It’s like soccer with race cars. That’s the elevator pitch for San Diego studio Psyonix’s Rocket League, a zany ball-punching demolition derby for PC and PlayStation 4. The game arrived without ceremony two weeks ago, but it’s already clinched over 5,000 “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Steam. It’s now pretty much what everyone’s talking about.
Imagine Hot Wheels with something like Moon-gravity physics: swarms of splashy, customizable rocket-propelled dragsters that can leap into the air like tumbling ultralights. Players scoot or soar over futuristic astroturf fields honeycombed in weird symbology and enclosed within translucent hexagonal domes. The goal: to chase down a gargantuan ball (bigger than the vehicles themselves) and send it careening into soccer-style goal posts. And like soccer, it’s all about finessing assists and saves, but with a kind of outré elegance that’s like watching four-wheeled ballet dancers glide, plummet and pirouette.
It’s weird, no doubt about it, and at first tends to play as bizarrely as it sounds. Figuring out how to best avail yourself of subtle variations in vehicle mass and momentum becomes as essential as sussing the statistical differences between top footballers in FIFA 15. But once you get the hang of the controls—and you will, it’s just a matter of your brain doing that thing brains do when recalibrating to alt-gravity physics—it becomes second nature. Stunts that look impossible in clips, say leaping into the air, rebounding off the dome and arrowing across the field, then flipping your hind end around at the last minute to smack the ball as it crosscuts your trajectory and score a goal, become eminently possible.
Rocket League, it’s worth mentioning, is a kind of sequel to a 2008 game clumsily titled Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. But the latter was only available for PlayStation 3, and didn’t generate the critical buzz Rocket League‘s been getting. What’s more, Rocket League supports cross-platform play, allowing PlayStation 4 and Windows players to square off across ecosystems.
Think of it as football unbound, and another example of the power of games to bring totally ridiculous ideas (that turn out to be pretty darned good ones) to life.