Review – Rocket Arena

EA’s latest virtual conference didn’t feature a lot of announcements we hadn’t heard before its airing. There was the official gameplay reveal of Star Wars: Squadrons, a crap ton of time dedicated to Apex Legends, and also your typical EA Sports section. Then there was this other announcement, Rocket Arena, that grabbed my curiosity for two reasons. The first was the fact it was apparently a brand new take on the increasingly exhaustive hero shooter genre, being obviously inspired by Overwatch, but with a third-person perspective. The second was its release date: it was bound to be released less than a month after that conference, with little to no fanfare or marketing from EA.

That made me wonder if EA had any faith in the project at all, as they usually over-promote every single thing they’re bound to release (looking at you, mobile Command & Conquer game). Was this game destined to tank from the get-go or are we standing in front of a potential hidden gem? Let’s find out.

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Boone is not a very good character, but he has this adorable pterodactyl companion…

In Rocket Arena, you play as one out of ten different heroes/characters in 3v3 third-person battle arena. The sole fact that this isn’t a battle royale is already enough to earn my attention. Those small battlefields are clearly inspired by classic shooters like Unreal and Quake, where there’s little to no place to hide and there’s always something going on. There are tons of different modes. There’s your run-of-the-mill team deathmatch, but also more varied scenarios like king-of-the-hill, and even a weird but unsurprisingly addictive football game, in which the objective is to grab a bomb-shaped ball in the center of the field and carry it to the rival team’s goal. You can play social, ranked (do it now while everyone still sucks at the game!), or private matches, without the need of extra cash to set them up.

If you’re not in the mood to deal with human opponents, there’s also a fantastic mode in which your team of heroes has to destroy thirty bots, with surprisingly decent AI, in five minutes or less, all while having a limited amount of lives to share among the three of you. This ended up being my favorite mode in the entire game due to the sheer chaos that these matches end up being, as the game throws way more than three bots at you at once.

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Hunting down RocketBots with teammates ended up being my favorite mode.

The best thing about Rocket Arena, without a doubt, is its gameplay. When I first saw the EA conference trailer, I thought this game would just try to emulate Fortnite‘s third-person shooting gameplay with some Overwatch heroes, but that’s not the case. There’s a bit of Fortnite in here, sure, and a lot of Overwatch, as each of the ten heroes play completely different from each other and are totally unbalanced as of now. However, there are huge nods to old-school shooters like Quake, some platforming elements that are clearly inspired by Nintendo games, and a lot of… Super Smash Bros, believe it or not.

You don’t actually have a health bar in Rocket Arena. You don’t even die in the game; you keep getting hit until you’re thrown out of the arena with a strong attack. You have a damage bar that fills up until it’s at a dangerous level and if you get hit while in this state, you’re going to fly away. You can also be blasted out of the arena before hitting a dangerous level, but just like in Smash, you can use a combination of jumps, air dodges, and recovery moves to try to get back to the stage. Unlike Smash, on the other hand, your health bar goes back to normal after a few seconds without being shot with a rocket to the face. That’s easier said than done, but that’s what makes this game so fun.

The combination of the words “EA”, “multiplayer” and “hero shooter” may be worrisome, as you might wonder if Rocket Arena is riddled with microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics, but thankfully that is not the case. Yes, you can use real money to buy in-game currency, but everything is cosmetic and you can earn that same currency with relative ease whenever you level up each individual character. In fact, the vast majority of the items in the game can only be obtained by leveling characters up, with only a small percentage of them being available for purchase. Color me impressed.

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This looks more like a Rare game than anything Rare has done over the past fifteen years.

The hero roster is quite tame at the moment, but the developers are promising free upgrades throughout the next few years. As of now, my favorite of the bunch is definitely Izell, who looks like an even more Rare-fied version of Killer Instinct‘s Orchid mixed with Kameo. In fact, the entire roster of Rocket Arena looks more like what you would expect from a Rare game than what Rare has done with Sea of Thieves so far.

I really like the character designs, as well as the layout of the arenas, which are also lacking in numbers as of the writing of this review, with more to come soon. Everything is bright, colorful, and very cheerful, which is quite ironic when you consider the fact that this is an arena shooter with a huge emphasis on rocket launchers and other explosives.

Rocket Arena may not be a visual powerhouse, but it runs like a dream. I have played the game for many hours on Xbox One and have never seen the framerate drop to anything less than 60 frames per second. The netcode is also pretty impressive, as I have never witnessed connectivity or lag issues in any mode whatsoever, even considering the fact that I was playing against PS4 and PC players as well. The controls are also very responsive, even though playing the game with a controller puts you in a slight disadvantage when playing against PC players, as you can’t turn the camera as easily as they can with a mouse.

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An even more colorful Bespin.

All in all, this was a very positive surprise. Rocket Arena is a delightful breath of fresh air in the increasingly saturated hero shooter genre, mixing elements from old-school shooters, 3D platformers, and even freaking Super Smash Bros of all games. It’s incredibly charming, fast-paced, easy to control, and also very fair with its in-game economy, without ever trying to convince you to purchase additional currency. I’m looking forward for its community to grow over the next few months, as this little gem has the potential to become a multiplayer staple, and even a brand new e-sport contender in the near future.

 

Graphics: 7.5

The game isn’t a graphical powerhouse by any means, but it does feature some well-design heroes, and it manages to run at a rock-solid 60fps at all times.

Gameplay: 8.5

Responsive, easy to learn, hard to master, just like games like this one should be. Playing with a controller puts you in a slight disadvantage due to the speed in which you can control the camera, but the overall gameplay is pretty good, if not a bit unbalanced.

Sound: 7.0

Characters have charismatic voice clips, and the soundtrack is decent enough, but overall, Rocket Arena‘s sound department just gets the job done without ever impressing players.

Fun Factor: 8.5

There’s a lot of untapped potential in here, as it all depends on how many people will end up playing it. The concept is great, the controls are decent, the variety of modes, maps and heroes is satisfactory by now, with more to come, and the game as a whole is really fun and easy-going, although some heroes are clearly better than others.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Rocket Arena is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Rocket Arena was provided by the publisher.