Psyonix has wisely chosen not to tinker with the game’s core gameplay mechanics, instead introducing alternate modes that use game-altering “mutators” to ramp up the crazy.
Rocket League’s team modes are great, but its one-on-one duels are competitive on another level. Your ranking is down to you and you alone, meaning there’s little margin for error.
Whether you’re thinking of dipping your toes into Rocket League or want to brush up on your skills in time for the PC Gamer Weekender’s tournament, here are 7 tips to help you rule the duel.
1. Approach the ball at an angle at kick-off
When the game begins or restarts after a goal, approach the ball at a 45-degree angle rather than hitting it head-on. Depending on the angle your opponent slams into it, rocket boosting at the last moment sometimes results in the ball flying against the wall at just the right angle to land in your opponent’s empty goal mouth.
Even if you don’t score, approaching the ball from an angle reduces your opponent’s ability to do the same thing to you than if you were to hit it head-on. Occasionally, striking the ball at an angle will send it in the right direction but without sufficient pace to reach the goal mouth. When this happens, drive under the ball, slow down, judge your angle and boost forward just before the ball lands to volley it home.
2. Make sure your boost’s always topped up
You’ll need a continuous supply of nitro in your car’s tank to stand any chance of winning, so forget cruising around the arena in the hope that your opponent is running on empty. Unless your goal is under immediate threat, drive over the nearest boost point and then plan and execute your next move before going for a top-up, and repeat.
Having a boost can make the difference between being able to make an emergency defensive manoeuvre or pull off an unexpected shooting chance. Another tip is to use what little nitro you have left to get more boost – it’s worth depleting your tank if it means hitting a boost pad before your opponent does.
3. Slow down and boost to shoot
Rocket League’s team modes are frantic affairs with more cars blocking goals than in duels, so rocket boosting the ball with pace is often necessary to score. Duels on the other hand are slower and give you more time to line up your shot, so slowing down your car’s speed to get the angle right before rocket boosting to shoot is often worth it – even if the ball trickles over the line.
This is particularly the case when an opponent has committed to a clearance and missed, and needs time to recover. You’ll also find yourself suddenly capable of pulling off impressive long shots that you can always celebrate scoring with, er, yourself.
4. Hang in the goal mouth to defend
Defending your goal mouth in a duel requires a different approach to team play. Hanging around in it for too long gives your opponent more time to line up a shot that’s likely to go flying over your car’s hood.
However, staying on the line is perfectly fine when the ball is in close proximity – such as near a corner. It lets you come out and meet your opponent if they try to dribble it into the corner of your goal, but be wary if they boost the ball up a corner wall at speed as defending from an aerial attack is tricky at the best of times.
If your opponent is perched on the goal line when you’re attacking, knock the ball towards the corner at pace. Instead of following it to side boost it into the goal, switch to Player Cam and change direction to slam into your opponent and blow them up. The ball will then land somewhere near the goal for a tap-in. Note that the many players are now savvy to this tactic and will jump when you hurtle toward them.
5. Be aggressive!
Some members of the Rocket League community think that you’re not allowed to ram their cars. Well, guess what? They’re wrong! Some of Rocket League’s most satisfying moments come when you dart across the arena on a full tank of boost to blow the opposing player up a split second before they were about to execute a tap-in. You can make yourself a real pain in the spoiler by constantly nudging into your adversary and bumping them out of the way. Just like in real sport, roughing up the competition can help reap the rewards, even if it doesn’t help raise your popularity.
6. Avoid aerial hits unless necessary
Like a graceful swan coming down to land, executing a well-timed aerial pirouette always looks great on a replay. In duels, however, it leaves you open to a counter-attack unless you manage to score. While that doesn’t matter too much when you have team-mates on hand to help you out, you’re on your own in a duel. As such, an aerial shot is a riskier move.
7. Sometimes it’s ok to stand still
Literally. Remember that your car is a physical object, and unless Psyonix brings out another weird mod, the ball can’t pass through you. If the ball is coming your way, pull on the handbreak to angle your car lengthways like a pong paddle and slam on your main breaks. The ball will lose some of its pace when it bounces off your car, and if you have boost then you can quickly accelerate and knock it into your opponent’s goal. Slowing down can also be a good way to pull off the equivalent of a ‘dummy’ in soccer, where your opponent thinks you’re going to speed off in one direction but you slowly change direction to take the ball in another.