I wish it weren’t so hard to find a mellow multiplayer shooter. All of my current favorites are hyper-competitive tactical games that tense up my entire body. I want more of the opposite—a laid-back shooter that goes down so smooth that eight matches can fly by before I know it. That’s definitely not what I thought I was getting into with Rocket Arena, a shooter that presents itself like yet another contender in an increasingly crowded pile of hero-based service games. It kind of is one of those, but it’s also a throwback to when shooters weren’t so cutthroat.
With a name like Rocket Arena, you might expect something similar to the original Quake mod, but the resemblance ends at rockets. This is a team-based shooter that’s really obsessed with those classic fire-propelled projectiles. Final Strike Games has essentially deconstructed the rocket launcher and crafted a tasting menu of its various interpretations. Not every hero shoots literal rockets, but the spirit of rockets is there throughout. Kayi’s crossbow? Sharp rockets with a long windup. Mysteen’s throwing cards? Magic bundles of burst-fire rockets. Boone’s blunderbuss? Sniper rockets!
Like in rockets-only custom games in Halo 3 or with TF2’s soldier, the explosive payload of a rocket is secondary to the fun of mastering a slow-moving projectile. Leading targets and nailing a direct hit flexes a completely different shooter muscle than twitchy hitscan weapons in Valorant or Rainbow Six Siege. It doesn’t really matter if the result is a pile of meat chunks (though that is a nice bonus in Doom Eternal) or something else. For Rocket Arena, a kid-friendly game that looks like a Dreamworks movie, trading blows feels more like a long-range game of tag.
Triple jumps and movement abilities make nailing that perfectly led shot a lot more challenging than it was in my Halo days. Instead of one-shot showdowns, Rocket Arena’s weapons and abilities are tools to knock each other out of bounds. Taking continuous damage fills a meter that makes each subsequent hit knock you farther into the sky until you can’t recover and get “megablasted” through the map barrier. It’s basically Super Smash Bros’s knockout mechanic in a full 3D space, and it’s a perfect fit for the lighthearted fun that Final Strike Games is going for. After being knocked out, you’re slowly floated back to a designated respawn point and back in the fight. It’s a small detail, but staying with my character during these respites helped me learn maps faster and plan my next move from a bird’s-eye view.
There’s a lot of great visual and audio feedback that sells its concussive rocket blasts without the need for blood squibs or meat chunks. Repeatedly hitting enemies plays rising musical notes that build the tension of a close fight. When you finally build their damage meter enough to score a megablast, you hear the intoxicating crack of a bat as they soar out of the map like you’ve hit a home run. I’ve gushed over Valorant’s post-kill violin stings and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s overpowering impact sounds, and this also releases the good brain chemicals.
Combat is (slightly) deepened by unique secondary attacks, movement abilities, item pickups, and simple upgrades equipped out of game. The random item pickups can grant you a small speed boost or throwable bomb in a pinch, but they don’t hand you the fight. Some movement abilities feel overpowered, like Rev’s freeform flight ability that lets her quickly reposition in any direction or recover from a near-knockout better than anyone. Her mobility sticks out especially because it’s so easy to get juggled by multiple enemies without a good chance of recovery. You can dodge rockets with a well-timed press of Q (again, very similar to air dodging in Super Smash Bros), but the cooldown is so long that it rarely feels useful. The entire combat dynamic could be more interesting with more skill-based ways to avoid fire. Right now, follow-up shots in midiar are so punishing that trying to recover feels like a waste of time. It’s often faster to just fall out of bounds and reset.
I dig how each of the 10 launch characters distinguish themselves in action, but on the whole, Rocket Arena looks forgettable. It has a cutesy fantasy-tech look that’s starting to blend together into a lot of hero games. As I was playing hoverboard riding and minigun-toting Rev, I could’ve sworn I’d fallen back into Bleeding Edge.
A few designs stand out, though, like the definitely-not-Sam-Elliot Topnotch and Mysteen, whose magician suit looks so rad that I dropped a lot of in-game currency on her skins. I’m surprised by how much I’m revisiting the cosmetic section to pick up new outfits or trailing effects for megablasts. Partly I’m looking for something to do during the long queue times, but I’m also having enough fun to want a fashionable loadout.
You can jump into Ranked if you really want to sweat, but I’ve had all of my fun in the Social playlist that cycles through objective modes like the conquest-style Mega Rocket or Rocketball, a CTF mode with heavy Grifball vibes. The one mode I consistently hated was standard deathmatch (called Knockout). Getting outnumbered and endlessly juggled by enemies is even worse when there’s no primary objective to worry about.
It used to be a lot harder to recommend Rocket Arena at its launch price of $30, but you can already get it much cheaper. At the time of writing, the standard edition is available on Origin for $5 (on sale at 83% off), while Steam is still listing the old price. The niche appeal of Rocket Arena is bound to limit its potential player base as it is, so it’s good that EA is reacting by making the game cheaper, at least for the time being. Considering Rocket Arena already has the premium currency and seasonal battle pass plans of a free-to-play game, a small buy-in makes way more sense. Still, a full push to free-to-play might be what it needs.
The new price has helped Rocket Arena become the low-stakes shooter that I’m enjoying, but I’m worried that it could be too late. Longer queue times are already affecting my desire to play. It’d be great to see the game thrive under the lower price, and I also have hope that a smaller dedicated community can keep it alive. For now, I’m eager to see new heroes, maps, and modes, because Rocket Arena is a game that deserves to stick around. There just aren’t enough opportunities to shoot each other with rockets.