“Oh no, it’s going to be Rocket Arena all over again isn’t it?”
That’s the thought that crossed my mind when Knockout City slammed its way into my inbox, as I immediately thought I’d be playing a sequel to EA’s ill-fated online game that had all the charm of a petrol station toilet once the launch week dust had settled. Knockout City, isn’t that kind of game.
Instead, it’s a video game that takes the 5 Ds of dodgeball to heart, and uses them to create not only a tense multiplayer experience but also a cerebral game that is satisfyingly punctuated by the heavy sound of a rubber orb finding your face.
On the surface, Knockout City sarts every round with a scramble to find the nearest ball and deliver it with maximum velocity towards the opposition, but the catch here is that any player with a quick trigger finger can intercept that lethal shot and send it straight back to sender. Per the rules of Knockout City, two thunks of the ball is all it takes to be eliminated, and you’ll have to use both skill and cunning to rack up points in a round.
Faking a wind-up or changing the trajectory of a throw, or saying “stuff it” as you transform yourself into a ball that your teammate can pick up and fastball special at the competition are all viable options here, leading to some crazy contests of skill.
The genius of Knockout City’s design lies in its cerebral approach to dodgeball, as you can power-up your throwing arm, delay the chucking of the ball, and fake out your opponent during a blisteringly-quick showdown at any given moment. There’s a razor’s edge between straight-forward gameplay and more devious tricks up your sleeve that can result in game of high stakes ping pong between skilled players, and Knockout City ably walks that tightrope of design with utmost confidence.
Knockout City builds on that foundation, by giving players an auto-targeting system that allows them to focus on other smaller yet crucial elements of the game, while also throwing in plenty of strategy around the design of its levels, different dodgeballs on offer, and various modes to try out. Rooftop rumble has a deadly corridor between two skyscrapers that has the potential to become a perfect chokepoint and Knockout Roundabout throws traffic into the mix for example.
Modes are more of a mixed bag, but they do create some interesting tweaks to the formula. Your vanilla option is a 3v3 best of two option, which serves as Knockout City’s default and most intense mode, while Diamond Dash adds an extra wrinkle by asking you to pick up diamonds from expired foes, similar to how Destiny’s Supremacy mode worked in the Crucible.
If you fancy a one on one duel to see who’s the best at creating a neverending round of counters and counterattacks, there’s a duel mode that you can try out. Or you can try one of the other modes which adds more special dodegballs to the map and results in more chaotic action. Personally, I was happy to stick with 3v3, which is where Knockout City’s true strengths could shine.
The big question though, is do you have room for yet another live service title in your life? Knockout City contains many elements of this genre, from the now almost-mandatory battle pass system which you can unlock rewards through, cosmetics to purchase, and a rotating selection of challenges designed to keep you playing longer in return for some sweet loot.
These systems are never pushed on you in an obtrusive way, due in part to Knockout City costing $20 to get the full experience. While it was originally free to play from its launch on May 21 through to May 30, EA and Velan studios shook up the formula by instead announcing that players can try out the game gratis until they hit the Street Rank of level 25 on the Battle Pass, a very fair and chunky demo to get fans flocking to the arenas.
Knockout City is both easy to pick up and deviously simple in its design, hiding a layer of complexity behind more casual gameplay that fans will discover the more they become invested in it. There’s some standard launch-month polishing left to be done still, but Knockout City lands more hits than misses with its high-stakes gameplay and cunning combat, resulting in a multiplayer experience that’s both fun and intense at any given moment.
Last Updated: June 2, 2021