Like a Jose Mourinho managed football team in its second season, you get the feeling that this is Rocket League's time to shine. The sequel to the obnoxiously named Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, this RC car-cross-soccer experience is a shining example of a simple concept done well – it's just outstanding fun.
We've been playing the public beta for a few nights now, and it's already got us hooked. For those unfamiliar, the premise is extremely straightforward: you control a small vehicle in a walled off arena, and your objective is to smash a large beach ball into your opponent's net. In this pre-release stress test there are 1-vs-1, 2-vs-2, and 3-vs-3 options, which is honestly all that you need.
While it's a simple premise, mastering the game requires real skill: your car can jump, and when combined with a blast of nitrous, you can practically fly. Couple this with the fact that you can roll your vehicle in the air, and merely exploring the capabilities of your car demands a sharp learning curve. The upshot is that when you 'get' it, the arcade action is exhilarating.
This is the kind of game where showboating is not just an option – it's practically encouraged. Picture the scene: your opponent's just blasted the ball at your goal, and it's on target. You're waiting by the sidelines and have a good view of the shot. You boost towards your net, making a last-ditch attempt to clear, and throw your car in front of the ball – nudging it to safety.
It's these kinds of moments that the game feeds on – and developer Psyonix has clearly invested every ounce of its effort into making them feel ultra satisfying. For example, the screen shakes ever so subtly when you make contact with the ball, and if you clatter it, a momentary delay really communicates the power of your connection.
In short: the game feels good to play. The physics – which are ever so slightly floaty, but not overly so – enable you to soar through the air, while the controller pulsates as you dribble with the ball – and the audio explodes into life when a goal is scored. It's these blasts of euphoria that make scoring so satisfying – and something that you'll want to experience over and over.
Not that we've scored many goals yet, of course. It's clear that some of the best Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars players have been invited into this beta, and we've been getting a real schooling from the pros. But the mere fact that this game rewards genuine skill with the controller is what sets it apart – you could imagine it working as an e-Sport.
Of course, the developer will need to ensure that the matchmaking is much fairer in the final version, as no one wants to get obliterated 10-0 every single round. The full game will apparently feature a complete training mode and a seasons-style single player campaign, and while we haven't been able to experience either for ourselves, we hope to share more on both in a future interview.
Considering that this is a beta, though, the netcode is surprisingly good. You can filter different kinds of playlists, and it'll search for matches while you're either messing about on the pitch or browsing menus. It's also really decent at bringing new players in should a team mate leave, as lopsided squads really upset the balance.
The larger scale 3-vs-3 matches do appear to have some lag-related issues right now, but that's the whole reason that the studio's holding this test in the first place, so we're sure that they'll get cleaned up prior to release. Our only other concern is that keeping track of the ball can be a challenge, but a 'ballcam' toggle tends to solve this – and can be tailored to your tastes.
All in all, though, this is shaping up to be a worthy successor to a secret PlayStation 3 hit. It can be tough for downloadable titles to cultivate online communities, but the enduring success of Rocket League's predecessor suggests that that won't be a problem here. And with the game tapping in to the PS4's social capabilities effortlessly, we'll be surprised if this doesn't ultimately hit the big time.
You can get in on the Rocket League beta for yourself through here. For those of you that have already tried it, do you think that Psyonix is about to score big with this title – or is the concept all out of gas? Clear off the line in the comments section below.