Rocket Arena is the first title from the recently-formed First Strikes Games, a team of developers from former triple-A powerhouses like Gears of War, Halo and Call of Duty. Ditching campaigns as equally as blood and gore, this new multiplayer team-based shooter places an emphasis on friendly KOs rather than dismemberment.
Now available and in a pre-season event before an official Season 1 launch on 28 July, Rocket Arena is primarily a 3v3 affair. While different characters have varying secondary-fire options and abilities, every single one uses rockets as their primary source of fire. No matter the mode your ultimate goal — at least, against other players — is to hit them with enough rockets their staggered. Then, you can strike them with another barrage that’ll send them flying off the map, Super Smash Bros-style. In the same vein, the truly adept will (sometimes) be able to weasel out of a knockout, arriving back to the playing field without providing their opponent the chance to add to their scorecard.
The six characters we tried out as part of a preview back in June have been joined by four other competitors, each as varied and unique as the original set. Plink, as an example, is a pint-sized adventurer with scrap rockets, a boomerang (I didn’t detect an Aussie accent, though I could be wrong) and a teleporter. My favourite of the bunch is still Amphora, a Splatoon-like character with homing missiles and the ability to, basically, become a Squid-Kid.
The characters, all the maps and Rocket Arena‘s soundtrack are all very cartoonish and child-friendly, seemingly keeping with the “no kills” theme established by First Strike. One game mode in particular seems to highlight this the best — Treasure hunt tasks you to collect a treasure chest, and then protect it and the player carrying it. In between bouts, the chest will disappear to spawn coins — alongside a Super Mario Bros rip-off melody — and the team who collects the most coins ultimately wins.
Why do the coins appear? I don’t know. Why are they equally, if not more, important than the chest the mode’s named after? Again, no clue. The disconnect from what’s in front of you, and why, lingers over Rocket Arena on the whole. I’m mostly convinced it’s a multiplayer shooter for a younger audience… but then that line of thinking doesn’t make sense when considering its entry price.
Called a “premium” product and priced at $39.95 AUD, Rocket Arena is laughable up against the likes of the cartoony, free-to-play Fortnite. Or what about Apex Legends, another free-to-play alternative for those looking for hero-based shooters, though arguably for a more mature audience. We could continue comparing Rocket Arena to multiplayer shooters — free-to-play ones at that, including the newly-announced Hyper Scape — and this release gets KOed and quick. These comparisons are only made worst when Rocket Arena wants to charge you for entry and continue dipping into your wallet for things like a Battle Pass and cosmetic purchases.
Despite the chaos surrounding it, Rocket Arena is quite fun though I do realise I’m saying this as someone who’s been able to jump into matches at no cost. Rocketball is my favourite mode to play; its comparisons to Halo‘s Grifball make sense when considering the DNA of First Strike itself.
In the end, we’ve struggled to find a lot of matches in pre-release (even with cross-play turned on), so we’ll refrain from assigning a review score until we’ve had some more time playing against others. Right now, though? Rocket Arena‘s about one rocket shy of being blown off the map.
Update: Turns out, I was struggling to find matches because the game’s player base is very small. Cross-play doesn’t work because of it — getting paired with Steam players using keyboard and a mouse mean you’ll get crushed. Pairing with Xbox-only players, I found long gaps in matches. I’m happy to go with my gut and chalk it all up to the problem of price. It’s a shame, because First Strike really was on to something here.
Rocket Arena was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One (cross-play enabled), as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.