I'm normally not one for sports games. I tend to be of the mindset that, if you want to play sports, go outside and play them. This goes equally for soccer (football, for those outside the U.S.) and racing cars.
Combine the two together, though, and you have an explosive combination that is surprisingly, amazingly fun to play.
Psyonix's Rocket League is actually a sequel of Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, which was released in 2008 to mediocre reception. Although the same elements of that game can be found in Rocket League, this sequel somehow comes together for a more cohesive approach that has exploded in popularity. The game is now available for multiple systems including, on September 18, 2016, Mac and Linux, through the Steam platform. It has been categorized as an e-sport, and teams can win actual money in competitive circuits.
After playing the game, I can see why Rocket League is so popular. Its nonsensical concept proves to be just plain, addictive fun. The player can select their car and decorate it however they see fit, then choose a variety of game modes to drive around in. The goal is to, of course, score goals by batting an enormous soccer ball through the opponent's goal, whereupon it explodes with tremendous force. To do this, the cars are equipped with the ability to perform double-jumps, drive up walls and even across the ceiling for short distances, and activate turbo boosts.
Those are just the basics to the game. There is a huge variety to the gameplay from that. Soccer matches can vary from one-on-one competitions to four-on-four, and for online games, eight-on-eight. The default game length is five minutes, but this can be changed as well. If "soccar" isn't your game, then there are basketball and hockey variations that can be played. A new variation is a "rumble" mode, where your car can also use wacky power-ups like boxing gloves and tornadoes. There is a huge variety of arenas to play on, and some of them can lead to a different approach in gameplay, based upon obstacles, rises and even the location of the crossbar above the goal. As you win games, you can unlock even more items to customize your car in the garage. The sheer amount of variety in Rocket League is mind-boggling, and there are enough choices in the game that it's actually quite easy to find a mode that fits any player's tastes.
If there wasn't enough choices in the game, Psyonix added more in December, 2016. Players who own the game on Steam can now create their own arenas and upload them to the Steam Workshop. From there, others can test them out, and vote whether it's one to keep, or one to reject. The arenas that the majority of players enjoy are more likely to be chosen at random during online matches.
The graphics are realistic – or at least as realistic as can be for cars driving around a soccer field and crashing into a gigantic ball. Even with my integrated Intel HD chip the game had very few issues with running. However, there were a few of the arenas which did lead to a crash-to-desktop before they finished loading, and I suspect that it could have been due to the limitations of my graphics hardware. Still, for the bulk of the game, I've been able to enjoy the shine of the cars and the explosions of the ball – or other cars if I hit them just right while using the turbo.
Playing an online match is a cinch. Just choose it from the menu and the game will find a good match for you to join. There seem to be thousands of players on at all times, and the wait time to play was quite short. For me, there was a noticeable lag spike when the match first started, and I'm sure the others were wondering what I was doing sitting in one place for the first 10-15 seconds! Once that resolved itself, though, the rest of the game went smoothly. PC and Playstation 4 players can share the same servers. For Xbox users – sorry guys, but Microsoft insists that you still play by yourselves.
The music to the game is pretty good, consisting mostly of techno with a few rock songs in the mix. However, these only play while navigating the menus or in the garage. During actual gameplay, the only sounds you hear are the revving of the engines, the crash of the cars colliding, the thunk of the ball, and other noises that really help to immerse you in the idea that you're playing a sports game. When you score, there is some music that plays, but it's indistinct and echoes as if you'd hear it while watching a game in a sports arena. It's a really nice touch that helps with the immersion.
The controls are sharp and work well. While I wasn't able to get my Logitech controller to work, the keyboard worked fine, and I was able to get my knock-off Xbox controller to play the game as well. It does respond better with the controller, but the controls are simple enough that those using keyboard and mouse can still get into it.
On Steam, the game has several achievements, as well as Steam trading cards. Some downloadable content does exist, in the form of different car bodies that you can choose from. While this doesn't have any effect on the gameplay itself, some of the achievements can only be unlocked by playing with these specific cars. This is where one of the weak points of this otherwise phenomenal game comes in. Those who crave 100% completion will have to pay extra in order to accomplish their goal. For those who aren't as particular as that, the game can be enjoyed without the DLC, especially since the arenas and game modes that were released at the same time are freely accessible.
And yes, as a fan of the "Back to the Future" franchise, I did shell out extra money for the famous, time-traveling DeLorean. There aren't any achievements for that – or the Batmobile promotional tie-in – but they still look cool.
This game is rated E10 and, indeed, there is very little to find objectionable about the moral content. The ball does explode when a goal is scored, which sends the cars flying in all directions. It also is possible to destroy another person's vehicle by ramming it just right. But in either case, there is no indication that the drivers sustain any damage or are killed – in fact, the vehicle pops back up on the field a couple seconds later. The ESRB rating indicates that there are "mild lyrics." I didn't hear anything objectionable, but it's entirely possible that I just haven't heard the questionable songs yet.
As I mentioned in my opening to this review, I am not a fan of sports games. But somehow, Rocket League transcends that genre – it just works, and works amazingly well. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to play a game just for the sheer fun of playing a game. This is what gaming is all about – enjoying yourself.