We'll be honest, expectations for Knockout City were fairly low as we booted up the recent open beta. This next game from the EA Originals program is an online multiplayer title from a small indie team, and we've seen enough of those come and go to be just a little wary. However, this dodgeball-inspired action game really punches above its weight.
Taking place in the titular locale is an ongoing "dodgebrawl" competition, with teams or individuals squaring up to take each other out with a well-placed throw. The idea is a simple one, but the execution is really impressive. Various tutorials teach you the simple controls before you dive into online matches, and it plays very intuitively once you get your feet wet. Hold R2 to charge a throw, and you'll lock onto the nearest opponent. While auto-aiming doesn't sound particularly engaging, it's all the mechanics that surround the central idea that make this much more interesting.
Catch a ball thrown at you, and you can return it at higher speed. This can repeat several times before the ball becomes nigh impossible to avoid. You can also simply dodge aside, or dodge into the ball to bounce it away. If you're quick enough, you can tackle your enemy, forcing them to drop the ball, and feinting will throw an opponent off, potentially leaving them open. Lob and curved shots are possible too, allowing you to make shots over walls or around corners. This is all handled wonderfully with a super-simple control scheme that'll have you feeling like a pro in no time.
In team-based matches, you can also pass balls to your allies, and, yes, curl up and become a ball yourself. If you're short an offensive option, be the ball instead. In this form, a teammate can charge you up and throw you into the air, and you can crash down on your foes in a big explosion, which is always satisfying.
Our biggest takeaway from the open beta is that the gameplay feels spot on. With all the techniques at your disposal, it manages to be surprisingly deep without over-complicating things. We found it a pleasure to play, with responsive controls and a suite of abilities that means you're never short of options. What helped was very stable online performance; only once did we experience a disconnect, and at all other times, there wasn't a whiff of lag across dozens of matches. It all felt very smooth.
It's obviously great that it has a high skill ceiling — all the best multiplayer games do — but it does mean matchmaking needs to be a little better. While we generally got on just fine, we often found ourselves in matches with people on another level entirely. Hopefully, by the time the game is released next month, it'll be more efficient at matching you up with players within the same league of skill and experience.
Elsewhere, the art style has a good, cartoonish look to it that suits the nature of the game. Characters are nicely customisable, and though your options start small, you quickly unlock more cosmetics as you level up. While we think the visuals are pretty good, this is one of those games that doesn't really sell itself very well in screenshots — you need to play it first hand, or at least watch some proper gameplay, to get a better idea.
Overall, though, Knockout City's open beta left us very excited for the final product. The game has it where it counts; the gameplay is excellent, net code appears to be very strong, and decent customisation lets you play ball in style. With it being cross-play with multiple platforms, we're not too concerned about the size of the audience, and good word of mouth will hopefully keep the servers full. We've a good feeling about this one.
Did you take Knockout City for a spin during the open beta? If so, what do you think of it? Dodge this in the comments section below.