Photo Credit: Rocket League
I can’t put a finger on what makes Rocket League so enthralling, but I keep coming back. It’s unlike any other game and often keeps me from playing new games I’ve been anticipating. Rocket League recently went free-to-play, reducing the one barrier that often prevents us from getting into new games. The game hasn’t changed much since its release in 2016, but small tweaks have made the community grow and keep people coming back season after season.
The first time I witnessed Rocket League, my cat was asleep on my chest, and I didn’t dare move for fear of disturbing her peaceful slumber. I was scrolling through those random channels that are part of your cable package, but you’ve not watched a single time. The pairing of the words rocket and league seemed worthy of a watch. I ended up watching a professional tournament even after my furball woke up from her nap. It was cool to see this video game that wasn’t a first-person shooter.
Months later, I was visiting a friend, and we were going to pass some time playing video games. He mentioned Rocket League while listing off his games. I jumped at the opportunity to play the game as I was interested enough to play but not enough to buy.
I was god awful that first time we played, just like everyone’s first time with a new game. I was missing balls with stunning accuracy and going left when I wanted to go right. It was fun to play against the computer, but the game changed when we entered online matches.
My friend previewed the experience by saying, “Wait til you see what people online can do.” I was blown away. Not by how good people were, but by how beautiful they made the game look. Cars flew in the air, hitting the ball at impossible angles while I was flat-footed (wheeled?). I was playing on a two-dimensional game while my opponents were flying in the virtual skies above me.
I didn’t have a game console at the time, but it was the first game I bought when I got one. Rocket League was two years old at the time.
What Is Rocket League
Rocket League is made by Psyonix, which is now owned by Epic Games. It’s the sequel to the aptly named Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. The original name is a much better description of the game. At its core, Rocket League is indoor soccer with RC cars (Although RL Youtuber SunlessKahn argues it’s more like hockey).
The acrobatic rocket-powered portion of the title is the massive appeal to this game. The playing field has boost pads that you collect to reach supersonic speeds on the ground, which you in turn use to propel your car into the air. That’s right, they fly now. Cars can drive on the walls, and if you run into an opponent’s car at supersonic speed, they blow up, hence battle cars.
The Appeal Of Rocket League
Unlike other sports games, gameplay in rocket league is constant. The only stoppage is when a team scores a goal. You don’t have to pick plays, stop for fouls, or shoot free throws, it’s a constant scrum of driving around and hitting the ball or whiffing completely, if you’re a newbie.
After you get the basics of the game down, there is still so much to learn. Before you can hit a ceiling shot or get an aerial goal, you need to master the game’s flat-surfaced elements. Even the simple maneuvers can be incredibly frustrating- I can’t tell you the amount of wide-open goals I’ve missed on a breakaway. Actually, I can tell you- IT’S WAY TOO MANY!
The biggest issue is timing. The games moves incredibly fast, leaving little time to perfectly line up your shots. There is no AI to keep the ball in your possession, you’re on your 100% on your own. You eventually graduate from relief that you even hit the ball to confidence it will go in the vague direction of the goal.
You Can Get Better With Practice
If you spend any time watching Rocket League YouTube videos, you will quickly find that to jump off the wall and dribble the ball in the air while juking out your opponent, you need to practice. In fact, pretty much every pro will say that they spend HOURS in free play mode just driving around the field by themselves. It only makes sense- the more you practice, the better you get.
That’s one of the things I love about this game. There is a clear path to learning the skills that make people good. All the mistakes and glory in this game are earned through practice and dedication.
There are thousands of practice packs to help you get better in all areas of the game. You can practice simple defending, basic shooting, aerial shots, stopping aerial shots, dribbling, and much more. The practice pays off when you juke out an opponent 1v1 or use your minimal boost remaining to subtly nudge a lasered shot off target.
People do incredible things in the game. When you reach the upper levels, it’s a crazy experience. The first ceiling shot in a professional tournament is an all-time feat that made it on to ESPN while the game was still in its infancy. People smash the “What a save!” chat button when a defender impossibly stops an upper 90 shot.
The Game Is Growing
Rocket League is getting more players. Epic recently made the game free to play across all platforms, much like the successful Fortnite! This is bringing in new users who will get as addicted as me if they don’t rage quit. Removing the pay barrier is getting more people to try the game. My wife’s cousin recently told me he is trying the game out. He’s in 7th grade and almost exclusively plays Call of Duty. I’m hoping to stoke his love for the game so that I can have a reliable teammate.
Any car game would fail without the ability to customize your car. Rocket League gives users the ability to change everything about their battle car but the window tint. You could spend hours customizing your car, and some people do create mesmerizing battle cars! Besides the standard modifications of paint colors, model, and wheels, you can change- the body of your car, the color of your boost, the sound your vehicle makes (the lawnmower is my current choice of sound), and even add fun toppers and antennas for a truly personal touch.
Photo Credit- Rocket League
Car Design Credit- Author
You can add the flag of your favorite sports team, have a Rick and Morty theme, or drive the standard Octane, which looks like RC Car from Toy Story. Beside unique Rocket League-created cars, you can drive the Jeep from Jurassic Park, any version of the Batmobile, and the ice cream truck from Twisted Metal (only on PlayStation).
The customizable appearance add-ons are the revenue drivers. As you play, you get experience and unlock new add-ons. The free ones are pretty basic, but you can earn blueprints to help you unlock cooler content. Your car’s looks part of the game, but you don’t need to spend any money to create a spiffy looking ride with the free content.
What Keeps Me Coming Back
The challenge Rocket League presents keeps my passion for this game alive. I’ve recently been more consistent at hitting the ball in the air. I don’t always hit with power or in the direction I want, but I hit it nonetheless. This gradual increase in skill heightens my enjoyment of the game. As I get better, the games become more interesting.
In higher-level games, the ball rarely hits the ground, and teamwork becomes an essential role in winning matches. Goals are harder to get as defense improves. Like any sport, you have to communicate with your teammates so you don’t over commit and leave your goal defenseless. When teamwork is at its peak, coordinated passing looks stunning. It’s beyond frustrating when opponents come out of nowhere and dunk on you.
You always play against people who are close to your ability. This reduces the frustration of playing god-like players when there is a 50-50 chance you will whiff on a slow-moving ball headed towards your goal.
The ranking system adds just one more element to the game as you don’t want to stop playing after a demotion in rank. Each season I get incrementally (and I mean just centimeters) closer to reaching the next rank.
Rocket League Is Here To Stay
The game’s unique nature makes it unlikely to be replaced by a competitor. It’s growing player base, competitive nature, professional leagues, and the number of content creators will only be helped by the game’s free-to-play update.
Even after two years, Rocket League is still the game I yearn to play the most. Sometimes I have to force myself to play other games. There is something about twisting in the air to hit the ball at mind-boggling angles while silently cursing my teammates for their failure to defend that my mind craves. I don’t see myself putting down this game any time soon.