So here's the thing. I have had a lot of trouble writing this review. Every time I sit down to write about Rocket League, I gain a very large urge to just pick the game back up and start playing, which is what I've been doing since the game came out. I've actually had to uninstall the game for the time being, just to get this damn review done in a somewhat timely manner and get back to playing this marvel of a game. With that said, if you haven't read a Past Due Review from me before, do not expected a scored review. This is an examination of the game on a component by component basis. Such as, animation quality, modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level design, and more.
The biggest reason I decided to study game design was my fascination with the concept of Play. Play is a thing we need to engage in to survive as children, and yet many of us lose sight of the notion of play as we grow older. Play makes us healthy, strong, and causes us to critically think. Many great and innovative games, whether on the field, a computer, or even a board game, show a great understanding of what it means to engage someone in the act of play. Soccer is one such game that has captivated people in play for many years (sorry, but yeah I call it that because Americans taught me a far dumber sport was called football.) And what Psyonix has done with both Rocket League and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars was give players a brand new way to play the game, simply by altering the way we interact with the ball. In this physics based game the most impressive component is the methods you use to control your Battle-Car. At the end of the day, you only need to make your car hit the ball into the goal, but the character controller for the car gives you so many ways to hit the ball, interact with your opponents, and traverse the environment. The amount of ways you can make your car avatar move will surprise you countless times, but it stays true to the age old concept of easy to learn, hard to master. All while keeping the core concept of play at the center of it all, never letting the player forget about the heart and soul of a game that has reminded me that we all live to play. And play you will. Rocket League doesn’t just create a great experience, it re-creates what it felt like to be 6 years old, playing on the field with your friends in what ever manner it may have been.
The magic of all this is what Rocket League is able to do to the expectations you have of both the game and yourself. Starting out you may not feel like you can contribute much to the experience, as your skill set improves with time and experience. However, you will start to feel yourself progressing the more you play and learn the eccentricities of the games control method. It reminds me of why I fell in love with DOTA 2. I always felt a sense of progression in what I could accomplish as a player. This is no different than my time spent in Rocket League, and I still know I can dramatically improve with even more practice. Give yourself enough time and effort, and Rocket League will allow you to do some pretty amazing things.
I can not wait to see this game played at an E-Sports level. I can see myself watching professional players play this game maybe as much as I’ll play it. And the methods of play feel dramatically different whether you choose to play the standard 3v3, 1v1, 2v2, or the absolutely hectic 4v4. No matter how you prefer to play you will always be having fun. So rarely have I played a competitive multiplayer game where I never payed attention to the score board. Win or lose, Rocket League always lets me have a blast engaging in my all-time favorite activity, Play.
What I usually get to talk about a lot in these reviews are the animations of the games characters. Well Rocket League doesn’t have any characters in the traditional sense, instead it has cars that do move in a surprisingly animated fashion. Between the jumping, dodging, rolling, boosting, bouncing, and barrel rolling, there are actually a lot of appropriately exaggerated movements in Rocket League.http://gfycat.com/FavoriteMatureCoyote
The animations are subtle but they are there. Sure they’re not the most complicated things to make in the world, seeing as how most of them are just transforms of position and/or rotation, but the speed and motion is fluid. With no strange spikes or wacky jitters anywhere in the movements, ensuring that your vehicle will always be in the exact position you tell it to be in, which is extremely important in a physics based game like this.
The game’s simplicity certainly shows itself in the games various 3D models. They all look absolutely gorgeous from a couch, but up close and personal to your computer monitor, a few things start to look a little cheap. Its not that the models aren’t constructed well, all the geometry seems to fall in the right place and the textures are suitable, but they are just that: suitable. Everything is clean and flawlessly modeled in a very simplistic fashion, yet it's not ever one thing that makes Rocket League's models and art style. It's the composition of all of them in a scene together. Combining all these simple textures and shapes with the best atmospheric effects the Unreal engine can offer, creates a saturated, but not quite cartoony art style that allows every important object to pop out at you. So even though the individual models are nothing to be impressed by, this does keep your attention where it matters without being distracted by anything too detailed.
Again the lighting is also kept quite simple, making sure you are never distracted by what could have easily been quite an eye grabber. The lighting definitely captures the feeling of an arena.
You can see shadows from the rafters below you as your shadow follows your movements along the ground and up the walls, all while the reflective effects on the cars and walls glisten with the warm lighting of the sunset off in the distance. It's almost a shame that you won’t ever be looking for these things, because you’ll be so immersed in the action around you that the lighting team's hard work just becomes another impressive aspect of the games second nature.
The above effect may be my favorite particle effect of all time. It is certainly my favorite explosion effect hands down, and the expertly crafted tech art doesn’t end there. First off, everything is subtly covered in a Minority Report esque glaze, and it is most notable when the ball is just about to enter a goal and the line it must cross fades into visibility. There are also very subtle particle effects, such as the dust left from your tires when jumping and the clash effect when you trade paint with an opponent racing to block his shot on the goal. When you take into account the number of boost trails you can apply to your Battle-Car, the hard work of the Tech Art team starts to become quite apparent.
This is how you do player feedback well. Every bump, slide, boost, jump, crash, and goal is exactly what your imagination expects these colorful and nearly cartoony objects would sound like, and like bees to the hive, the engines buzz around the map, frantically attempting to be the next one who causes the following amazing blast sound.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVpQ9Mo7EUU
This consistency with the game’s art style holds true in the games soundtrack as well. The music in the main menu will most likely stick with you for a few hours after playing.
This is where the game’s Achilles' heel resides. At the time of this review there are only a handful of maps that are all basically the same level with different textures and day or night effects. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very masterfully crafted level, but it could begin to get repetitive if more maps weren't on the way. Thankfully though Psyonix has some more maps on the way, the first being my favorite from the previous entry in this series. It is in that game where you can find some examples of the great creativity this level design team can bring to the table, and while I’m glad they seem to be on their way to Rocket League, I wish that at least one of these unique maps was in the standard game.
Menus and sub-menus are presented in clear way that makes sense while navigating. The options screen may even surprise you with the amount of ways you can customize your view and controls, with fully re-bindable keyboard and controller functions. While the PC port of the game runs quite well, there are a few strange quips that can be a bit annoying while navigating the menus with a Mouse. Most button icons will show the PS4 commands and quite a few buttons need to be double clicked while navigating the menu. But the game does control well in matches with either a controller or keyboard and mouse. The only strange thing for me was that the default keybinding is right click to jump and space to view the ball, but with a quick key-rebind I swapped these two and was good to go. The only time the controls are completely broken on PC are in the replay mode. It is nigh-on impossible to navigate as it will always use the max DPI of your mouse, and if you're like me and have an 8200 DPI mouse, accelerating that just makes for a crazy wacky camera.
For those of you who love decking out your car, you’ll have a blast here. You will need to play the game a bit to unlock more options and accessories for your Battle-Car, but there are enough starting choices to make your car your own. Another great example of two incredible parts of the game, show themselves working together very well here. This being the audio and particle effects for the boost trails. There are so many different boost trails and each one of their respected sound effects compliments the effect in the best extent possible.
For all the good I’ve talked about Rocket League, I do have one complaint. If I were to review this game as a sequel charging me $20 for the same shit I got in Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle-Cars, you can bet my tone would be different. So why haven’t I been looking at it that way? After all my girlfriend and I have enjoyed quite a bit of SARPBC and Rocket League is basically a reskin with less maps and a few extra features. Well to be honest, it's because this game is still just as fun. Maybe even more so now that it is much more well known, and those extra features like Seasons and Vehicle Customization do kind of enhance the experience. And I won't lie, I want as many people to experience this game as humanly possible. I have no personal gain in such a goal other than the sheer fact that if one more person gets to feel the same thing I felt when I first made an airborne goal, I’ll have brought a level of joy to someone unlike any other gaming experience. Psyonix deserves praise for their incredibly talented team members, insight into game theory, and heart that they have so celestially celebrated here. I wouldn’t feel rash in debating within my head if this is my game of the year, it's just so hard because I also really like The Witcher 3. But I have no doubts this will end up being my favorite competitive multiplayer game this year, and I have no intention of ridding myself of my addiction to a game that, as I mentioned earlier, allows me to simply play.