But despite being released in the hazy days of 2008, the obnoxiously titled SuperSonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars is still brimming with activity. Given a new lease of life via PlayStation Plus this month, we hopped into the part-racer, part-soccer title to find out what all the fuss is about.
As far as gameplay premises go, it's alarming that Battle-Cars hasn't been done before. In fact, we're frantically browsing our in-brain search engine for something similar, but coming up with blanks. Answers on a postcard please.
SuperSonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars is an arena-based racing game with a soccer-esque twist. Playing as a miniature imitation of a remote controlled car, you participate in team-based arena battles, attempting to knock an enormous robotic ball into your opponent's net. You control the ball by bunting it with your vehicle, utilising boost and jump mechanics to get more power into shots and passes. The acrobatic element of the game allows you to pitch your vehicle when in the air, meaning you can do backflips and barrel rolls in order to compete for the ball or score theatrical goals. The game sounds super-fun in writing, and is even more enjoyable in practice.
The online multiplayer component is where you're likely to pull the most enjoyment out of Battle-Cars. As previously mentioned, the community is still rock-solid. While Psyonix's matchmaking system isn't particularly efficient, we had no issues finding matches online at any periods during the day. Online matches can have up to eight-players, and as few as two. The eight-player matches (with teams split into four-against-four) are the most enjoyable, as teams quickly form dynamics. Each time our team lost the ball we'd find ourselves sprinting to our goal-line, cautiously sitting in front of the net ready to rebound any incoming shots.
One thing we instantly noticed about Battle-Cars' online community is that it's packed with veterans. Some of the people playing are worryingly good at the game, and we suspect they've been playing on-and-off since the game's launch in 2008. It's easy to understand why they've stuck around too — the game is surprisingly moreish. There's certainly a challenge to controlling the ball with your erratic RC car, but some people have mastered this to an art. The game showcases each goal with a dramatic replay once it's been scored, and we were simply flabbergasted by some of the acts of skill we witnessed during our time with the game. People are insanely good.
That said, even when we were getting humiliated on the pitch, we were having a good time with Battle-Cars. Matches are long enough to make them competitive, but short enough to instill that "one-more-go" factor. And when you do score, be it an acrobatic back-flip or a scrappy on-the-line fluke, the sensation is genuinely one of the most satisfying we've experienced in a multiplayer game for some time.
Battle-Cars isn't without frustrations though. Despite the inclusion of a "focus on the ball" camera angle, we found it hard to keep track of the action at times. Unless you've got a good view of the whole arena, it's really easy to lose your bearings. A handbrake cornering option makes it easy to swing your car around, but a more pulled-out camera angle might have resolved this problem entirely. Additionally, if you're not playing online, Battle-Cars isn't quite the same experience. There are a number of offline tournaments for you to participate in, as well as a sequence of mini-games designed around various unique rule-sets, but these are unlikely to hold your attention for too long. Battle-Cars can also be a bit too frenetic for its own good. While its hard to deny some people have managed to adapt to its nuances, we struggled. Scoring goals is tough. Like pool there's a degree of calculation that goes into making each shot successfully, but you just don't get time to think in Battle-Cars. That can lead to the game feeling a bit random in places, as teams dash towards the ball hoping it will magically bounce into the net.
But despite its frustrations, Battle-Cars is surprisingly good fun. The initial charges for the ball, the last-ditch attempts to clear the ball off the line, and the satisfaction of scoring a last minute equaliser are hard to match, and it's easy to see how the game's managed to maintain its player-base after all this time.
PlayStation Plus subscribers are certain to breathe new life into Battle-Cars' online community, keeping it active for another couple of years yet. Not bad for an overlooked PlayStation Network title released more than three years ago.
Apparently there's a sequel to Battle-Cars actively in development at Psyonix. Bring it on...
SuperSonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars is available now from the PlayStation Store for £7.99. It's available for free through July for PlayStation Plus subscribers.