Rocket League E3 Hands-on Preview: In a League of Its Own

Few experiences have delighted, and indeed surprised us here at PlayStation Universe quite as much as Rocket League has – the PS4 sequel to the succinctly-named Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, or SARPBC for short. We bet you wish you could have used that elongated title within any past academic essays just to beef up the word count – we know we do! And even though the name’s been shortened a great deal, it’s most certainly not indicative of the scope and finesse that developer Psyonix has crammed into its now-much-talked-about sequel.

But being talked about feverishly wasn’t always the case for this particular title. Go back to the beginning of the year and Rocket League was dubiously absent from the vast majority of radars, ours included. Fast forward to June, and the unforeseen success of two massive betas, and Rocket League’s finally garnering the praise it so richly deserves. For those unfamiliar with the run of play, the game is effectively a football (soccer) match in which you control a little buggy car that must accelerate towards and guide a big inflatable ball into a goal-like enclosure – just like that episode of Top Gear where James May’s Volkswagen Fox attempted to pummel giant-sized footballs into a net whilst Richard Hammond gave chase in a Toyota Aygo. Rocket League is of course a little more nuanced than that by-numbers description but it at least gives you a semi-accurate overview of the chaos inherent with conducting a football match with souped-up miniature cars.

In truth, approaching the game’s compact booth on Sony’s floor at E3 2015 was filled with a palpable degree of apprehension. Having sunk countless hours into two separate beta periods the question had begun to arise as to whether or not another spell in the driver’s seat would elicit the same feeling of unadulterated joy as it had done twice previously. After all, burnout’s an all-too-present aspect of arcade driving games. Thankfully, that trepidation was allayed almost as soon as the game’s instantly recognizable horn sounded for the beginning of a match. For the next five minutes my opponent and I tussled, boosted, strategized each other’s downfall, and flew speculative volley shots across the dome-like encasing. The final score was a 3-2 win for PlayStation Universe, coming courtesy of a scrambled goal within the final 15 seconds; a fitting, tension-fuelled outcome that cogently sums up just how fun an experience it truly is.

But it’s already been made abundantly clear that Rocket League’s frenetic gameplay is a joy to behold from discussions past. What’s been slightly more veiled, however, is if that’s enough to carry the game to that upper echelon of critical esteem. For the next few minutes of the walkthrough I lay witness to the game’s deep customization options; modifications that allow you to go from putting a fez onto your car to even altering the output of the engine to include spurts of dollar bills. It’s novel, sure, but it tows the line in keeping the game feeling fresh and lighthearted. In the single-player stakes things have taken an upturn, too. Unlike SARPBC, Rocket League boasts a robust season mode that can be customized by length as well as teams. A practice mode-of-sorts is included, too, so you’ll be able to tackle a barebones AI-controlled opponent and brush up on your skills before tackling the high priorities of either versus or online.

And that’s where Rocket League undoubtedly soars highest. Holding a maximum of four-on-four (which is effectively all-out war), the game’s full-bodied online experience is where you’ll be spending a healthy majority of your time most likely. Taking the game’s on-point control to where it’s best suited, online functionality in Rocket League is a healthy concoction of frenetic moment-to-moment gameplay, a sizable dose of gloating, and persistent leaderboard climbing. It’s also got that ‘just one more match’ mentality so ingrained in the experience that it’s oftentimes difficult to put down. What’s most commendable about the game, too, is that it also harkens back to the halcyon days of local (up to four-player) splitscreen. There’s nothing quite like being perched beside a good friend, dishing out insults, and attempting to put them off their game by pressing random buttons on their controller. A lot of PlayStation Universe’s gaming mettle was forged in that realm so it’s laudable to see that it’s made a belated return in as fun a way as this.

Fundamentally, Rocket League very much feels like a game of a bygone era; an experience that nails the intrinsic necessity of what a video game should be: fun. Sure it’s got the modern sensibility of online-play and connectivity, but at its core it’s a game designed around that innate competitive spring that carried games of similar ilk throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. But even though it’s designed around opposition and contestation, recording a loss never feels unjust or frustrating; the game’s too unabashedly nonchalant in its composition for it to really matter. It also speaks volumes for the game’s control and gameplay that two short beta periods that were ostensibly one-dimensional insofar as they had just one map, mode and car could feel so refreshing and have healthy amount of longevity attached to them. And that sums it up, really.

With its July 7 release date drawing ever closer, and the promise of free downloadable content support post-launch/cross-platform multiplayer, Rocket League is looking to confidently stake its claim as one of the best multiplayer titles available on PlayStation 4. From what we’ve seen and indeed played, it’s honestly difficult to foresee that not being the case for a long time to come. When it comes to an online experience and a downright fun game to play, Rocket League is very much in a league of its own.

Will you be checking out Rocket League when it releases on July 7? Let us know in the comments section below.