Knockout City Deserves A Chance Beyond Its Free Trial

Late last month, EA released Knockout City – a brand new arena brawler built around the classic game of dodgeball. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for regarding Knockout City as mere few matches of mindless fun before tossing it to the bargain bin. I know, because I thought the exact same thing when I first laid eyes upon it.

In fact, I was convinced that I’d seen this game somewhere before. Less than a year ago, EA also released Rocket Arena, an arena shooter with a similar premise, but swapped docile balls for explosive rockets.

Credit: EA

Knockout City has arrived at a time when arena games seem all the rage. Destruction All-Stars completes the trifecta of titles that have unique gameplay twists and characters run through the Disney-fy machine. That’s an incredibly reductive way of looking at them, but with so many multiplayer titles vying for attention these days, it’s simply not enough to just be “good” anymore.

With that said, why does Knockout City deserve your time more than the rest?

Gameplay: Explained

I mentioned that the Knockout City gameplay seems shallow, but it’s far deeper than it seems at first glance. The basic premise is that two teams battle it out to earn 10 points the quickest. Points are earned by eliminating opponents, which is possible by either hitting them twice with a ball or knocking them off the stage.

There’re several ways to chuck a ball. First off, you have to collect one from around the map. They spawn regularly, and you can pick them up or catch them from enemies. You target an enemy by holding left-click. The longer you hold, the faster the ball will be thrown. 

Credit: EA

It’s not always a good idea to throw the ball as fast as possible, though. Throwing a slow ball can feint your opponent into an early catch, netting you a hit.

On top of the basic lob, you can also put a spin or some height on the throw, achieved by pressing either Q or E. However, the rules of charging up your shot still apply. All of these different throwing methods take a simple concept and raise the skill ceiling exponentially. The vast number of throw combinations make it tricky to anticipate what your opponent is going to pull on you.

Thanks to some excellent UI design, you almost always know exactly when you’re about to get hit. A huge red marker appears on the edge of your screen when you’re being targeted, giving you ample opportunity to respond. You can either catch the incoming shot by timing a right-click just before the ball hits, or you can dodge out of the way.

Credit: EA

Mind Games

The best part of Knockout City is that its skill ceiling is incredibly high. It’s easy for anyone to pick up and chuck some balls about, but the best matches are played when teams are operating on 500 IQ plays.

Especially when you jump on with a squad of friends and get some communication going, the mind games at play are tangible to experience. Utilising the pass feature, each team can be playing games of piggy-in-the-middle, dancing around an opponent in an attempt to throw them off.

It’s fun to watch them squirm, but at the same time, it’s also fun to be on the receiving end. Baiting out shots by timing catches and rolls accordingly is incredibly satisfying. Almost all of the matches I’ve completed so far have been down to the wire, each match ending with only one of two points between the teams.

Credit: EA

Even when you do meet an unfortunate loss, the overall experience of Knockout City is an entertaining one. Wacky ball powerups change up the matches in intriguing ways. For example, one ball type locks you a ball cage which enemies can then throw off the map. Alternatively, your team can use you like a ball to hit the enemy.

The powerups allow for gameplay experimentation so that even when you get knocked down, there’s still room to engage in the fun.

Strong start, but room for improvement

Knockout City has left a strong impression upon much of its community. The free trial peaked at just over 20k players on PC with around 3.5k still playing into the extension period. Of those 20k, around 6k players have forked out for the full game with the player count looking consistently dense each evening. According to EA, the game has clocked over five million players across both PC and console, which is amazing for the studio [via Kotaku].

Credit: EA

I’m glad to see the game succeeding as it’s one of the most genuine fun and unique multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a while. That said, there are still areas where the developers could improve.

For one, the onboarding tutorial in Knockout City is extremely cumbersome as there’s no menu tutorial. It simply dumps you on a rooftop with a bunch of training equipment and says “go for your life”. That makes it tricky to understand just how complex the moveset is, leaving much of the learning up to self-discovery. It would be nice if the tutorial were to be fleshed out and streamlined into something less intimidating.

In addition, there’s currently no way for players to track their lifetime stats. If the game is to make waves in the competitive space, try-hard gamers need to know plenty of data. That, and it’s always nice to know that you’ve accomplished something while mashing buttons at 3AM.

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, there’s a free trial on Steam that lets you play up to level 25. Alternatively, it’s available on Xbox via Game Pass Ultimate.

Will you be giving Knockout City a try? Let us know across our social channels.

[Featured Image Credit: EA]

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