Breaking into team-based shooters is a difficult task. Games such as “Overwatch” and “Counter-Strike Global Offensive” suck up all the oxygen in the room. Add in Riot Games’ latest release “Valorant” and it can be difficult to stand out from the pack.
Nevertheless, Electronic Arts is jumping into the fray by publishing “Rocket Arena” from Final Strike Games. The third-person shooter launches on July 14 and will follow a path similar to “Overwatch.” That means it will release initially with 10 playable characters, 10 maps and five modes of play with plans to expand on all three.
“Rocket Arena” takes place on Crater, a planet dense with history, different cultures and an unhealthy obsession with rockets. Players choose one of the heroes and join a team of three in battles across several arenas. Despite being a shooter, the project has more in common with fighting games such as “Super Smash Bros.”
The title has a family-friendly approach as players blast each other rockets, but opponents never explode into a bloody mess. Instead, they have a blast meter that rises as they take damage. Once it’s full and if they’re hit with a rocket, they’ll be megablasted out of the arena and they’ll fly around to a new starting point.
It’s comparable to being knocked off the stage in “Super Smash Bros.,” and similar to that, there are ways to avoid being knocked out. If players can avoid damage for a while, they can have their meter drop after a few seconds. If they’re reeling and teetering on the edge of the arena, they can save themselves if they picked the right character use their special abilities to interrupt their trajectory and fall back to earth.
In addition, each character has his or her own stage. That’s content more commonly seen in fighting games than competitive shooters.
Character choice matters a lot in “Rocket Arena.” Each hero has a distinct style of play that’s reflected in the properties of their rockets, their movement and their special abilities. Those play into their role in this three-versus-three team-based shooter.
Take Izell for instance. She’s made for aggression and close-up fighting with her quick firing and short-ranged spear rockets and her bola snare that pulls rivals toward her. The Jaaqua Charge move helps close the distance between foes. Meanwhile, Blastbeard has a slow but powerful project that’s harder to aim as it arcs in the air. His Charged Anchor secondary attack knocks opponents back while his Shockwave ability pushes foes away while also destroying incoming rockets. He excels at holding an area on the map.
The teams of three will have to coordinate their talents in four player-vs-player modes: Knockout, Rocketball, Treasure Hunt and Megarocket. The rule sets benefit certain characters so it’s important to choose the right ones for the map and mode.
Knockout is comparable to a team deathmatch. The team that knocks the most opponents out of the arena or hits the limit wins.
Rocketball is comparable to capture the flag. Players have to grab the ball and take it to their base. Characters with speed and high mobility are great in this mode. One of the interesting twists is that players can throw the ball to teammates or at their goal to score.
Treasure Hunt is the most intriguing mode because it’s the most unconventional. Players phase two alternating phases. The first is a chase for the treasure chest. The one who has it generates coins for their team with the player holding it last getting a bonus. Afterward, the map is filled with coins and there’s a mad dash to grab as many as possible. Players can grab the gold or they can fire rockets at their rivals to stop them. This keeps going on until one time hits the limit.
Megarocket is a mode I didn’t get to play at a demo event, but it’s set up like a Control or Domination. A rocket lands somewhere on the map and players have to stay in the zone to get points for victory.
The last mode is player vs. enemy called RocketBot Attack and pits teams of three against AI-controlled RocketBots. Players have to work together to survive the onslaught.
Final Strike Games says the team is testing out more modes and characters. From what I played, “Rocket Arena” is fun, but it takes time to adjust to the concept. Players have to understand how role and play-style fits with each character. Because each rocket fires differently and the secondary attacks and special abilities are so diverse, no two heroes play alike and it will take time to learn the ins and outs.
The secondary attacks and special moves also have cooldown times so players can’t use them willy-nilly. The same goes for the lone defensive maneuver, a rocket dodge that has a very forgiving window of invincibility. Combine those with moves such as a triple jump, a rocket jump and a rocket climb, and it’s going to take time to master and understand the basics of “Rocket Arena.”
In the meantime, players will have a lot of cosmetics and upgrades to unlock. Final Strike Games says there’s 100 levels of progression rewards for each character and more than 350 unlockable cosmetics. Players will also encounter 22 gameplay-changing artifacts that modify a characters stats or abilities. Lastly, players can expect social and ranked playlists.
Will “Rocket Arena” be as popular as more established titles? That’s hard to say for a team made of developers who worked on titles such as “Halo 5: Guardians” and the “Call of Duty” franchise. It will face a battle to grab players’ attention, but the gameplay and art is unique enough to stand out. The option for crossplay out of the box helps as well as the game comes out on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
“Rocket Arena” will come out in two forms. The $29.99 Standard Edition features just the game while the $39.99 Mythic Edition includes an outfit for Jayto, cosmetic items and Rocket Fuel — the premium currency — that is separate from the in-game currency that can be earned in play.
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