When Epic Games announced that a Rocket League-inspired racing experience was coming to Fortnite, I didn’t know what to expect.
On the one hand, I’ve always admired Rocket League. The mix of thruster-equipped cars with large soccer balls and nets was such an inspired choice by developer Psyonix, and the constant support and growth the game has seen over the years is all the more impressive. That said, I’ll confess that Psyonix’s Fortnite racer, Rocket Racing, seemed at the outset like quite an odd departure from the core battle royale experience that has remained so popular for over six years. In other words, it just didn’t seem necessary to me.
But after playing Rocket Racing at a recent preview event, I feel quite foolish for my earlier apprehension. Within minutes, I found myself impressed with how well Psyonix, in partnership with Epic, has blended key tenets of Rocket League with those from Fortnite to create a surprisingly robust racer.
Immediately, I was taken aback by the level of customization options for your car. We’re talking all kinds of options for colours, wheels, decals, bumpers and much more. This is the first time Fortnite has allowed vehicular customization and it feels like a natural extension of the colourful and varied base game. As a nice touch, your custom whip will even replace the look of vehicles you enter in the battle Royale. Of course, the integration into Fortnite means your skins and emotes carry over as well, so you do the Griddy as Peely right in the pre-race lobbies. Battle pass progression also extends to Rocket Racing for further synergy across the larger Fortnite suite.
But what really matters in a racer is how good the cars feel, and Psyonix has undoubtedly nailed that here. Befitting a game like Fortnite, handling is much more arcadey in a Mario Kart-like manner, which makes it easy to pick and play. Drifting around corners also gives you a burst of speed and fills a three-bar boost metre.
More critically, Psyonix has carried over Rocket League’s signature thrusters to make the moment-to-moment driving feel refreshingly distinct from other racers. As in Rocket League, you can boost upward at any point while driving to hover for a brief period until your metre depletes, and Psyonix uses this to full effect. In many of the stages, there are gaps between platforms on the track or, more interestingly, well-placed shortcuts (including those hidden behind distant waterfalls). Taking on these light platforming challenges in between zipping around other drivers makes for a thrilling and dynamic experience.
“For someone like me who rarely plays racers outside of the very occasional Mario Kart with friends to scratch that competitive high-octane petrol itch, the ability to play a fully-featured one like Rocket Racing at no additional cost within a free-to-play game is a no-brainer.”
That level of verticality extends to the air dodge mechanic. While airborne, you can use your thrusters to shoot upward, left or right to reach adjacent tracks. Often, these provide boost pads or respite from incoming stage hazards, providing a welcome reward for well-timed jumps. Where Mario Kart uses items for delightful chaos, Rocket Racing does so through the wonderful use of vehicular thrusters.
Indeed, I was constantly amazed at how dense and well-thought-out tracks proved to be. As I went through each lap, I would discover additional paths I could have taken, like a boost pad in a tiny tunnel here or a small scaffolding high up there. This sense of discovery came often throughout my sampling of five-odd courses, so there will be much more to find in the final experience across the launch roster of 26.
But perhaps most exciting of all is Psyonix’s promise of long-term support for Rocket Racing, including a track editor. Given the game’s impeccable sense of verticality, it’s exciting to think of what sorts of multi-level stages people will dream up.
And above all else, the fact that Rocket Racing is another part of Fortnite just sweetens the deal. For someone like me who rarely plays racers outside of the very occasional Mario Kart with friends to scratch that competitive high-octane petrol itch, the ability to play a fully-featured one like Rocket Racing at no additional cost within a free-to-play game is a no-brainer.
It also just helps that Rocket Racing is so snappy and creative, leveraging its Rocket League roots to offer something that’s just distinct enough from the many other arcade racers on the market. It’s a remarkably fun experience, and I’m really excited to hop back in the driver’s seat.
Rocket Racing launches within Fortnite on December 8th. It’s one of three new in-game experiences Epic is adding to the game this week alongside the survival crafting sandbox Lego Fortnite (December 7th) and Rock Band-esque music-focused Fortnite Festival (December 9th).
Image credit: Epic Games