Feature: A spoonful of physics, a shed-load of cars and one over-sized sombrero

By Neil Merrett

Rocket League, PS4 – released 2015, Psyonix

Friday – July 31, 2015….  Three ciders past mid-day….

Symbiosis is what they call it.  Man and machine, pooled together, becoming greater than their respective parts.

The word didn’t come to me at first. As the vehicle clipped off the ground and careered seamlessly up a dome wall, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but the speed was consistent and my intent true.  Amidst a smash of vehicles below, the metallic ball was hurled skyward.  I was aware of its loose location, but my mind was preoccupied with timing.

Adrenalin may have been coursing through my vains, or perhaps it was the effect of poor circulation after an hour sitting on a floor, but in a split second as the car blazed along the wall above the goalmouth, the ball fell in the vehicle’s path.

Press ‘X’ once to launch from the wall, once more for an aerial spin – not a lot to remember.

Whether skill or blind hope, a connection had been made with the ball, hope and chaos followed in its wake. Seconds later it had made it’s way across the pitch, literally smashing into the opposing goal tailed, helplessly by the frantic trail of three vehicles that were undone by something entirely expected.

This was real sport, but in a way reality just can’t deliver on very reasonable health and safety grounds.  This was Rocket League.

Gaming is sometimes all about personal experiences, sometimes encapsulated in a moment.

Each new generation of consoles and computers promises us even grander experiences, with unparalleled photo-realism, immersive worlds and digital opponents with superhuman cunning.  Hunt like a samurai, be the batman, feel like James bond, we are told in the marketing  – noble aims for any manchild.

Yet it’s hard to recreate that feel of being James Bong or Bruce Lee once you crash your Aston Martin into a third successive lamp-post or fall arse over tit into the gaze of an army of surprised opponents.  A game makes you the protagonist – both for the good times and the bad.#

Those real moments of deluded grandeur and joy are often hard fought for and well earned in games – moments of surprising brilliance, luck or skill, just as its needed. A great title facilitates moments that are almost always impossible to promise on the back of a box.

Now at its heart, Rocket League is football with cars.  Yet the more you try to describe it, the more the term just doesn’t quite sound right.

Perhaps then it’s football with cars, albeit with elements of destruction derby, a hint of pool, a fair helping of geometry, and a day-glo aesthetic that makes it a true next-gen successor to the 1980’s classic Speedball.

Wikipedia – in its crowdsourced wisdom – defines the title as a “physics-based vehicle soccer video game”, which probably lacks a certain sex appeal.

But with some solidly programmed car physics, an exploding ball, judiciously provided turbo boosts and optional novelty hats for your vehicle, there is something complex and enticing about the game.

Its hodgepodge of ideas masks a game so tightly programmed, that whether you succeed or fail in some ludicrous vehicular stunt to smash home a desperate goal, you feel in total control of both those moments of James Bond-like brilliance and Austin Power-style idiocy.

However undefinable its qualities, Rocket League is exactly the type of thing I would have loved as a seven year-old gamer.  It will no doubt be something to cherish for many years to come.

So think of this not as so much as a review, but affirmation. You haven’t outgrown video games, rather, you just need a nice reminder of what you loved about them.

For somewhere within this physics-based ‘soccer’-style game, you realise the medium is as good as it always has been.

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