Review: Rocket Arena (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Rocket Arena
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (8.35 GB)
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Final Strike Games
Original MSRP: $29.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Rocket Arena is a 3v3 competitive arena shooter with influences from the Super Smash Bros. series. The third-person gameplay consists mostly of boosting into the air using a limited number of jumps or using your weapon’s rockets to launch yourself up and take aim at your opponents. During aerial combat, you can use a well-timed dodge to avoid incoming rockets. Combat feels mostly smooth and responsive, but during more frantic moments it can be tough to pull off some of the more finesse traversal techniques.

The Smash influence comes into play with the Blast Meter. As you pummel your enemy with rockets, their Blast Meter fills and they fly further. This makes them susceptible to being spiked downward into harm’s way, guarded at the map’s edge to prevent their landing, or even being sent flying out of the area. Instead of dying and waiting to respawn, your character soars back into the arena to rejoin the action. While you do not have control of this flight path, it does give you a unique top-down perspective of the action, allowing you to strategize as you prepare for re-entry. If you can manage to escape before being knocked out, your health will regenerate automatically.


There are items that can be picked up to gain an advantage, such as a deployable Rocket Magnet that pulls enemy fire towards itself, or a Ninja Headband that buffs your dodge for a short time. The items are nicely balanced. They feel powerful but not too powerful, as they require some skill to get the most use out of them.

In addition to the items scattered around every map, each character can equip three artifacts. Artifacts are gameplay changing items that are unlocked through player progression. Each artifact can be leveled up to increase its effect, but in ranked modes artifacts have a set impact. There are twenty-two artifacts with a wide range of effects such as increasing movement speed or delaying cooldown times on abilities after you score a knockout. Trying out new builds can be fun, but the progression to unlock all of the artifacts is slow, so it takes a long time before you can put together a meaningful combination.

Developer Final Strike Games has clearly positioned Rocket Arena to be an ever-expanding, “living” game, but at launch there are four PvP modes: Knockout, RocketBall, Treasure Hunt, and Mega Rocket. Knockout is a basic deathmatch mode in which the team that scores the target number of Knockouts first, by forcing opponents out of the arena, wins. In RocketBall, a ball spawns at the center of the area and the two teams must battle to gain control of the ball and escort it to their opponent’s side of the map. This mode is fast and frantic because the ball can be thrown or even shot to change its momentum. Treasure hunt involves holding onto the treasure chest or picking up coins to score points. Mega Rocket is a capture-the-flag mode in which the target area moves around the map. A giant rocket comes down and blasts all players out of the way before a team can enter its landing site and try to gain control. There is also one PvE mode, RocketBot Attack, where you and your teammates battle waves of enemy bots.

Similar to other hero shooters like Overwatch, there is a diverse cast of characters who can each cater to different playstyles. At launch there are ten playable characters, each with their own primary, secondary, and special abilities. The basic gameplay mechanics are simple to pick up, but there is a surprising amount of variety from one character to another. Some characters feel “tank”-ier and have slower but more powerful attacks, while others are nimble and feature quick, low-damage abilities. Trying out all of the characters and narrowing them down to a few that fit your playstyle is very satisfying, and there is a practice mode as well as an unranked playlist that you can experiment in without affecting your rank.


Published under the “EA Originals” label, the game boasts high levels of production and polish. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into the world-building of the game’s setting, Unfortunately, it also comes with some of the less desirable qualities that EA-published games have become known for, such as a season pass structure that hides rewards behind a paywall.

There are two forms of in-game currency, one of which can only be acquired with real world money. You can purchase a Blast Pass, the premium season pass, for $9.50 or 950 Rocket Fuel. Rocket Fuel can be purchased in five increments ranging from 500 to 11,500 for $4.99 to $99.99. The pass gives you XP boosts or cosmetic rewards such as outfits or Totem Parts, which are displayed before and after each match. While it is not a pay-to-win structure, it still represents the unfortunate reality of modern online games. If you want to keep up with all the best-looking characters and items, it is going to cost you.

On the plus side, it appears at the game’s onset that each season will introduce a healthy dose of free content into the game. Season 1 introduces a new hero, three new maps, two limited-time events, over ten new game mode playlists, and dozens of new cosmetic items. This might end up being enough incentive for you to stick with the game even if you choose not to spend any money beyond the original investment.

The season pass structure may not be an issue if the game was free-to-play, but it launched at $29.99. The price model does not seem to have paid off; as of this writing, Rocket Arena has been discounted to $5.09 (on PSN), less than three weeks after its launch.

Visuals:
Rocket Arena has a clean, colorful aesthetic that has become a proven winner, as demonstrated by other popular multiplayer games such as Fortnite. What it lacks in impressive textures and detailed environments, Rocket Arena makes up for in steady, reliable performance. This choice to favor graphical fidelity is a great one in the case of this competitive online shooter. Regardless of not being a technical showpiece, it is clear that there is a high budget powering the overall appearance. The bright palette is pleasing to the eye and even aids the light-hearted character building found throughout the game.


Some of the animations and visual cues are a little too busy at times. During more frantic moments in matches, the screen can become filled with a jumbled mess consisting of various items, attacks, or HUD effects. This phenomenon takes away from the game’s potential for precision play.

The presentation outside of the action is well-done and has the same polish as the rest of the game. Menus are clearly defined and easy to navigate. As you switch between characters in the Competitors menu, they have a brief introduction animation and voiceline. Small touches like that help deepen the connections that you feel to your favorite heroes.


Audio:
Rocket Arena’s audio design is serviceable but a little on the safe side. The music and announcer’s voice lines both seem to be going for an epic sound but landing somewhere closer to corny. The in-game sounds of the weapons and attacks are great and diverse. They even manage to sound appropriately themed for each hero.

The same issue that affects the game’s visuals can sometimes rear its ugly head in the audio department. Overstimulation of sounds by explosions, attacks, and verbal direction from the announcer can often collide into a cacophony that makes it hard to pick out other heroes’ positions.

Online/Multiplayer:
As mentioned earlier, the 3v3 game featured four PvP modes and one PvE mode at launch. Partying up is fairly simple but during the course of multiplayer play for this review there was an instance in which our party was unintentionally disbanded. There are casual and competitive playlists, so you can get used to a new character before jumping into a ranked match.

Rocket Arena is held back by a significant issue that becomes more evident after playing several matches across the variety of modes: the makeup of your team does not seem to have a direct strategic impact on the gameplay. There are some exceptions, such as a more mobile player being advantageous during RocketBall. However, for the most part it does not feel like the action is dependent on knowing your role. Teamwork is more of an afterthought than an essential path to victory.

Matchmaking is seemingly completely random. Some matches are tense and competitive to the very end, while others are so lopsided that the outcome of a match is all but certain just moments after it begins. Cross-platform play is available across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam, but all matches for this review were played against other PlayStation 4 players. It seems that opening it up to other platforms, especially PC, would only exacerbate the inconsistent matchmaking.

Conclusion:
Jumping into Rocket Arena, you are immediately greeted by a game with a high-budget sheen and controls that are satisfying and diverse right out of the gate. Beneath the surface, though, lie several issues that are hard to ignore. The pricing structure and emphasis placed on the Blast Pass are major turn-offs. There is a level of proficiency that is gained by more gameplay, but overall the ebbs and flows of each match feel disconnected from your performance and communication as a team. With time, Rocket Arena may develop into a top-level competitive multiplayer game. As it stands now there are simply too many glaring weak points for it to stand out in a sea of proven competition.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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