Picking the best game of the decade is an impossible task. It’s something that’s entirely different from picking the best film or TV show because games are, by nature, a far more personal experience. No one will play a game in the exact same way, which is what makes games such a subjective medium. Besides that, you have a wide variety of genres to contend with, the tiny indie games against the massive AAA efforts. You have the games that have hype for years until their release, and you have the games that come out of nowhere. My pick for the best game of the decade is one that came out of nowhere nearly 5 years ago and has remained a fixture in my game library ever since.
As a sequel to 2008’s Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, a game that on release received mixed reviews but gained a passionate fanbase, Rocket League arrived in 2015 to very little fanfare and dropped as one of PlayStation Plus’ free games of July in that year. Described very simply as football with rocket-powered cars, Rocket League became an overnight smash hit, far exceeding creators Psyonix’s expectations and, as of 2017, had sold over 10 million copies. The strategy of giving the game out for free to the PS4 community proved to be a stellar move as it established a player base very quickly and allowed the positive word-of-mouth to progress sales even further. Even tonight, in December 2019, the game’s servers are packed with players competing in games across its various modes and continues to maintain its excellence.
Football with rocket-powered cars – think of that one episode of Top Gear but on steroids – is such a simple idea that its total genius. It’s a game that literally anyone can pick up and play because its mechanics are so simple. Score more goals than the other team. That’s it. That’s the game. And it’s brilliant.
What makes Rocket League work so well is in how much Psyonix learned from and refined what they learned on SARPBC all those years ago. They took from that experience and focused on what worked and pretty much perfected it; the outcome is an endlessly fun experience. The cars are satisfying to drive, the speed boosts feel powerful, and the ability to drive up the walls, across the ceiling, and positively fly through the air add to the game’s learning curve. Anyone can drive around and boot the ball with your car, but the ability to string genuine tactics together and react to your partner’s moves to create goals is what makes the game so much fun to continue to play, learn, and improve at.
Psyonix continues to support the game brilliantly and have even improved the steady stream of content updates over the years. There are the customary seasonal updates that add snow to the game’s arenas, and they have had numerous special events linked to high-profile films and TV shows. With micro-transactions, your car is customisable to the Nth degree, and you can even buy your favourite cars to drive around in. Personally, as soon as it was released, I bought the Back to the Future DeLorean and it has been my car ever since, but I have been tempted by the Batman, Jurassic Park, and Ghostbusters content in the years since. Just recently for Halloween, we had a Stranger Things event that turned one of the arenas Upside Down and had the Mind Flayer behind one of the goals in one of the cooler visual updates we’ve seen for some time. The way the game constantly refreshes itself with such events keeps the player base engaged, and while I realise micro-transactions are a touchy subject, Rocket League’s cosmetics-only approach has served the game well. Considering I was lucky enough to get the game in that free month all those years ago, I have no qualms about giving my money to the game that I have dedicated quite literally hundreds of hours to.
Rocket League lends itself perfectly to the ever-growing e-sports scene, and what some of the professional players achieve in this game frequently looks utterly impossible. It’s watching these e-sports tournaments that you realise what the game could be if you had the time to commit to it. I feel I’m pretty good at the game – the amount of time I’ve put into it I feel like I should at least be passably okay – but these players are operating on a different plain to myself and thousands of others. It’s the creativity they have that makes the game so exciting to watch. They complete moves and do things with their cars that I never even thought possible. What makes the game so special is that, despite the thousands of games I’ve played and watched, every single game is different.
Rocket League is my comfort game. It has been a fixture on my PS4 for the last 5 years because of its replayability. If I have a spare 20 minutes, I can jump on and play 2 or 3 games. I could equally spend hours on it honing my skills and climbing the competitive ladder (I have tasted the sweet nectar of Platinum in the past and I strive to reach such lofty heights again someday). It’s a game that I’ve played on my own and with friends, and one of my favourite moments in gaming history happened in Rocket League that actually occurred during our month-long charity drive in May this year. Rocket League doesn’t need a sequel, it has achieved everything it has so far and likely exceeded the expectations of its creator by being a pure and simple fun video game. I’ve played some great games over the last 10 years, but Rocket League will stand the test of time better than all of them. Nice Shot! indeed.