Hands-on with Rocket Arena – Up, Up & Away

The last time we previewed Rocket Arena, it was still a first-person game being published by Nexon. But things have changed. Rocket Arena is now played from the third-person perspective and it’s being published by EA.

It’s still a quirky, arena shooter. It’s still hectic, action-packed and over-the-top and most of all, it’s still a tonne of fun. It’s still a 3v3, arena shooter too but the shift from first-person to third has really opened up Rocket Arena and made it more accessible, easier to pick up and play and it better reflects the tone of the game.

Where before, your view was restricted, now you can see your character, see how they interact with the world and how they move. It also makes it much easier to perform the rocket jumps and rocket climbs as well as dodge incoming rockets, target enemy players and try to stay in the arena.

The change is a really smart one and not many developers would make such a drastic change so all credit to Final Strike Games.

Rocket Arena

Rocket Arena stands apart from other shooters in a number of ways. First and foremost, everything is about rockets. Every character fires their own special type of rockets. Blastbeard, the pirate character, fires long, lobbing cannonball style rockets that arc and slowly travel through space. Boone fires long-distance sniper rockets that can bounce off of surfaces and travel around corners.

The different types of rockets are only part of how the characters differ from one another. Each character has two abilities and an ultimate that slowly builds up over time. Blastbeard, for example, can fire a charged anchor rocket that deals splash damage. He can also perform an area of effect attack that damages anyone nearby and destroys incoming rockets.

But it also serves another purpose. It can save you from being k.o.’d. Other characters have similar abilties too. There’s a lot of strategy in Rocket Arena.

See, Rocket Arena takes a leaf out of Super Smash Bros book. In the world of Crater, where the game is set, rockets don’t hurt people. Instead, they just push them around. As you’re hit with rockets, your blast meter fills. The higher it goes, the further you fly when hit with rockets. Eventually, like Smash Bros, you’re blasted out of the arena.

If you’re playing as Blastbeard and you’ve still got your AOE attack, you can activate it and save yourself from being k.o.’d.

Final Strike Games is conscious of the downtime between lives in multiplayer games and so, when you’re k.o.’d, you’ll instantly fly over the top of the arena — gaining a cheeky bird’s eye view of the action — and land after a few seconds, ready to keep fighting. When you hit an enemy with consecutive rockets, or they hit you for that matter, you become stunned and it’s difficult to escape the barrage. Thankfully, every character has a dodge move on a cooldown. If you’re stun-locked and being pummelled with rockets, you can dodge to avoid the next strike and break the stun.

In my experience, once you’re that far gone though, it’s only a matter of time before you’re knocked from the arena.

Mobility is the name of the game in Rocket Arena, after rockets I guess, and since characters aren’t damaged by rockets, they can use them to quickly and stylishing get around. Every character can rocket jump by firing at the ground and can rocket climb by aiming down while standing near a wall. Mastering these two techniques is cruicial in staying alive and staying ahead of your enemies.

Every character can also double jump, which is handy for getting around and for gaining ground on your opponents.

Rocket Arena includes four PvP modes at launch; Knockout, Rocketball, Mega Rocket and Treasure Hunt. In my hands-on, I was able to play all but Mega Rocket. In Mega Rocket, a rocket strikes the arena and creates a zone that teams will need to capture.

Knockout is the main, vanilla mode for Rocket Arena. Teams of three face-off and try to knock each other out of the arena. Rocketball sees the teams fighting to pick up a ball and score points by shooting it into the enemy’s goal. While carrying the ball, you aren’t able to perform some of your special abilities but you can pass the ball to your teammates and lob it towards the enemy goal to quickly make up ground.

Treasure Hunt sees teams fighting over a treasure chest. When a chartacter picks the chest up, they start to accumulate coins. Eventually, the chest depletes and disappears, then, the arena is filled with coins, Pac Man style, and everyone scrambled to collect them. The first team to 250 coins wins.

Each of the modes has their charms but Knockout is the simplest and the best. Rocket Ball feels unbalanced and one-sided, especially as some characters have movement-based abilities. I also experienced multiple occasions where players picked up the ball and lobbed it at out goal, knowing exactly where to aim to score a point. Hopefully, Final Strike Games can make some changes to Rocket Ball before release.

When can you play Rocket Arena?

That’s the good news. Rocket Arena is coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One on July 14 and will be the first-ever EA game to feature cross-play at launch. No matter which platform you pick it up on, you’re going to have the entire community to play with.

Sadly, when we asked Final Strike Games about Rocket Arena coming to Nintendo Switch, a representative told us there were no plans. Which is a shame for Nintendo players because Rocket Arena is lots of fun.

At launch, players will have 10 characters to choose from, each with 100 levels of progression and over 350 cosmetic unlocks. As you play, you’ll also unlock Artifacts. You can equip up to three at a time and they each provide some buff or bonus. For example, the first artifact you unlock grants you increased ground movement speed of 15%. There are 22 artifacts to unlock at launch and getting them all is going to take some serious playtime.

The longer you have it equipped, the more it levels up and each artifact has three levels.

‘Loot Boxes?’ you say. We asked and no, there will be no loot boxes in Rocket Arena. Everything you see, you simply unlock through progression or by purchasing with in-game currency.

There will also be 10 playable maps, the four PvP modes we mentioned earlier and a co-op PvE mode against AI combatants. You’ll also fight these robots during the tutorial and practice modes.

Players will also be able to choose whether they play in Social or Ranked playlists. Playing in the Ranked playlist will assign you a skill rank badge that resets each season. The first season begins two weeks after launch and will introduce a new character, new map and a seasonal Blast Pass. Final Strike Games says seasons last between 90 and 120 days.

In my hands-on session, I quite happily played Rocket Arena for about five hours. It’s full of action and great moments where you’ll gape in disbelief at your screen. Managing to survive a rocket barrage that should have sent you flying, only to recover and take out your attacker is an awesome feeling. However, working with your team is when Rocket Arena truly shines.

If you can coordinate your rockets and attacks, you’ll stand a pretty good chance of wiping out your enemy, especially if they’re playing as lone wolves. You’re stronger together in Rocket Arena and if you can be targeted, you’re going to be k.o.’d.

The physics take some getting used to, especially having to account for the rockets actually travelling through space but it feels very naturalistic and intuitive. Learning how to combo your character’s abilities and ultimates in addition to finding the right loadout of artifacts gives Rocket Arena an extra layer of depth that its cartoon veneer might not allude to. Speaking of the visuals though, Rocket Arena is a sugary, breakfast cereal cartoon splash of colour, explosions and fun.

If Froot Loops suddenly became a video game; it would be Rocket Arena.

It’s story was written by Len Uhley — who also wrote TaleSpin — and although there isn’t a story mode, there’s lots of environmental storytelling. You learn bits and pieces about Crater and the characters by exploring the levels and it’s exciting when you do find something that gives you a little more knowledge.

There’s lots to like about Rocket Arena, though I am concerned about its longevity. While I played for five or six hours, I’m not sure if players will keep coming back again and again with only 10 characters at launch. Fingers crossed Final Strike games aggressively supports and updates Rocket Arena and finds the audience it deserves.

It’s a tonne of fun and you won’t have to wait long to get your hands on it.

Rocket Arena launches for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on July 14

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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