Rocket Arena is deathmatch without the death

What if there was a competitive first-person, arena-style shooter where no one died? That’s the question that inspired Rocket Arena, a new rockets-only shooter from Final Strike Games, a Bellevue, Washington-based developer founded by former members of Halo studio 343 Industries, and Nexon.

Rocket Arena takes the death out of deathmatch, removing the headshots and juicy gibs of games like Quake 3 Arena and replacing them with kid-friendly Super Smash Bros.-style knockouts. It’s a colorful three-on-three game populated by cute, upbeat characters dueling each other on fantasy-inspired maps. Much about Rocket Arena is vaguely reminiscent of something else: It looks like chunky, stylized Blizzard game; its hero characters look ripped from a Dreamworks Animation movie; and its modes feel inspired by popular multiplayer games like Overwatch, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros.

I played some Rocket Arena earlier this week in advance of the game’s beta launch on May 23. It’s coming to Windows PC and Xbox One — a PlayStation 4 version is due later — and publisher Nexon had it playable with cross-platform play at our hands-on session. I was dropped into an island-style map along with a pair of partners, where we battled three other players in a game of Knockout. Like Smash Bros. the goal is to build up your opponent’s K.O. meter by firing rockets into them, putting them in danger of a knockout, a finishing move that launches them high into the sky.

Izell throws her bola
Final Strike Games/Nexon

Combat is waged with rockets, and each character has his or her own specific type of ammo. The ice-themed Kayi launches charged bolts, while the water-themed Amphora fires torpedo-style rockets and jungle warrior Izell fires spears. Characters have alternate fire weapons as well: Kayi can launch a protective snowglobe that slows incoming rockets, Amphora can launch bouncing mines, and Izell can hurl an ensnaring bola. Most characters in Rocket Arena also have a movement-focused ability, like a dash, teleport, or grappling hook. In fact, movement is key to survival, and Rocket Arena gives players the option to double jump, triple jump, and rocket jump to get around quickly.

Other game modes focus on objectives that are not specific to knockouts (though they’re still tactically important, since a K.O. takes an opponent out of the game for a moment). A football-like mode called Rocketball tasks teams with scoring points by running or throwing a ball into their opponents goal. Megarocket requires teams to capture points in the form of very large rockets. Both modes can become rather hectic, as players fight to complete objectives while also hurling dozens of rockets around the battle zone.

While much about Rocket Arena can feel derivative, Final Strike Games is addressing an underserved genre: kid-friendly shooters. Interested players can try out the free-to-play game starting next week through a closed beta. Sign up at Nexon’s official site for a chance to play.

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