Wednesday 18 January 2017

Rocket League review: Kicking the tyres on a new genre

Rocket League (PS4/PC); rating: 9/10; age 7+

Published 14/07/2015 | 11:55

Rocket League: airborne mayhem
Rocket League: airborne mayhem

TOP GEAR in its most recent form won’t be missed in my house. Here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of that loathsome combination of the preening Clarkson, casual xenophobia and blind worship of planet-destroying combustion engines.

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But a couple of features always proved amusing, including Star in a Reasonably Priced Car and, most notably, that time they played football in Volkswagens and Toyotas.

Rocket League revives that idea with a spirited and entertaining version of soccer played with cars. Naturally, this being a videogame, it veers into gloriously unrealistic territory. The turbo-charged cars are capable of impossible feats such as spring-loaded jumps, somersaults and driving vertically up walls.

About the only thing missing is some kind of weaponised assault, though you can ram opponents into smithereens.

Rocket League: customisation options abound
Rocket League: customisation options abound

In case you’re wondering why no one else thought of this before, they did. Remember Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars? No, me neither. But Rocket League’s developer Psyonix was also responsible for SARPBC on PS3 in 2009. Judging by YouTube clips, Psyonix hasn’t strayed far from that prototype with Rocket League.

It pits up to four-on-four players in an arena with walls, a roof, goals … and a giant ball. What follows is chaotic, furious and frequently hilarious. The physics feel a mite too floaty because, despite your car responding tightly to the controls, there’s a sense of low gravity when the action gets airborne.

But mastering the aerial game is crucial, with skilled players adept at flips and jumps that make the difference between looking like Messi or a messer.

A helpful arrow attached to your car always points towards the ball but losing track of your target is a frequent hazard, especially in the often-frantic four-on-four match-ups with its end-to-end action.

Rocket League: Up to eight players can complete online
Rocket League: Up to eight players can complete online

While there are just 11 cars to choose from (and not much difference between them), Psyonix has thoughtfully included a heap of customisation options, from paint jobs to bumper-mounted flags. Kudos too for finding room for splitscreen multiplayer, a rarity in this online-obsessed world. There’s little to beat squinting at a quarter of your telly’s screen while roaring at your mates on the couch. Or perhaps that’s just me.

At this budget price (and free to PlayStation Plus subscribers this month), Rocket League is the bargain of the summer.

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