Republished on Wednesday, 28th October, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of November 2021's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
We've already waxed lyrical about Knockout City, but it's a message worth repeating: this is a fantastic online multiplayer title. This dodge-brawler, a game where deathmatches are played with rubber balls instead of bullets, features some of the most addictive and satisfying multiplayer action since Rocket League. We've been having an absolute blast getting to grips with this unique multiplayer experience.
The core concept is a simple one, but developer Velan Studios has turned throwing, catching, and dodging balls into an exciting, competitive digital sport. In each map is a finite number of dodgeballs, and teams vie for possession of these in order to launch attacks on the opposition. You score points by knocking out an enemy with well-placed, well-timed shots. Again, it's hardly a complex idea, but within that basic framework, you have a tightly designed array of moves and abilities, and it's how players use these mechanics that give matches such a fun ebb and flow.
It's that old cliché of easy to pick up, hard to master. You'll learn the basics of throwing, catching, and dodging very quickly, but there's surprising depth and technique you'll only figure out with practice. Curve and lob shots can be used to hit opponents taking cover; dodging doubles as a tackle to knock the ball from an enemy's hands; and passing a ball to an ally means it'll travel faster when thrown. There are lots of things like this that ensure you're never short of options in a match. Even if you and a teammate are in a tight spot, you can become a ball yourself to provide an emergency offensive option.
Matches can vary quite a lot depending on how a team plays together; passing balls around your allies is important, and Ultimate Throws see one of you thrown into the air to crash down on top of opponents. Each match will feature a randomly chosen special ball type, and these can change things up as well. The bomb ball will explode after a certain length of time, damaging anyone in the blast, while the multi-ball gives you immediate access to three balls for rapid fire.
What's more, the gameplay, whether it's gliding through the air preparing a shot, or nailing an enemy with the ball they just threw at you, all feels brilliant. It's so satisfying, tight, and responsive that you'd hardly believe you're playing the game online. That's the other thing — the net code is superb, providing an impressively smooth, latency-free experience.
It's all presented very nicely, too. The visuals are colourful and cartoonish, giving the game a lighthearted feel. This is backed up by the upbeat, jazzy soundtrack and clean menus. While the character designs aren't the best, you can customise your avatar with a vast array of cool clothing items to give them some personality.
Speaking of which, there's a steady sense of progression with the Street Rank and Contracts systems. You earn XP from your performance in matches, which goes towards your Street Rank level. Every time your rank increases, you get some sort of reward, be it in-game currency for the item shop or a fancy new outfit. Contracts are objectives you'll fulfil as you play, and reward you with buckets of XP when completed. You're almost always earning something, and that trickle of goodies will go on for a while — the Street Rank features nine tiers, each one with 100 levels.
That's to say nothing of Crew Contracts, which reward those within a clan-like group, and incoming seasonal updates. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Knockout City will be a live service game, updated frequently with new playlists, maps, special ball types, and more. At launch, there's a slim number of maps and four modes to play, but the developer is committing to refreshing the game regularly.
While there are only a few maps so far, they're all pretty unique; Galaxy Burger is a restaurant plaza with a rotating, circular centre, Back Alley Brawl features pipes that warp you around the arena, and Rooftop Rumble takes place across two skyscrapers with a narrow bridge between. As for the modes, you have the standard 3v3 Team KO, Diamond Dash (collect gems from fallen players), 1v1 Face-Off, and Party Team KO, which replaces all regular balls with special variants. Each one is fun to play and brings an interesting spin to the gameplay.
So, what's the catch? Frankly, there's little we don't like about the game. The launch day content is on the thin side, character designs aren't terribly interesting, and the wait between matches is a little too long. When a match concludes, a timer counts down until matchmaking resumes, giving you a 60-second wait. Fortunately, matchmaking is speedy, but that pause in the action interrupts the flow. That's a proper nitpick, though. The bottom line is this is an absolute blast, especially with friends, and we highly recommend you give it a chance.
Knockout City is a brilliant multiplayer brawler. Its well-balanced, skill-based gameplay is a joy, providing players with surprising depth just beneath the surface. While the number of maps and modes on day one is fairly small, the fun factor means this doesn't really matter, and updates will bring extra content to the game post-launch anyway. With a ton of customisation options, rewarding progression, and constantly engaging matches, this is knockout by name, knockout by nature.