It’s not often that developers find themselves in the enviable position of having created their own unique sub-genre, let alone devise a game that becomes so totally synonymous and dominant within their own field. Then get the opportunity to celebrate their continued success and relevance an entire decade later. But then again, it’s not impossible; as the Psyonix team are currently proving…
Rocket league has marked this impressive milestone with a double XP weekend. A welcome compliment to the recently released Season Pass which has seen the addition of the grind rewarding loot-for-levels based system we are all surely familiar with by now but with a classic Rocket League twist, incorporating rewards from the vast expanse of cosmetic upgrades from car paint jobs, goal explosions and even beatboxed engine noises to thoroughly irritate your long-suffering teammates with.
If being able to earn enough treasure to make a pirate blush isn’t luring in the long absent or new players among you then don’t worry… that’s just a teasing morsel of what’s on offer.
Recent updates have also seen the inclusion of a new Club feature which allows friends, clans and parties alike to link themselves across games. Unified by a single tag, this does a lot more than simply show solidarity between teammates. The system provides clubs with their own in game home page, allowing for the publishing of club news, the creation of private game lobbies and the customisation of team colours. That latter detail may seem piddling but clubs that find themselves clashing in any competitive mode are set against each other in an arena painted and lit with colours of the duelling clubs, rather than the trademark orange and blue usually associated with opposing teams. This gives powerful identity to club teams and marks them out as more than a name on a scoreboard.
Talking of competitive modes; there are more of them. Casual mainstays Rumble, Dropshot, Hoops and Snowday have finally had their own ranked equivalents released meaning players with a taste for progression can wet their appetites with other game modes if requiring a break from the standard modes of play.
All this came on the cusp of the much anticipated Hallows Eve update which went live on October 15th, releasing yet more seasonal content alongside limited edition collectables that players can actively trade for.
While certainly a content heavy period for a team looking to celebrate the continued success of their own game, I actually find this a consistent move from a developer that has provided unflinching support and progression for a title, or even a genre, that both designer and fan alike are clearly mutually proud of.
It’s worth saying that even with more bells and whistles than a raving Morris dancer, the core secret to Rocket League’s success is the simplicity of its core mechanics and the simple, unrivalled joy of playing the game. But what is the secret of Soccar’s enduring success?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with car football (shame on you), Psyonix first brought this unusual genre to life with a PS3 classic Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars (or SARPBC for short to save me getting an RSI) launched onto the scene in 2008. Self-published through the PlayStation store, this by-product of Epic Games’ latest work to introduce vehicles into the Unreal Engine via the fledgeling Onslaught mode in Unreal Tournament 2004 sold over 2 million copies but was still never considered a commercial success.
However, a rampaging monster truck of an idea had been unleashed, and the combination of slick and acrobatic driving mechanics, a polished physics engine and one hell of a big ball had caught the imagination and fervent support of a loyal core of fans. SocCar had arrived. A seemingly simple idea made fun by ingenious application.
It’s better known and much loved sequel, Rocket League, double jumped onto the scene in July 2015 for PS4 and PC but has since seen releases on Xbox and switch quickly growing to be an ESL heavy hitter.
An advantage to this game is its immediate accessibility for new players. A couple of tutorials will see you skidding and turning your car at breakneck speeds while lugging the ball down your opponents end or jumping from all four wheels to interpose yourself between your goal and an opposing shot. Its tense and rewarding gameplay from day one, the exhilaration earned from a last ditch save or a closely squeezed goal can bait you into play game after game just in an effort to replicate your success.
Those who find themselves settling in for a long-term play will quickly encounter the steep learning curve concealed behind these deceptively simple mechanics. Practice facilitates the discovery of a wide spectrum of new skills which seem nearly impossible to master. Learning to harness the three-dimensional nature of the arena can be immensely satisfying. Wall hits, aerial shots and last ditch back flips – the first dozen fails then give way to the occasional success. The game becomes as much a personal quest to master these difficult benchmarks as it is a competitive challenge. Then just when you think you’ve got it, you see an opponent land a pinch or an aerial dribble and you know you’re straight back to driving school.
The simplicity of the concept also means that the game is perfectly balanced from a competition point of view. Even teams are pitched against each other on symmetrical fields of play from mirrored starting positions. The games only resource, boost, is in evenly shared supply on both sides of the halfway line, leaving it at equal mercy to both sides. Balance has always been the secret of any persisting multiplayer experience, giving communities less cause to be disgruntled.
The frenetic and dynamic nature of the play also makes it a pleasure. The game flows endlessly. The roar of throaty and exaggerated engines baiting plunging charges into the enemy half or daring barrel rolls to intercept a fast moving comet of a shot; the ease of control allowing players to flip and dive without difficulty and compete for balls in ever more acrobatic ways.
All in the all, the game is replay bait. Its very nature daring ever more adrenaline surging, wildly technical and partly miraculous maneuverers. A quick search on Youtube will reveal a sheer wealth of pro-shot or best save top 10s and is glaringly obvious to the joyous possibility that keeps luring you back to play one more game, to try one more move or score one more goal. The desire to exceed your greatest possible achievement almost outweighs the desire to win the match.
Psyonix is clearly keen for Rocket League, like SARPBC before it, to push the boundary within its own unique sub-genre. Ever building on content, providing new ways to customise and enjoy the experience of play across four platforms while continuing to grow their avenue for professional gamers through the Rocket League Championship – this development team have clearly earned their pride in the last decade and have succeeded in creating a gaming legacy that an ever-growing base of fans can continue to enjoy for many years to come.
Who’d of thought it? Football with cars!