Knockout City | Preliminary review

Knockout City | Preliminary review

Knockout City is one of the latest arrivals in the EA Originals program, conceived and developed by Electronic Arts a few years ago specifically to accommodate low-level productions from a production point of view, but at the same time capable of fielding several interesting ideas, thanks to a creative verve no longer so common in the triple A market. The Velan Studios game is based in its entirety around a single idea, which represented the cornerstone of the realization process: to develop a multiplayer title inspired by dodgeball, sports with a good following in the United States and popularized, in recent decades, also by the cinema, thanks to the 2004 comedy film with Ben Stiller.

As promised by the developers, Knockout City is a video game destined to evolve over time, and whose launch, which took place today, is only the beginning of its evolutionary path. Velan Studios, in agreement with EA, has decided to adopt an interesting commercial model: to immediately flesh out the player base and give the game an initial boost, all the contents present on day one and at the beginning of the first season will be free for ten days, until May 30 (inclusive), after which the title will make its entry into the ranks of Xbox Game Pass, with the declared goal of keeping the number of players high and constant.

Balls in the leap

In a market whose exits follow one another very fast, and where the main discriminant for giving this or that product a chance is time, it is really worth launching in some frantic match to the sound of balls on the teeth? If what you are looking for is pure and simple fun, we can already anticipate yes; on launch day, however, the game is just beginning its journey, and is still missing some of the promised content. Although the basics, as we will see, are already present and promise hours and hours of fun, if it is a vote what you are looking for, you will not find it - for the moment - at the end of this article, since we will need a more in-depth evaluation to formulate a final grade (which, even in that case, will be inextricably linked to its evolution on a temporal basis).

The basic concept of Knockout City, as you can already guess, is quite simple: two teams, made up of a variable number of players, compete in frenetic matches to the last KO in a handful of modes, as well as of maps designed and structured to reward team play. Before starting, the game offers the opportunity to try your hand at some training tutorials, in order to practice the basic mechanics and also take a look at the advanced ones. The training tutorials are many and well structured, and they manage to give a good basic smattering: our advice, for once, is to follow them all carefully, because then, once launched into the fray, Knockout City tends not to explain nor really forgive anything anymore.

The basics are what one would expect from a common poison ball match: each player, after having taken possession of one of the balls scattered around the arena - there are various types, as we shall see - can throw them (with a normal or loaded shot) and try to hit the closest opponent, in order to earn a point for your team on the second hit on the same target. On paper it all sounds pretty simple, but woe to be fooled: it takes a couple of games to realize that the Velan Studios game has a lot of complex and well thought out mechanics, which make it extremely layered and capable of wringing the wink at the Sunday players as well as the hyper-competitive ones.

This stratification, in addition to defining its identity in a precise manner compared to other team multiplayer titles, such as the Rocket Arena published by Electronic Arts itself, pleasantly surprised us. At the time of the announcement and the first trailers, in fact, the colorful appearance of Knockout City and the connection with an immediate game like dodgeball had deceived everyone, but the first hours of testing were enough for us to understand how there is actually more under the hood. The advanced moves, the real heart of the gameplay, make each match unique and entirely based on the skill of the players.

Starting, for example, with the various types of balls present in the arenas, whose position and respawn times must be memorized to play matches to the best of one's ability. They range from bomb balls, which explode a few seconds after being collected, forcing them to be thrown almost immediately, to "sniper" balls, capable of hitting opponents from sidereal distances, passing through multiple ones (three instead of one) and " moon balls ”, with physics different from normal ones. Having balls different from the standard ones for most of the time is one of the main objectives to be pursued in the game, since many of them guarantee a considerable advantage.

Each ball can be thrown in various ways, also using the movement options of your virtual alter ego (a pirouette and a somersault), useful not only for evasive purposes, but also to give life to spectacular curved throws or to lob. Each throw, in the same way, can be countered, by pressing a button at the right time and executing a block, which allows you to take possession of the ball and throw it away in turn. Throws and blocks executed with the right timing "load" the sphere in your hands, making it more difficult to intercept at the next throw: this means that every face to face becomes a real dance, full of tension (and terror), in which you will remain hanging on the edge of your chair all the time, wincing at the slightest mistake, yours or your opponent's.

You can even use the somersaults to divert the throws in an alternative way, or simply to disturb someone during the preparation. And if you think it's over here, you are very wrong! Knockout City is equipped with a lot of surprising mechanics, capable of introducing a large number of variables and even different playing styles into each match. If you don't like throwing balls, for example, you can decide to throw your teammates! By pressing the left trigger on the pad, in fact, you will transform yourself into a ball, and you can be thrown (yes, even by the opponents, from which you can free yourself) in a trajectory that, if loaded to the maximum, will end with a gigantic explosion, inflicting an automatic KO to any opponent in range.

Whatever the object that is coming to you, in any case, you will be warned by visual indicators, placed on the sides of the screen, which will inform you of its origin and which, unfortunately, have a unique positioning. little unhappy. In our opinion, in fact, they should have been a tad bit larger and placed more in the center of the screen, rather than relegated to peripheral vision (on which, during the games, you will not rely very much). Removed this problem, easily solved even if quite relevant, overall the game works, also because it is based on solid mechanics, useful in every match (also for this reason they seem more than their actual number) and well wedged together. Of course, there is always room for improvement: in the months following the launch, in addition to the new content, the developers will have to work hard to fix some problems with the balance, which concern for example some balls, such as those capable of hitting from a distance, actually. too strong and sometimes able to excessively break the game balance.

The launch is just the beginning

We have already had the opportunity to try out different maps: although we found them, at least initially, a bit simplistic in design, they seemed well structured and thought out to suggest and encourage a style of play based on collaboration with your teammates. Basically, each scenario is linked to a different area of ​​the urban context and has unique characteristics, including disturbing elements, such as cars moving in the city center, cars at work in the construction site area and even a train in the Jukebox Junction map, a of the main ones we tried.

There are also elements of help for the teams, such as traditional jump platforms or tubes capable of transporting quickly from one area of ​​the map to another. Proceeding together, taking advantage of high places to better control the area and the possibility of throwing each other, is the key to success: if you do not organize yourself properly with your teammates it is very easy to be annihilated and lose with tennis scores, since the game rotates strongly. around team play as well as individual skills.

On launch day, Knockout City will already include five maps, five types of balls and four playlists, corresponding to as many modes: Team KO is the main one (it will probably be the most played), and corresponds to a variant of the traditional Team Deathmatch, in which, to win, you need to score 10 collective points. Alternatives include a Duel mode (classic 1vs1 two-player), Diamond Rush (where the goal is to collect as many diamonds as possible) and Party Team KO. Absent, however (for now, at least), the one that intrigued us the most, that is Brawl Mutapalla, in which there are no traditional balls in the scenario and to win one is obliged to throw one's companions.

The modes and maps present on day one, as promised by Velan Studios several times in the past few weeks, will be enriched with further additions, as part of a system structured according to Seasons. The first, which will start in four days, on May 25, will introduce league games and eight new playlists (the latter will rotate on a seasonal basis), in addition to the Jukebox Junction map, already seen and tested during our tests, which will go to join Rooftop Rumble, Concussion Yard, Knockout Roundabout, Back Alley Brawl and Galaxy Burger. New balls will also be added (and therefore new ways to play) and further news related to cosmetic items and clans. One of the team's objectives, in fact, is to structure and retain the community around the formation of the so-called Crews, manageable through an internal system of the game, each of which can host a maximum of 32 members, with the possibility of expanding this limit in the future. .

Playing with your mates will allow you to have several advantages: in addition to showing the team symbol on the jackets of the characters, just as happens in the cult film The Warriors (which Velan Studios did not hide to be inspired by), you will have a personal hiding place, built on the basis of how you have decided to customize your avatar and the group and the successes obtained, which will act as a hub to relax in between games. Finally, each season will further expand the already complex character editor, adding new customization options that can be unlocked in the store thanks to a currency that can be obtained in two ways: by purchasing it through microtransactions or simply by playing and completing contracts, or daily or weekly missions that include objectives. that can be completed during the meetings.

The impressions on the technical side are also positive. For now, we have played on a high-end PC, a configuration that, while preventing us from evaluating its stability on consoles, especially the basic ones (in fact, we are talking about a cross-gen game) does not prevent us from expressing a favorable opinion. Knockout City can count on a colorful, nice and above all functional visual presentation, with well-made models and scenarios and overall a pleasant appearance, never too invasive or excessively flashy, which allows you to focus 100% on the games played. The Velan Studios game also has full support for cross-play and cross-progression: wherever you play it, you can have fun with all your friends and use your account on any platform. On Switch, in particular, the game will offer a performance mode that will allow you to reach 60 FPS (as on all other platforms), and will not require a subscription to Nintendo's online service.

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