I Wanna Rock(et) And Roll All Night
HIGH A creative combo of styles rolled into a single online shooter.
LOW The playerbase numbers, apparently.
WTF An impromptu game mode in Halo inspired this.
It’s hard breaking into the shooter scene without being compared to what’s come before. No matter what a new game does, it will always be measured by well-established predecessors. That said, despite the impossibility of a newcomer measuring up to the genre’s big dogs, I remained pleasantly surprised by Rocket Arena thanks to an interesting gameplay loop. Regardless of all else, I can safely call it one of my favorite games of 2020.
In Rocket Arena, players control of one of 11 heroes in different 3v3 matches. Each match has a different objective depending on the mode selected, but the general goal is the same — knock other players out of the arena. Instead of a traditional health bar or shield, players have a knockout meter. Every time they take damage, the meter fills up and makes them more vulnerable to being launched from the stage, similar to how it works in Nintendo’s mega-popular Super Smash Bros.
The dynamic of knocking players out is an interesting deviation from shooter norms, since the action never slows down. After getting knocked out, players are brought back into the fray almost immediately, keeping these brief matches moving at a brisk pace. This speed is integral to the moment-to-moment play, as mobility is just as important as being able to shoot since players can triple jump and shoot at the ground or walls with their rocket-powered weapons as a way to boost back from being blasted out.
Characters are important in online shooters these days, and Rocket Arena offers an interesting variety of heroes that all look like they’re ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon. My two favorites are Izell and Jayto. The former is a jungle warrior with a staff that can pull enemies towards her, while the latter reminds me of a hero in a retro-futuristic film serial, with a rocket launcher that fires in bursts.
While the character designs seem varied and cool, the lack of any CG cutscenes to establish backstories or lore is a bit disappointing. The developers try to make players care about the heroes with small bios in a separate menu and a few intros before a match, but the fact that players have to dig for what little there is kills any worldbuilding.
Still, as this is a multiplayer shooter, it can be argued that what really matters is the gameplay, and I’m happy to report that Rocket Arena is one of the most surprising experiences I’ve had this year as the system of staying mobile and trying to knock players out is an addictive one.
However, Rocket Arena’s major downside is its barebones package. The developers have planned regular content drops, but with relatively few characters, maps and cosmetic options, it’s tough to get excited when compared to other contemporary choices already packed with content.
Overall, Rocket Arena is a solid multiplayer title that could be the beginning of an interesting new IP. It may seem bleak for this little shooter at the moment, but I’d urge those looking for a fresh take on competitive games to check it out.
Disclosures: This game is published by Electronic Arts and developed by Final Strike Games. It is available on PS4, XBOX, and PC. This copy was obtained via the publisher for review and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 45 hours of play were devoted to multiplayer. There is no single-player.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Fantasy Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action/shooter game in which players compete in multiplayer matches using rocket launcher weapons to knock opponents out of arenas. From a third-person perspective, players zoom through the air and shoot robots and human opponents in fast-paced battles. While the main weapons are rockets, characters can also attack each other using special abilities such as gravity bombs, water attacks, charged bolts, and cannons. Gameplay is highly frenetic, with constant laser fire, explosions, and light effects. Characters react to damage by blinking or getting knocked out of the arena.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is perfectly accessible. Everything essential is displayed on screen, and there are subtitles for every announcement before, during and after matches, as well as the menus. Text size cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: No, the game does not offer remappable controls but there are presets and control diagrams. The camera axis can be inverted.