Rugby, but with cars.
I’ve been trying to decide whether I think Spike Rush is better than Rocket League’s base mode. When I’m shown it at E3, the Psyonix devs in attendance casually introduce it as a component part of their ongoing Radical Summer event. It comes alongside a neon swathe of ’80s nostalgia-inducing cosmetics (from Ultimate Warrior decals to ET-themed wheels to a drivable KITT from Knight Rider), and another mode, Beach Ball. None of that is as good as Spike Rush.
The (very good) pitch I’m given is that if regular Rocket League is soccer with cars, Spike Rush is rugby with cars. Arriving for free on July 1, the mode’s fairly simple. There are still three cars on each side, and each is trying to get a big ball into the opponents’ goal, earning a point every time they do.
Only a few things have been added: every player now near-constantly has the existing spikes power-up activated, which attaches the ball to your car when touched. If you’re attached to the ball, touching any opposing player results in an instant Demolition. However, you can detach the ball by pressing L3 (which can be remapped if you, like me, have a tendency to click the sticks in moments of excitement). That’s basically it.
Those little changes result in a mode that totally changes the fabric of the base game. For a start, with the ball, you no longer want to play like this is a contact sport. Instead, you’re incentivised to weave, juke and jump over opponent cars, lending a theatrical flair to trips across the arena. At a high level, this encourages some wonderful tricks, like detaching the ball just as a rival car comes in for the kill, drifting around them as it soars above their head and reattaching on the other side with a clear view of goal.
I saw the developers using the ball like a pole vault, rolling onto it as dropped to get an unexpected extra bounce. You can ride above goal and just drop the ball for teammates, or whip it across the arena as a pass. The ball carrier can’t boost, so you can even build a nitro-powered conga line of teammates smashing into one another to offer a bit of extra speed.
On the defensive side, you’re suddenly more worried about intercepting other cars than the ball, with defensive formations now something more akin to a horror maze, explosively blind-siding ball-carrying players when they least expect it. Performing a demolition almost always sees you emerge from the explosion with the ball attached to you instead, meaning there’s a nice risk-reward to charging off the goal line to meet an attacker, rather than waiting and hoping to make a standard save.
It’s a beautifully crafted little idea and by far my favourite experiment with the years-old Rocket League formula – so much so I very nearly missed my next E3 appointment because I wanted to squeeze in another round.
So, is it better than base Rocket League? In terms of base accessibility, probably not. There are a few more wrinkles involved in getting used to the mode than many players will like – “drive ball into goal” is still an irresistibly simple idea. But do I like Spike Rush more? Given by how much I want July 1 to come around, I think I just might end up feeling that way.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK Deputy Editor, and the appointment he nearly missed was Cyberpunk 2077, so you know he’s serious about this. Follow him on Twitter.