To put it lightly, arcade racers struggle to succeed in this day and age. Big budget attempts are almost extinct, and indie efforts unfortunately rarely make an impact, regardless of quality. What's the answer, then? How can drift-obsessed, arcade racing, petrolheads get their over-the-top kicks? Well, here's one answer — make it a single mode, and stick it in one of the most popular games on the planet.
One of Fortnite's new additions is Rocket Racing, an arcade racer developed by Psyonix. Though it shares its vehicles and theming with the brilliant Rocket League, this feels vastly different to play, eschewing the Soccar title's physics-based matches and replacing them with 12-player, powerslide-heavy races. Having spent a good few hours putting it through its paces, we're pleased to say Rocket Racing is great fun.
We'd definitely recommend going through the tutorials first, as the controls can take some getting used to. Regular steering will turn into a drift if you hold that direction, and you can kick the back out even more with a push of Square. Drifts are super important, as they increase the rate at which you earn boost, which can only be deployed once a segment is filled. The on-track action feels responsive and satisfying, especially when you pull off huge slides and boost through the straights. There's a great sense of speed, and the game is very intuitive once you're used to its quirks.
However, you won't just be sticking to the roads. Rocket Racing incorporates the Rocket League vehicles' ability to take flight and defy gravity. Many tracks have walls, vertical roads, and ceilings you can drive along. After jumping, you can flip in the direction of these different surfaces and continue driving. It's this element, along with obstacles that'll slow you down if you pass through them, that make races much more interesting.
Naturally, you're aiming to clear three laps as fast as you can, drifting and boosting to make that happen. However, many of the tracks contain alternate paths as well as hidden shortcuts and boost pads, meaning there are lots of opportunities to find faster routes. Smartly, flight isn't overpowered; you can only fly for a limited time, and being in mid-air is slightly slower than driving with your wheels planted.
The 26 tracks are classified by their difficulty, and this also ties into the ranking system. At first, you'll only play novice races, which are relatively tame circuits — though still fun to drift around. As you climb from Bronze ranks up to Gold and beyond, Rocket Racing will fold in more advanced tracks that implement the aforementioned hazards and lots of extra paths to discover. It's here where the design becomes much more interesting, really pushing you to use all your car's tricks to get through in a good time. Aside from ranked races, you can queue up to play each track individually (and unranked).
It's the handling and unique aspects that impress us most, here. Instead of being a Mario Kart clone, which it could've easily been, this is a new spin on arcade racing that puts the emphasis on player skill and knowledge of the circuits. Most importantly, though, just hopping into Rocket Racing and doing a handful of races is lots of fun — it's fast, energetic, and fresh.
All that being said, the mode still has a fair way to go before it reaches its full potential. While the foundations are rock solid, Rocket Racing has a few nasty bugs that crop up a little too often. From our experience, we've had "invisible" cars bumping into us, strange collisions with invisible walls that shouldn't be there, and even one instance where we couldn't move at all when a race started up. There are definitely some issues that need to be ironed out here. Thankfully the early matchmaking issues seem to be solved, but it's clear there's still work to be done on the technical side.
The only other thing we'd say is that it feels a little barebones right now. Epic has said this and the other new modes are permanent additions, all planned to receive updates over time. The fundamentals are strong, and there are some really fun tracks to master, but we'd love to see this mode expand. There's a huge amount of room for growth in Rocket Racing; new tracks, new race types, and more would really flesh it out.
As it stands, the mode has great core gameplay with buckets of potential. If Rocket Racing can work out its bugs and expand with exciting new ways to play, we could easily see ourselves losing many evenings to it.
Have you played Rocket Racing in Fortnite? What are your thoughts on this arcade racing add-on? Burn rubber in the comments section below.