Rocket League was the surprise hit of last year, coming out of seemingly nowhere to become one of the most popular, and most talked about games in 2015. The thing that made the game so great was its simplicity, taking a simple set of rules and mechanics, then leaving it to the player to do what they want with them. The result was pure game design greatness, launching a new eSport and multiplayer juggernaut. Now, after months of waiting, the game has hit Xbox One. As expected, nothing major has been changed, with the game simply presenting the same near-perfect gaming formula as was offered on PS4 and PC, though players will get some little bonuses, along with unfortunate technical limitations.
Rocket League is described most simply as “soccer with cars”, yet the actual sum of its parts is so much more than that imperfect label. There are, of course, the titular rockets, allowing those cars to zip across the map with ease, or even fly through the air, slamming the ball into the goal, or just barely missing it resulting in total chaos. The other major mechanic of the game is the dodge maneuver. Cars can jump once and then either jump again, or use their second jump to propel them in any direction, rolling their car as they do. Performing this maneuver seems simple enough, yet the many uses for it are a perfect example of the deep design philosophy inherent in Rocket League.
That depth is a bit hidden away actually. Players just starting out might try the tutorials and find themselves rather lost. They do a decent job of explaining the game, and the specialized training helps a lot as well, but the game itself doesn’t really deliver enough information to the player to get them into true playing shape. After getting demolished by more experienced players, most will find themselves scouring YouTube or various websites for tips and tricks, before jumping back into the fray.
Rocket League does contain a sort of single player component in the Season mode. This could have been used to help new players understand the game better, but instead it’s a boring affair where you face off against AI players. The difficulty of these AI never really ramps up, making it so that you are simply slogging through to gather the Achievement, rather than actually enjoying the game or learning something new.
Once you understand how Rocket League’s mechanics all work together it becomes truly magical
However, once you get your bearings and begin to understand how Rocket League’s mechanics all work together it becomes truly magical. The simple game design gives way to deep core mechanics that can be mixed and matched into different moves and overall game strategies. Players, at least ones who put time and effort in, will immediately pick up on the methods that lead to victory, and will begin to set into their pattern, only to see that pattern get destroyed by some other, better strategy.
It is this cycle of defeat, learning, improving, and finally victory that will keep players engaged, coming back again and again to see if they can better themselves for the next time. The reason this all works so wonderfully is that Rocket League offers players no real advantage over each other. There are unlockables, with additional cars, hats, and antenna toppers to collect, but none of these change the core gameplay mechanics in any significant way. Vehicles probably offer the most change from one model to another, with different sized hit boxes, and slightly altered stats. However, they are never to any degree that you feel cheated if you don’t have that car, as the other player can’t pull off a move that you can’t replicate, even with a different vehicle.
Instead, the learning curve within Rocket League is entirely within the player. Starting out, most will find it difficult just to hit the ball. Then they’ll develop to the point where they can hit it, but not really get it to go where they want it to. After a lot of improvement they might be great at the game, but hitting Aerials seems impossible. After a few hours of working at it though they’ll have those down, and will begin work on the next mechanic that is giving them trouble. Many games try this level playing field style of gameplay, but few do it well, and Rocket League is easily one of the best.
Even the maps lend themselves to this style of play, as almost every single map is shaped the same, with just decorations being the only difference. New shaped maps have recently been introduced, and come by default on Xbox One, though their success is a bit of a mixed bag. They are enjoyable for a quick diversion, if the core gameplay starts to feel tired or old, but they haven’t yet hit the point where they truly offer something both unique and fun on a consistent basis.
This worry, that players might become tired with the gameplay, is easily Rocket League’s biggest concern. Many have found the core concepts engaging enough to put dozens, or even hundreds of hours in. Honing their skills and becoming a better overall player is the real goal, and what keeps them motivated. However, if this doesn’t fit your style, if you don’t get hooked on the basics of the game, then it will feel like a true waste of your time as you grind against the learning curve, never truly reaching the game’s deeper levels.
So, in short Rocket League is a fantastic game that could, and probably will occupy a massive amount of your gaming hours. This was true in its first iterations, and it is true once again on Xbox One. However, there are some differences between this and the other versions, both good and bad. First up, the Xbox One version of Rocket League comes pre-packaged with most of its currently available DLC. Except for the Delorean vehicle, players will start off with every car, and customization in the game, though they’ll have to unlock them during play. It also comes with a number of exclusive items, such as the Halo Warthog themed car, and a Gears of War style booster trail.
These are all great additions, and almost make this the definitive version of the game. However, there are some stipulations. First, and the most noticeable issue, is that there is no cross-play, as there is between PS4 and PC. This limits the community significantly, and segments a large portion of the player population into their own little area. The long term ramifications of this could be pretty bad, if the player population dwindles, or the skill level never hits what it has become on other platforms.
Finally, there are some small technical concerns. Largely, the Xbox One handles Rocket League with no major trouble. The game relies on quick responses and pinpoint accuracy, and the framerate and resolution hold up enough to allow this. However, at least at launch time, some weather effects seem to be causing a tiny, yet perceivable amount of framerate lag or other type of stuttering. This could easily be worked out with patches, so it’s not a major concern, but the PC will remain the way to play for a lot of people, thanks to its more robust graphical options, including an unlocked framerate.
Rocket League is the epitome of simplistic game design, honed to perfection. There is nothing in the game that doesn’t absolutely need to be there, aside from optional cosmetic stuff that players can unlock. The thrill of last second goals, the amazing feeling one gets from pulling off an epic move, and the sheer joy that comes when your team is playing at its best will happen over and over again. Some better tutorials could really help the game, but once you delve into its depths, Rocket League is pure video game bliss. The Xbox One version is just as great as its predecessors, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. The lack of cross-play, and some worrying technical hiccups in very rare occasions are the only things keeping it from being the definitive version of Psyonix’s sports gaming masterpiece.