It is with considerable shame that I must confess I completely suck at rocket jumping in literally every game that allows it.
Quake, Unreal Tournament, Team Fortress 2, Overwatch; I’ve dropped many hours into each but never quite got the knack of it. I fervently believe I’m missing the rocket jumping gene. As such, I’ve always adapted my techniques to make do without.
So it was with some apprehension that I approached the Rocket Arena closed beta, certain that I would turn out an embarrassing performance.
Even if I had a ball doing it.
Rocket Arena Preview
It turns out I was correct, but not quite in the way that I’d expected. Rockets are (unsurprisingly) THE focus of Rocket Arena and there is no avoiding them. However, it turns out that I CAN rocket jump and that it’s fabulous fun!
The game generously makes this easy to achieve, even for players who suck at it as much as I do.
Granted, it took me an embarrassingly long time and multiple attempts to make it through the rocket jumping level of training. But I did it.
The tutorial levels are your first port of call and take you through jumping to begin with. Yes, jumping without the assistance of rockets is also a big deal. You’ll spend a lot of time double and triple jumping in Rocket Arena’s low-gravity environments. In fact, this was probably the most time I’ve ever spent flying without the help of an airplane and a bunch of money.
However, floating around the world is not the only aspect of the game; you’ll need to learn how to combat too. Dodging incoming rockets while jumping and floating in low gravity and still landing well is a big part of this.
And something I struggled to master.
Perhaps that had something to do with my surroundings. The scenery in each location of the world of Crater is stunning. In fact, it took me some time to realise that my graphics settings were only at medium. Once I turned them up—whoa.
Suffice it to say, I promptly failed my first combat tutorial due to an extreme level of distraction as a rocket flew at my face. And not because I am in any way bad at dodging. Nope.
Even once I’d turned the graphics up to 11, the game ran smoothly. I didn’t notice any framerate issues or visual glitches, and my teammate only experienced minimal lag at a couple of points.
By now you’ve no doubt heard about Rocket Arena’s no-death approach to combat. In place of lives left, you have 3 badges. And rather than taking damage when hit, you and your opponents have meters that fill up. You’ll be flung backward, and the more full your meter is, the farther you’ll travel. If you’re not hit for a while your meter will slowly empty. But, if hit when it’s full, you’ll be blasted off the map and lose a badge.
For all intents and purposes, it’s functionally the same as any other first-person shooter. Yet somehow it feels different. Being unexpectedly launched into the stratosphere is frustrating in a whole new and shiny way.
This feeling naturally carries through to much of the rest of the game.
Team Work Makes the Dream Work
The characters of Rocket Arena each have their own unique weapons and abilities. Cover-guy Jayto is a fairly straight-up-and-down, stock standard character. He can shoot powerful rockets and a rocket swarm and his special ability increases his mobility for a short time as well as firing off yet another type of rocket.
There’s Izell with her spear rockets and her ability to snare opponents and launch herself towards them. Amphora has some cool AOE rockets and can transform into a pool of water that launches her opponents skyward.
You heard me.
And if you’ve played much Overwatch, you’ll recognize Kayi as a sort of Hanzo-Mei hybrid.
When it comes to learning to play them, they’re all fun and come with their own unique challenges. Some are more suited to particular maps and game modes than others.
For example, Kayi felt like a less effective choice when selected for one of the smaller, more compact maps; but in more open maps, she shone. Playing as Amphora delighted my trollish heart when, during Rocketball matches, I would defend teammates carrying the ball via my opponent-launching abilities.
Admittedly the class balance does feel a bit off right now, with some characters seeming a tad OP and some a bit ineffective. But for a game in closed beta, it’s not surprising. I’d hope to see them rebalanced somewhat by release.
To Crater, and Beyond!
Rocket Arena currently has three player-vs-player modes. When you queue for a match you’ll be randomly assigned one. Each match is 3v3 and lasts five minutes. As most of the maps are small and compact, this makes for some fast-paced, action-packed play.
In Knockout matches, you attempt to blast each of your opponents off the map until they’ve all lost all of their badges. Rocketball involves trying to grab a ball and shoot it into the enemy’s goal. Mega Rocket mode sees you fight to maintain control of zones.
There’s also the option to play against Rocket Bots, which pits you and your two other team members against a veritable army of AI controlled, rocket-wielding, frankly insane bots. You must eliminate all of them before they deplete your team’s badges. It seems a tad unfair considering how outnumbered you are, but certainly serves to make it a cool challenge.
These concepts all sound so simple, but as my team and I quickly learned, it was far from easy.
Our first few matches went straight to Hell.
I quickly adopted a super-defensive approach to battle, hiding behind obstacles and poking my head out to fire off a quick rocket or two. That kind-of sort-of helped, in the sense that I didn’t get myself killed quite so quickly.
But Rocket Arena is the name of the game for a reason. Poorly executed rocket jumps may get you killed, but skillful jumps sure as heck will see you claim some badges. When you’re shooting slow-moving rockets, being up in the air with a decent view certainly helps. And once you get the hang of chaining together rocket jumps to climb walls, you’re hugely tricky to pin down.
As the old adage goes: No you’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore.
Fortune and Glory, Kid
The way that the game manages respawns is really interesting. You’ll be zoomed back down to Crater and re-situated at random somewhere on the map.
This posed some comedic situations, some significantly less amusing situations, and some very interesting insights into the human psyche.
I was frequently dropped at the opposite end of the map to the rest of my team, and lamentably behind enemy lines. I had particular trouble with this. Perhaps because I was overwhelmed by my enemies; perhaps because, ultimately, I’m carried by my team.
Who can really say?
Like many games before it, Rocket Arena rewards you with “treasure” (AKA loot) boxes, which unlocks prizes like skins, totem decorations, useful artifacts, and decorative rocket trails.
By the end of the closed beta, I was pleasantly surprised by Rocket Arena. I was sceptical when I first heard about it, but I ended up having a cracker of a time. I’m really looking forward to jumping back into it with some friends upon full release.
Rocket Arena does not yet have an official release date.
It was previewed on PC using a digital code provided by the developer.