As a gaming journalist, you don’t often get much time to stop, smell the roses, and sink a lot of time into a single game. Whether you’re keeping current with whatever’s out to be able to talk and write about it, or if you’re reviewing games and need to jump from one to the other, it’s rare that you allow yourself to sink into one game and really give it all of your energy.
I never thought that the first time in 2021 I’d give in to the desire to sit for hours and just play would be for a dodgeball game, but that’s the magic of gaming, I suppose. Before its release, I’d had little prior interest in it, and considering E3 season is just right around the corner, I really expected to play just one game and then forget about it again. I guess that was a rookie mistake because “just one game” is how it always starts. Now I’m 30 ranks into it with no signs of slowing down, and there’s one devious little reason why – Knockout City is a shooter all about the mind games.
That’s the reason why I’ve been vibing with it so hard since starting it. Rather than focusing on aiming and shooting like every other multiplayer affair out there, Knockout City automatically does all of that for you. As the player, your goal is to get under the other team’s skin and trick them into conceding a great big rubber ball to the face, and the way to do that is by messing with them.
Many of my early encounters in the game just had me and my opponent chucking an increasingly speedier dodgeball at each other before one of us missed a catch, but once I’d learned some of the little tricks, I realised what the game really wants you to do. When taking your shot, you’ve got the chance to throw it straight and change how hard you throw it, but you’ve also got the option to throw it overhead or curve it to the side with some trick shots. If you’re the one trying to catch the ball this means that you’re not just trying to catch the ball, you’ve also got to guess what angle and speed it’s going to come at you from. It’s frantic, and a ton of fun whether you’re the one throwing the dodgeball or cowering in fear from it.
All of these strategies work well when tricking your opponents, but the true beauty of the game comes when you learn how to fake a shot. Your best defence against a dodgeball is to catch it, but by faking shots you can make the other team attempt a catch early, before pelting them in the face. Suddenly holding the dodgeball feels like more of a status thing than anything else. It helps if you sneer whilst you do it.
These mechanics combine to turn Knockout City into a beautiful dance of swirls, fake throws, and muttered swears as you find yourself getting tricked instead of doing the tricking. It’s a bit like peacocking, but with a more painful consequence.
This is the game’s biggest strength, and I actually found myself getting annoyed when it strayed too far away from this dance of dodging and feinting. No Knockout City, I don’t want to use your sniper ball, I want to freak my enemies out like I’m a bully about to kick a football at the nerds on the playground. Enjoy that quick little flashback to my childhood there.
That speaks to a much bigger success on Knockout City’s part – it actually feels like dodgeball. I’m going pretty far back into the memory vault here, but the best moments of any game were watching the last two players stack up on balls, taunt each other and try to pull off tricky shots to get the other out. That’s translated perfectly here.
I think the sound mechanics are really what’s going to keep Knockout City around, and I can’t wait to see people mess around a bit more, and build up the game’s meta. You just have to get past the diluted SSX Tricky presentation and cringe announcer to see it.
Part of me wishes that EA bit the bullet and made it completely free to play though. I’ve found a special little mental home in Knockout City, but if you’re not into terrorising other online players like I am, I’m not sure many will be willing to pay for the game with the amount of content it has right now. At launch, it’s really leaning into the strength of its core gameplay, and I’m not convinced that’s something most casual players will stick around for in the long term.
For now though, it’s a haven of havoc, a mental battleground, and a dance of deception. It’s dodgeball, baby.
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