There's been a little chatter among the Polygon team ever since our review of Rocket League came out last week. Some folks on staff are concerned that it might be too late to jump in, worried that the skillset of the player base is too high.
Some have expressed to me, privately in hushed tones, that they are worried they will — as the kids say — get rekt.
Allow me to be your rocket-powered sherpa on this one.
What are my credentials? Well, I'm no soccer star. Hockey? I grew up in a time in Chicago's history where you basically couldn't watch it on television. But let me tell you something: I get Rocket League. I feel it at a deep level. Somewhere near my heart, perhaps below the cockles.
So here's my tips for not looking like an idiot your first few days inside Rocket League.
Just say no
Don't get high in Rocket League. I know, I know. It looks really cool on YouTube. Tiny little cars flying around, balanced on their tailgates like little VTOL F-150s. But flight is dangerous in Rocket League.
First off, your boost is limited. If you go airborne at best you'll have a couple of seconds of flight time. Controlling your vehicle at all once airborne, especially with so little thrust available to you, is nearly impossible. I'm sure there's some savants that can nail shots all day long from half court while floating on a cushion of dollar bills, but at this stage of the game you're not among them.
In fact, I'm not sure you want to be among them, mainly because...
You gotta be fast
Speed is your only friend in Rocket League, and when you're in the air you go slow. Plain and simple.
Your boost button is your ticket to open-net goals, clever passes and quality saves, but it doesn't work unless you're on the ground. If you've smoked your entire supply trying to scoot through the air like a flying brick, you won't have the speed you need to get to the right place at the right time.
Stay low, and go.
Be last in line
The biggest problem with open play right now is everyone wants to be the hero. What that means is games, especially Chaos 4v4 matches, quickly devolve into a scrum around the ball. It's like watching a soccer field full of 6-year olds kick each other in the shins.
Don't be part of the problem. Instead, hit reverse right off the bat and sit in the goal for a while. Watch the face-off happen, see where the ball goes. At the very least you'll be in a good spot to make a save if squirts out and heads your way.
If it caroms towards the opposing goal, ease on up to mid-field. This way you're literally making the field smaller. You're in a good position to gum up a fastbreak headed for your half of the field, or to bat the ball back towards the opposing goal and keep the pressure on.
When you begin to see the angles, this is the perfect position from which to launch an attack. That's how you're going to score, not by jumping into an angry pile of other players.
Rectangles and triangles
Rocket League is played inside a gigantic rectangle, a big space bounded on all sides by the world's strongest chainlink fence. The best way that I've found to score is by using that fence to my advantage.
Basically, any chance I get I hit the ball into a corner near the opposing end of the field. When it bounces out, I try to be in a position where the ball is between me and the goal. By bouncing lots of balls out of the corner, I've become very good at lining up scoring shots on the rebound.
It takes practice, it works better when you're in a party with people who you can talk to, and it takes some coordination not to bounce off of your teammates. But it works.
It works really well.
Follow your shots
Not every shot is going to score. Not every pass is going to reach your teammate. Not every attempt to beat back an enemy attack will be successful. But I tell you what; if you don't follow your shots you won't get a second chance to make it right.
Make a long shot towards the enemy goal, then follow that shot and anticipate the bounce. Put your car in the right place and make the goal.
If your team gets good at this, you'll actually begin to rotate naturally, each of you lining up and taking turns trying to make good on the other's missed shots. One, two or three shots on goal are much more likely to score than one. So keep at it, and don't stop.
Don't play the ball, play the man
The worst has happened: An opposing car made it behind you with the ball. He's literally rocketing towards your goal. It's just you and him, boosting for all you're worth towards that huge bouncing sphere headed in the wrong direction.
Don't hit the ball. Hit him.
Checking is legal in Rocket League. In fact, if you check cars hard enough they blow up real good.
Hit him hard. Send him flying. Pull him off course. Mess with his aim. Do something to break his rhythm. Because of the way the balls bounce, hitting another car is often easier than hitting the ball. Rely on your teammates to come in and clear the ball once you've taken the dangerous, break-away enemy player out of the way.
Like every physical sport in the world, Rocket League is all about footwork. When your wheels leave the ground you lose control, so instead of trying for high-risk flight maneuvers use your rockets to get back down to terra firma. Always think about how you'll land once you take off, and use your car's aerial mobility to put your wheels in the right place so you can get moving to where you need to be when you touch the turf again.
Last, but not least, relax. After a few minutes of play you'll find that you're gripping your controller or your mouse like your life depends on it.
Breathe. Slow down. Shake those hands out, and then get back in there.
Rocket League is hard. I've put in more than 40 hours since it came out on PlayStation 4 and I'm still not as good as I want to be. But, hopefully these tips will help you waste less time on the field and have more fun faster.
I'll see you in the ring.