Rocket League PS4 PC
Rocket League in action. Psyonix

A lot our time as gamers is spent anticipating a game's release. Each year in early June we watch E3 unfold in LA – a week-long festival of trailers and announcements for games that won't be released for six months, a year, two years, maybe even longer.

There's a lot of fun to had in boarding the hype train. When you're excited for a game and it delivers, that's a great feeling- and should it fall short of expectation, that will typically prompt a lot of debate. Even when a major game fails spectacularly it brings the industry together in a way that can be quite fun – take Assassin's Creed: Unity for example.

Then there are the hidden gems. The surprise hits that becomes a phenomenon overnight and may even overshadow a major release in some ways. If you'd told me a month ago I'd find a free (on PS4 in the month of July) car football game more fun than Batman: Arkham Knight I'd have called you crazy – but that's how good Rocket League is.

You know those Top Gear challenges when "the boys™" played car football in Volkswagens, Toyotas, and so on? Rocket League is that basic concept on crack. Car football given a nitrous injection and driven through a toy shop at full pelt.

Rocket League Gif
Cars can jump and rotate in mid-air to execute "kicks" of the ball. Psyonix

Consigned to varying stadia surrounding a single, never-changing pitch, Rocket League pits players in one on one, two on two, three on three, and four on four matches with the single aim of putting the ball in the other team's net. Whichever side has the most goals after five minutes wins. If it's a draw there's first-goal-wins overtime.

It is a simple concept made instantly fun by the controls. Triggers accelerate and reverse and there's a handbrake turn, which is all as you would expect. There's also a boost, charge for which is collected by driving over points of the pitch. Boost for long enough and you'll enter a ramming speed which will destroy opposing vehicles and reset their position on the pitch.

Rocket League loses its already loose grip on reality when it comes to jumps. Cars can jump to varying heights at the touch of a button, with control of the car's position in mid-air also affected the player. This means you can execute flips, throw your car forward to get ahead, and execute worldly bicycle kicks if you're skilful/lucky enough.

At first it can be a little frustrating, but soon the controls click and it's all very fun. The best thing about the controls is that you never quite feel in perfect control of what you're doing. That element of unwieldiness is where the real fun comes from. Most of the time players will be throwing themselves at the ball in the hope of catching it in any possible way. Misjudge a jump and you'll go flying, putting you out of the action momentarily and giving the opponents a slight edge.

There is a hidden depth however. Like a fighting game the controls are deep enough so casual players can have just as much fun as those looking to master Rocket League's chaotic movement and physics. So long as there's not a tendency for those two groups to meet online (there is a matchmaking system) then all should be fine.

Rocket League PS4
Nailing a shot feels excellent thanks to cars which players never fully have under control Psyonix

Multiplayer is the focus of Rocket League – as it should be – but there is a single player aspect too. The season mode is a rudimentary tournament set-up pitting a team of your creation (which you can name too) against various teams dreamt up by the developers. It's a shame there isn't an element of this when you set up an online party with friends, but maybe that's something for a future update.

Developers Psyonix also deserve credit for resisting the temptation of a free-to-play model. There's certainly room for it in terms of car customisation, which is all purely cosmetic with new wheels, bodies, boost trails and... errr, car hats... unlocking during play.

The scale of the project versus its success means expectations can be harsher than the game warrants. The basic gameplay is fantastic fun, but in terms of design more could have been done to give Rocket League its own distinct style. Right now it looks like you would expect a car football game to look.

The problem laying ahead of Psyonix is how to keep the game popular and interesting after it leaves Sony's free PS Plus offerings and goes on sale for a price. It will still have a hefty player base but the influx of new players will slow down dramatically. Making sure the game is still fun and busy will be a challenge in the months ahead.


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