Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Love Letter to Rocket League

Rocket League has been out in the world for two full years now – though I’ve only personally been playing since the February 2016 Xbox One launch – and it is amazing to look back and see how much the game has grown since then. Let’s take a look at the growth of the game, but also my evolving experience as a player, to celebrate the two-year anniversary of what is probably the best game of the PS4/XONE generation.

Tons of new arenas, amazing new gameplay modes, and a bunch of new items and other additions have made Rocket League not just a novel little sports game involving rocket powered cars playing soccer, but one of the greatest values in all of gaming because almost all of this great new stuff (besides some premium DLC cars) has been free. Your $20 ($30 if you buy the physical version that includes some DLC packs) investment (or $0 if you got it with PlayStation Plus way back when) for the base Rocket League game now includes a basketball mode, a hockey mode, arcade modes with items, and a totally unique Dropshot mode. The value is insane. And Psyonix isn’t even close to done yet. The plan is to continue to add even more free stuff – subsidized by optional premium DLC cars and the introduction of paid loot boxes for cosmetic items – for years to come. That’s awesome. I’m more than happy to let other people fund the development of new fun stuff I get for free.

I think it is easy to look at some of the new modes and dismiss them as just being the same as the normal soccer mode, but you couldn’t be more wrong. The Dunk House basketball mode requires a totally different skill set than playing soccer (aerial skills are a must!). The Snow Day hockey mode seems similar to soccer, but the hockey puck has totally different physics than the soccer ball, which requires re-learning how to effectively play the game all over again. Dropshot mode has you creating your own goal locations in the floor by electrically charging the ball which, again, asks you to utilize a new set of techniques and skills the other modes don’t require. It really is amazing how versatile the original mechanics of the game can be and I can’t even imagine what crazy new modes might be coming next.

My favorite thing about Rocket League is the tangible feeling of making progress and improving your play. This is a game that absolutely 100% rewards practice and it is incredibly satisfying to work your butt off and actually get noticeably better. We recorded some gameplay videos back in 2016 when the game first came out on Xbox One and, looking at them now, they’re pretty embarrassing. We’re flying through the air wildly, missing easy shots, not playing good defense, are always in bad positions, and just don’t know what we were doing. It was definitely a lot of fun, no question, but it also really showcases the vast difference between novice flailing and skilled play.

I bring this up because of the rapid change I’ve seen in my own skills after playing the game extensively again over the last week or so in July 2017. I’m by no means a great player and would surely look totally lost in real competition against human players, but just in playing against the A.I. there has been a considerable improvement. My aerial skills are much better and I’ve learned to track the ball much more accurately and actually make contact more often than not. My positioning is greatly improved and I find myself in the position to make plays – even if I don’t always succeed – far more often. Positioning and aerial car control also pay dividends on the defensive end of the field, too, as I’ve learned how to instinctively put myself in the right place at the right time to make a play rather than randomly flying around. If I could go back and play a match against the Eric that recorded those videos back in February 2016, I’d kick his (my) butt. Severely. And that is incredibly satisfying.

That is what makes Rocket League so damn great. The gameplay has considerably more depth than most people would think when hearing about the concept and learning the ins and outs of its many nuances is an extremely rewarding experience. And that’s just the soccer mode! Toss in basketball and hockey and Dropshot and you have to start from square one and learn it all over again for each mode. Besides the unmatched gameplay, Rocket League also looks great, performs like a rock solid champ, and has great sound design. It is the complete package of everything that we expect from an all time great game. Because it is an all time great game. Rocket League is one of the best games ever and it’s about time we start giving it the credit it deserves.

Read my original Rocket League review written in July 2016 here. I can safely say I like it even more now than I did back then.

Disclosure: A review code for the Xbox One version was provided by the publisher in February 2016. A PS4 copy was later purchased with our own money, however.