Rocket League has now been around long enough that many of its event modes have been around for years: but now comes a completely new take which, amazingly enough, gets rid of the ball. The free-for-all Knockout mode is live now until May 10, and is basically an eight-player destruction derby set in new arenas designed for vehicular combat.
The mode comes with new attack, block, and grab mechanics that allow players to shunt each other around, with attack and block tied to the front- and back-flips respectively. It’s thus immediately intuitive to any Rocket League player and the relatively small arenas mean it’s all-action without too much chasing each other around.
Boost recharges when your wheels are on the ground, while attacks send the target flying and temporarily stun their controls, meaning plenty of rocket-boosting back to safety when you get hit. You can also drive up arena edges, which helps a lot in saving oneself, but getting smacked especially flush (or blocking it at the last moment) sends a car sent spinning off like, well, a rocket.
Each player has three lives and each arena has hazards that mean a KO, on top of which a safezone around the arena gradually shrinks (spend ten seconds outside it and you’re done). The matches also kick into sudden death after six minutes, with every attack or throw boosted to max and insta-death for anyone who leaves the safezone.
Like most of Rocket League’s limited-time modes, it’s surprising how well these familiar ideas are fitted around the core mechanics of the game. Minor tweaks like a triple-jump instead of the regular double-jump make arena navigation and dodging easier, while additions like a flying attack are both enormous fun and add movement utility. The oddest element is flicking constantly between players, without that shared focus on a ball.
I always end up playing these things for an hour then just going back to the main game but, as Rocket League’s extra modes go, this is one of the best. My last game ended up in a two-car standoff where we circled each other alternating attack and block like rock-paper-scissors. They finally telegraphed an attack, I blocked, and they shot off backwards and crashed into what looked like a giant spiky dildo: game over. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we get such experiences for free.