I am 95% certain that “Rocket League” was engineered in a top-secret lab somewhere in a frosty Eastern European tundra to conquer the gaming world at precisely the right moment.
That moment came on July 7, when the evil geniuses at Psyonix released the soccer-demolition derby hybrid on the PlayStation 4 and PC. Psyonix, which covers up its nefarious plots by masquerading as a small independent studio in San Diego, managed to jolt online gaming awake during a sleepy summer with a title that is both remarkably simple to learn and impossible to master.
“Rocket League” follows the tenants set forth in the Indie Game Five Commandments:
Thou Shalt Augment a Core Gaming Concept
The best indie titles choose a familiar genre — puzzlers, sports games, shooters, etc. — and bend them to their will.
At its most stripped-down core, “Rocket League” is a soccer game. Knock the ball into the opposing team’s goal, and keep it out of your net.
However, the addition of cars and their various jumping, boosting and wall-climbing mechanics gives “Rocket League” enough of a wrinkle to make it fresh and fun. The player’s mandate remains simple and familiar, but the journey toward the literal and figurative goal is never the same.
Thou Shalt Create a Unique Art Style
Be it “Limbo,” “Braid” or “Super Meat Boy,” the most iconic and successful independently produced titles all have a distinctive look to them. Creating a signature art style using whatever tricks a developer can muster is often a great way to even the playing field with the big-budget games, which normally all strive to look the same — perfect.
“Rocket League” isn’t quite at that “Don’t Starve” aesthetic level, but it does have a distinct feel. The cars and arenas offer a strong helping of “Tron” flashbacks, but not so many that they overwhelm the sportiness of the title.
Overall, someone walking by a TV screen sparkling with “Rocket League” will either recognize it immediately or have no idea what’s happening. And that’s a good thing.
Thou Shalt Not Charge an Arm and a Leg
Video game reviewers often debate whether cost plays any role in a title’s grade or score. The discussion is pointless — of course it does.
We expect a certain amount of content for what we are paying. If a $60 title only has six hours of content, it is going to lower the score — even if it’s the best six hours in gaming.
At $20, “Rocket League” is a pretty safe investment. It’s simple, fast-paced gameplay will hook anyone who lays eyes on it for at least five hours. If you become addicted, as I have, it’s an amazing value purchase.
Thou Shalt Fill a Gaming Need
The world is starving for e-sports. Franchises like “League of Legends” and “Dota 2” are now billion-dollar entities due in large part to the explosion of competitive gaming.
“Rocket League” may never reach that level, but it will be in the conversation in no time. Several small competitive ladders and leagues have already popped up. A growing group of people already make their living playing “Rocket League” in tournaments and on streaming services.
And it’s only been out for a month.
“Rocket League” also appeals to people on the other side of the gaming spectrum. I brought it into The Fresno Bee offices, and several of my co-workers — several of whom don’t game at all — enjoyed it.
If a title draws in hyper-competitive professionals just as much as it does casual onlookers, that game is a sweeping success.
Thou Shalt Make a Firm Commitment to Players
If you are going to create an online game, you have to be willing to spend years constantly updating, tweaking and fixing the title. Bugs will pop up, and they need to be splatted.
The popularity of “League of Legends” is partially attributed to Riot Games’ willingness to listen to its players and address their concerns on a weekly basis — for five years.
Does Psyonix have that in them for “Rocket League?” Time will tell, but I’ve been encouraged by the weekly updates made so far. The game feels pretty balanced and error-free to me.
“Rocket League” is a fantastic new online gaming force. Like all sports and multiplayer titles, it initially feels repetitive.
However, it’s true value and genius shine through in what you do once you’ve mastered its simple concepts and controls. Forming a team strategy and predicting what your opponents will try on you create a cerebral experience that will give each individual match a distinctly different feel.
If you enjoy competition, car culture or sports of any kind, then “Rocket League” is a must-have.