I say, Rocket League is actual fantasy football – essentially the boundlessly thrilling game of constant heroism that pub gonks describe, on an emotional level, rather than the stilted, cyclic thing it often is in reality. It’s pure competition, and I really do think it’s instinctive even if you have no interest in competition.

Graham: I think even people who don’t care about cars – and I don’t – like speed and movement. I think even people who don’t care about football – and I do – enjoy predicting the arc of a moving object and striking it firmly with a second moving object. As Alec says, Rocket League feels like it captures the essence of those things, such that it appeals to the primal pleasures that lie at their core. I’d recommend it to people who play badminton or tennis as much as those who play football. I’d recommend it to anyone who ever tried to throw something in the bin from distance – and I think it recommends itself, actually, after having seen car-and-ball-dismissing spectators stare at it in rapt attention for a few minutes and then ask for a go themselves. Fuck Dota – if this were an esport, I’d watch.

Adam: Spectator mode is coming! And I agree that it’s a great game to watch. When we were playing earlier, I was slightly embarrassed by how many times I bellowed “IT’S GOING IN” – as you say, part of it is this really simple joy of seeing an object arc through the air toward a target. Throw in cars that are trying to block that thing or nudge it or whatever else seems like a good idea at the time, and there’s a combination of predictable elements that becomes extremely difficult to predict.

The size of the arenas is just right, that’s something that I’ve been thinking about. And it’s something that is so much a part of the game that there’s no need to think about it at all. After a while though, I noticed that with a full tank of boost, it’s possible to travel the length of the pitch, from goal to goal, as a ball arcs across the far-end. You arrive just in time to knock it into or away from the net, and need absolutely perfect timing to get it right. But that’s deliberate and it’s one example of how tight the design of every element is.

Graham: It’s difficult sometimes to talk about sports games in terms of design, because they’re most often aping the rules of a real, centuries-old physical sport. I imagine that if people are reading this who haven’t seen the game in motion, the description of “football with cars” probably conjures a different experience to the one the game delivers. It’s so clearly exactly that description, but as you say, then there’s things like the ability to move from one end of the pitch to the other in a flash. There’s the ball, which is giant and floaty, almost like a beach ball, which makes that possible. There’s the fact that cars can jump. We haven’t even mentioned the jumping! Jump and then double-jump in such a way that they change direction mid-air, to performing heroic saves, diving headers, or otherwise mimic the form of a metallic, wheel-possessing foot.

Adam: It’s a bit like Air Hockey with a z-axis. And six players. And a ball instead of a puck. But, really, it IS a bit like Air Hockey!

Alec: It also struck me as a superhero game. You don’t often get this much freedom, and power, of movement, outside of man-in-external-pants titles. Even first-person shooters starring supermen would balk at the unfair advantage a building-height doublejump and rocket-propelled flight would give you, let alone TOTAL INVULNERABILITY. This could be a game about a legion of Supermen playing football and it would be uncannily similar in feel, I suspect. I think I’d still prefer it with cars in hats, of course.

Graham: It is all games. It’s a pinball game, but with cars as the paddles. It’s a racing game without corners. It is the alpha and omega of all things.

Adam: It MUST be a fucking roguelike because everything is.

Do you both want to be good at Rocket League? Do you want to be at the top of the league? Do you want some kind of trophy? Or does that not really matter? Because, I’m telling you now, I want to be the best.

Graham: I want to be the Hurricanes. Storm time is coming to you today.

I am already history’s greatest goalkeeper:

That was a fluke.

I’d like to be good at it. I’ve seen the GIFs and the videos of the absurd skill some people already possess at it and I know I will never get there, but I find it gratifying enough when I’m shit at it to know that it would be amazing if I could, for example, routinely hit the ball when I try instead of so often sailing straight by.

But I think it is important that you don’t need to be good at it to have fun. There is a good set of tutorials that breaks you in gently to the controls, the concepts, and matches against successively larger teams of bots – but I didn’t play any of that. I went straight to multiplayer against humans and picked it up well enough to get by within a couple of minutes.

Alec: I don’t want to be good at it, because that goes hand in hand with the game’s playerbase getting better and better too, and the average online experience becoming harder. As I am a time-starved person, that means in no short order I’d be too outclassed to enjoy Rocket League as the random knockabout it is for me at the moment. Clearly I don’t want to be bad at it, but I don’t like the idea of it becoming a race to the top where anyone casual is doomed to have a humiliating time. That said, the generalised mayhem of it almost guarantees anyone can play some sort of useful role. But I want it to be there as thing I can drop into and have a good time whenever I have the time, rather than anything with pressure to practice attached.

Graham: To wrap up, do either of you see yourselves still playing Rocket League six months or a year from now? The risk with these kinds of games is that even when they’re great and they’ve got this kind of high skill ceiling, reaching those upper echelons is unlikely for mere mortals and, without progress or variety, the enjoyment fades. I don’t think that will happen to me in this instance because it’s so easy and instantly enjoyable to play, but… I always think that.

Alec: I suspect it’s going to suffer (arguably) what Team Fortress 2 did, which is to try and counteract fatigue about vanilla modes by embracing over-complexity. In TF2, that stole the game’s heart somewhat. I worry about that. Rocket League is a giant amazing brillo good time, but unless you’re invested in simply endless self-betterment I can imagine it wearing thin, and the stuff they may have to do to keep it alive is almost certainly going to wind up addressing the most fervent community members rather than folk like me who’ll come and go.

Adam: The first DLC package, which was just announced, is a good start. Lots of cosmetic items, free stuff in a patch alongside (including a new arena that is “regulation” and only has visual differences to the existing ones – and oh god how pretty are the arenas?) and ranked matches for 3v3 play. I’d love to join a league and I think the extraordinarily large playerbase could support a few knock-out tournaments and league systems aimed at different regions/skillsets/time-commitments.

It’d be great to have a regular playing slot and a regular team to play with. Basically, I want this to be like the weekly five-a-side match I gave up on a couple of years back, and maybe I’ll jog on the spot while I play and pretend it’s For Health. That would keep me playing for ages but I think some kind of structure – even if it’s one I make for myself, with chums – is probably necessary at some point.

Graham: Confirmed: Rocket Paper Shotgun League.

*checks forum*

Yep.

Alec: I am down with that if we can guarantee it’ll be during the working day. As good as carfootball is I can’t quite choose it over looking after my child.

(that would be a rubbish ending, quick, someone say something funny)

40 Comments

  1. zentropy says:

    A lot of things have made me excited to play this, but god damn, this post has to top them all.

  2. Tycow says:

    I loved the forerunner to this, Super Rocket Powered Doodah Cars (or whatever it was called), on the PS3. Instant buy from me! :D

  3. Jockie says:

    “Admittedly I’ve got a picture of Richard Hammond’s tiny bearded vole-face printed on my y-fronts” I feel like we need to know the context of that comment, what possible reason you could have for possessing those unless you are some kind of top gear superfan?

    Also Rocket league is pretty great.

  4. Xzi says:

    I stopped reading halfway through to play Rocket League, sorry. Rocket League is my favorite thing since foosball tables.

  5. GWOP says:

    Did somebody say car football?

    link to youtu.be

  6. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Really do wish I wasn’t so broke at the moment. All my friends have it and say it’s lovely. Get thee behind me, poverty.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I know this is blasphemy, but I’ve been playing it on PS4 (it’s currently one of the free games on PS Plus, so if you have a PS4 hurry and grab it before the deals change!).

    It’s been fun, but I think I might enjoy it more if I could regularly play against people I know. Random online matches are a fun distraction, and a bit better than against AI opponents, but it doesn’t hold my attention for very long.

    • Xzi says:

      BLASPHEMER!

      Actually, I can understand where you’re coming from, lol. I play it streamed to my shield with either my girlfriend or friends occasionally to keep it fresh, though. So when I do play it by myself, I enjoy at least medium-length sessions.

  8. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    There’s two things we need to talk about here. First when you spawn in the back position that means you are on defense and you DO NOT boost towards the ball on the pitch. It gets so frustrating when you are constantly having to take goal because your teammates will not take their turn. Second, in ranked matches if it ever comes to a 3v1 game don’t destroy the single person’s car. If you want to shoot on an open net then that is what freemode is for.

    • David Bliff says:

      This is all very true. Usually if an opponent drops from a ranked match (where there are no AI replacements or drop-in players) and it’s clear it’s going to be a rout, I’ll offer to just kick (isn’t it interesting that I instinctively use that word?) the ball around to run the clock out. It’s not fun to run up the score.

      Now if it’s 2v1 and I’m on my own, I’ll play to the end. I’ve won 3 or 4 games that way, it’s really satisfying.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Yeah, I don’t care if i get my ass handed to me, I just want to see how well I can do against 3 people at once. It’s good defense practice. When you can’t do anything because you get that one tool who has to prove how badass they are it just ruins it.

  9. Rikard Peterson says:

    Rollcage 2 had a football (carball?) mode among its extras. Pretty fun.

    Does this one support local multiplayer?

  10. draglikepull says:

    “if ever anyone should disconnect, they’re instantly replaced by either another human or a decent bot.”

    It’s worth clarifying that this is only true in unranked mode. If you play in ranked mode (which is all I’ve ever played), a disconnect means one team is down a player.

    Thankfully, since the last patch introduced a rule that anyone who quits is banned from all games for 15 minutes, the number of players angrily disconnecting has plummeted.

  11. orbit_l says:

    I should probably try this sometime soon. I enjoyed the Tank Football mode in World of Tanks immensely, so this should be right up my alley.

  12. trjp says:

    I’ve clocked more time with this that I really should have – one biggish thing I need to say is

    “Don’t be deterred if you don’t like driving games – it’s not a driving game or anything like one”

    The controls/movement/physics are SUBLIME tho – game’s last just the right amount of time – the bots play well enough and 99% of the time the online stuff works well.

    Only real downside I’ve seen is the typical and expected ‘toxification’ of people playing it. Now some people are getting good – and other people THINK they’re getting good – you’ll see more whining and raging and general assholery tho – everything will be your fault and why aren’t you defending and that was THEIR ball etc. etc.

    The first few weeks were mostly people just “having a kickaround” and it was hilarious, but as the proper season approached, some people are taking things seriously and it can be a bit grim and nasty at times.

    Still – the offline bots are perfectly good enough to kick-your-ass if you let them – so if all else fails you can leave the Internet to it’s bitchy self ;0

  13. wondermoth says:

    Hi. 100 hours under my belt here. Couple of points I want to make.

    1. ROCKET LEAGUE IS NOT FOOTBALL WITH CARS. Its closest sporting analogue is Ice Hockey. It’s a game about momentum, and velocity and control. You don’t just run around where you want. You have to *plan* where you’re going. And yes, it’s certainly more like air hockey than football, but air hockey is a bit of a lottery, which brings me to…

    2. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: I fear you’re all a bit shit at Rocket League. Now, I don’t mean that in a superior way. I have gone from being a bit shit at Rocket League to quite good, although still not nearly close to being very good. That journey has taken me through six distinct tactical metagames, starting with “all players randomly flinging themselves at the ball”, via (among others) “players are usually able to hit the ball, and in the right direction”, to “opponents are now competent at defending wing attacks” (which is huge) and ending up with “the ball doesn’t touch the floor very often in 3v3 games because all my opponents and teammates are much better than me”.

    Alec said in the review that he never used the tutorials. Graham says here he never used the tutorials. THEY ARE NOT TUTORIALS, THEY ARE TRAINING MODES. AND YOU CAN USE THEM WHILE YOU;RE QUEUING FOR ONLINE GAMES. I’m shouting because it breaks my heart to see you guys only experience this as a knockabout bit of fun. It is an amazingly good bit of knockabout fun, but it is also so much more than that, and you really don’t need to be an adderall-filled teenager to access the upper slopes. Just go into training modes when you’re queuing. It’s amazing how easy it is to improve.

    • Beefenstein says:

      It’s a game I play for fun, I don’t give a shit about competing, go cry your little “I’m finally good at sports” tears in your nan’s flat looking at where the trophies for the sport’s days you completely failed at should’ve been. You great big nerd.

      • slartibartfast says:

        Woah that was a bit on the harsh side. You do realise this is RPS (a gaming website with a penchant for the nerdy) and not the lad bible you are commenting on. Chill man!

      • wondermoth says:

        I’ve just been called a nerd on RPS.

        I get an achievement for that, right?

      • wondermoth says:

        Also, because despite your needless aggression, I still want you to get how amazing Rocket League really is, I need to stress this: There is nothing in the world like scoring your first aerial goal. Comfortably the best thing that has happened to me in 30+ years of videogaming.

        Don’t practice because you’re competitive. Practice because being able to do shit in the air is AMAZINGLY AWESOME.

      • fish99 says:

        Tosser.

    • trjp says:

      Sadly, the longest I have to queue is about 20 seconds so not much training in that time ;0

      Do use the tuts tho – they are useful – you should try them at least!

      Otherwise, that post simply proves my post above, people now think they’re good and will moan if you’re not.

      No multiplayer pick-up game will ever be free of people who have no idea of fun and demand everyone support THEM but I suspect this one has very little skill ceiling (wheras some other games are simply about learning what everything does, this game requires you DO IT and DO IT WELL)

      • wondermoth says:

        There’s got to be a skill ceiling somewhere. I haven’t seen it yet.

        The biggest matchmaking problem are the split ratings for the three ranked playlists. I played a ton of 3v3, got up to 900 rating, then went to play 2v2s, which I had abandoned when I hit 500, and I was basically playing a different game to everybody else. I felt like Competitive Dad beating a group of 9 year olds. I didn’t like it. However, if you stick to one playlist, I find that the mismatches are pretty rare. Sometimes I’ll end up in a game where everybody’s playing in the air, and I have to choose between a) my 30% chance of hitting an aerial/70% chance of looking like an idiot, or b) staying in goal for the entire match, but generally things seem well balanced.

        • trjp says:

          The skill ceiling is pretty high – the control options you have are superb but mastering them will take time.

          One of the things I find hardest is camera switching – Ballcam makes on-the-ball play too-hard (as your perspective is changing too fast) but you need it in other situations and – only so many fingers!!!

          Combining all the skills in aerial/boost/jump/ground play with the ability to read your opponents (and teammates if they’re randoms) whilst keeping a good tactical head and knowing the adage “just because you can hit the ball doesn’t mean you SHOULD hit the ball” is the way – it’s a long trip tho

          Sooner or later, the community will be a horrible place to be – all MP games get there – but there’s still a bit of fun to be had – until the proper season starts perhaps?

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Oh yeah, good point about ice hockey. I was watching people play this, and it was pretty obvious that you had to anticipate where the ball was going after the next likely hit. Skate where the puck is going to be, etc etc.

    • drewski says:

      I think the football reference is a matter of comprehensiblity rather than necessary specifically trying to find the most close analogy.

      For many people, especially in the UK and southern Europe, I suspect “ice hockey with cars” is about as comprehensible as “sports sports with cars”.

      I agree that football isn’t necessarily a close comparison, but it at least creates an impression which isn’t completely dissimilar from the game.

  14. Beefenstein says:

    This game is so good even WWE superstars play it: link to youtube.com

  15. caff says:

    Articles and recommendations like this are why I <3 RPS. Whereas a traditional PC magazine would have opted for a "safe" 85% review, you've basically spent time learning to love this and pick it apart for what makes it great.

    I totally agree with the comments. Graham's opener that this is possibly the greatest multiplayer game in years rang totally true with me. It's the first game in years that I've jiggled my legs playing and shouted at my monitor with a rollercoaster of feelings of joy & despair.

    And Alec's comments about no downtime are spot on too – you are never bored, even when you're losing 5-0 there is the temptation to try a little trick shot and feel like a god.

    The last multiplayer game that evoked such emotion in me was UT2004, but this surpasses that for just being more instantly playable and great.

    • Xzi says:

      I so miss UT2004. I hope the new Unreal Tournament becomes basically that with newer graphics.

  16. deborah302 says:

    hy

  17. deborah302 says:

    I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h… Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  18. lostinvention says:

    Loving this game so far. It’s a blast.

    Also, gifs are so 90s. look into gifv/webm/etc. implementation!

  19. Rainbowdeity says:

    So… RPS Rocket League World Cup anyone?