It’s no secret that I’ve lost my passion for online competitive games as I’ve gotten older, but that doesn’t mean this old man isn’t still capable of stepping into the virtual ring and wreaking some havoc from time to time. While most people are playing those gun-shooting games I’ve opted to spend my time with EA’s newly released competitive dodge ball game, Knockout City, as opposed to the more murder-centric games people usually play. Much to my surprise, Knockout City is actually a pretty fun, albeit slim offering that was well worth the price of “free with Game Pass.”
Knockout City is a free-to-play game that hasn’t realized it’s a free-to-play game just yet, as it’s currently retailing at $20 on just about every modern platform. I’m sure in a few months we’ll get a full “announcement” about how EA is making the game more accessible or something by offering it for free, but we’re not there just yet. Rest assured though, with the amount of free-to-play trappings that are already in Knockout City, I can’t foresee a future where it doesn’t go free-to-play eventually.
But hey, this one’s different, because you’ll be hurling cosmic dodge balls at your opponents instead of bullets, which somehow doesn’t make eliminating an opponent any less grizzly as they ragdoll off the side of a skyscraper. You and your team of two other folks will face off in a best of three, round-based death-match, where the first team to score ten eliminations wins the round. These rounds go pretty quickly, which is exactly long enough for me to almost get sick of playing Knockout City, but instead stick around for another match.
Balls spawn in various spots around the map, with special themed ones randomly selected before you start a match that will also spawn in some of these locations. For instance, one of my matches had explosive balls that are pretty devastating no matter which team you’re on, a fact that I learned the hard way. You basically race to these locations to grab a ball, then sprint on into the location of the map that has turned into an impromptu killing field, where you will either become a dodge ball god or immediately get knocked unconscious.
What’s neat about the game is how deceptively simple it is. What sucks about it is how little you’re told about what everything does. There’s a tutorial that I suggest everyone play, but even that doesn’t cover some of the more advanced maneuvers that you’ll need to use in any given match. For instance, you can turn yourself into a ball that your teammates can throw. How you do this is never spelled out to you nor why you would do this, but I assure you that functionality exists. The same goes for passing the ball to teammates, which seems like a pretty important thing for me to know how to do, but alas, that also wasn’t covered in the tutorial.
It’s probably super simple like the rest of the controls in Knockout City though. When you have a ball, you can hold the right trigger to simultaneously automatically lock on to an opponent and charge up your shot, followed by releasing the trigger to heave the ball. But locking onto an enemy alerts them that they’re being locked onto, so you have to basically mess with them by playing with the timing of your release. Sure a fully charged shot would be devastating but that’s what they’re expecting, maybe an early release will throw them off enough that they mistime their catch attempt. It’s a fun little meta-layer that involves you playing mind games with your opponent, and I appreciated that.
Your enemies aren’t just helpless however, because by timing a grab with the left trigger you can catch the ball and immediately fire it back at an opponent. When that happens, it leads to a lot of Dragon Ball Z styled air battles where two people are just bouncing this dodge ball off of each other in midair until someone’s timing falters. It’s always really cool when you get into one of these back and forth battles because these were easily the most tense moments I experienced while playing. You can also tackle an opponent which will cause them to lose control of the ball, popping it into the air for all of the other anime dodge-ballers to have a chance at holding. That tackle is one of three different dodge actions you can take, all of which probably do something different that I just couldn’t decipher before writing this.
Knockout City is actually a lot of fun, but I just don’t know how long the legs on this thing are. It feels more substantial than something like a Fall Guys, but it also lacks any of the personality Fall Guys had as well. The game has this weird retro-futurism vibe to it that really does nothing for the experience as a whole, but it doesn’t detract from it either, so there’s that I suppose. If you’ve got Game Pass and want to check out Knockout City, I’d fully endorse that decision. However, if you’re asking if you should pay $20 bucks for it, I don’t know that I could stand by that decision, especially when we all know and have agreed that it’ll be free-to-play in a few months anyway.