If you like sports games, you should get Rocket League. If you like racing games, you should also get Rocket League. Basically, if you like video games, ever played a video game, or thought about playing video games, you should stop whatever you’re doing right now and download Rocket League. It’s that good. Playstation 4 and PC gamers have known how great Rocket League is since last summer, but it only came to Xbox One last week, with a couple extra pieces of new content and most of the previously released DLC.
In an industry where publishers race to put out more and more complex games that nickel and dime players with pointless DLC skins and unnecessary expansions, Rocket League is a breath of fresh of air. It’s a complete, budget-priced game full of unlockable content that is just plain fun to play.
Imagine if soccer and a demolition derby had a baby, and then that baby put on a jetpack and time traveled a couple hundred years into the future. That’s Rocket League in a nutshell. Either solo, or in teams of up to four players, you maneuver your vehicle around a massive arena, racing, boosting, and jumping to knock a giant floaty ball into your opponent’s goal. What initially seems like a simple game hides an incredible amount of depth. After a few rounds, you’ll realize the importance of adjusting your speed and angles to line up your shots just right. Go a little too fast or hit the ball too low, and it will go flying high above the goal, and you’ll have to completely re-adjust your next shot.
Every goal, save, or shot gains you experience and levels. As your levels increase, you unlock more content to customize your vehicle, including bodies, tires, flags and hats. This is purely cosmetic. Rocket League is such a finely tuned game that letting players alter their speed or jumps would completely ruin it, but most of the unlocks do change your car for the better. Everyone should eventually be able to come up with a perfect look for their cars. The Xbox One version of the game also includes unlocks for Halo and Gears of War bodies, though these are somewhat bafflingly only unlocked after several hours of playing, which really doesn’t give gamers who have played Rocket League to death on the PS4 or PC much incentive to pick up this version. But for everyone else, this is the same great game that those platforms have had for months now.
Controls are generally super smooth and responsive, though for whatever reason I did have trouble hitting the ball when I would lock the camera onto it with the Y button. Simply avoiding this feature made the game much more playable for me.
While online multiplayer is really the only way to play Rocket League, Psyonix has included a handful of practice drills and a single-player season mode. The drills are really an afterthought. I played through them for a quick achievement, and I doubt I’ll go back to them. Given how smoothly the game plays and its flashy style, it’s somewhat surprising that Psyonix hasn’t included mini games based around its physics engine like the Flatout racing games have long included. But maybe they’re saving that for DLC or the inevitable sequel.
The season mode is similarly unexciting. You can customize how many weeks you want to play, and you go through a series of five minute matches against random teams. The AI, while competent, just isn’t as much fun to play against as human opponents. I checked out a couple weeks of the season mode and promptly went back to the online multiplayer. Lack of single player content can kill a lot of games, but I really don’t see it mattering much here. I can see myself playing Rocket League online for a long time to come, and I didn’t really miss the lack of a more in-depth season mode.
I can’t fault Rocket League for its art style. Everything about it feels like the most popular sport of the future, and the stadiums have a lot of variety and detail. You can customize everything about your vehicle’s appearance, including its boost trail. Rocket League is a sight to behold when six or eight drivers are on the field wrecking each other and racing across the field at full speed. That being said, the use of all those particle effects, and calculating the physics of the cars and the ball seem to have come at some graphical cost, so when you’re in a practice mode or customizing your car, it’s not the most exciting game to look at. Also, and this is admittedly extremely nitpicky, the Xbox One version of the game seems to look just a tiny bit worse than the Playstation 4 version. It’s not a huge deal, and most people won’t really care or notice if they haven’t played Rocket League on PS4, but it did stand out to me.
There are about a dozen tracks of electronic music that play at the main menu. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the most part I enjoyed them, and they fit the slightly futuristic mood of the game well. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s music that will make you want to play Rocket League, though it’s not terribly memorable. During matches, the revving of engines and crashing of cars is often drowned out by the cheers of the crowd, though everything about the vehicles just sounds right. Psyonix has done a fine job of capturing the feel of a professional sporting event.
Rocket League is starting off on Xbox One with good word of mouth and a strong online community. There were about 20,000 people playing it at any given time during launch week, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. I never had trouble finding a match in any mode. As long as the community stays active, or you can wrangle a few friends to play with you, there’s no reason to stop playing Rocket League. Every match seems to bring some crazy new outcome or technique that will make you want to play just one more round because you’ve learned something new, or you’re positive you can beat the other team this time around. Add in dozens of unlocks that let you customize your vehicle exactly how you want it, and you have a game that you can eaily play for the rest of this console generation.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg