Are you ready to enter the realm of competitive digital dodgeball?
Knockout City takes place in a universe where guns were never invented. And so to settle disputes, dodgeball battles are in order. The developer, Velan Studios, states that no one gets hurt in these battles, but after spending some time with the game, knocking my opponents off of high rise buildings and blowing them up with explosive balls, I beg to differ.
An online multiplayer game, Knockout City is the type of thing that’s easy to get into but hard to master. At a basic level, it puts two teams of three players against other. Their aim is to throw balls at their opponents and hit them. The first team to score ten points wins the round. The first team to win two rounds wins the match.
Of course, there are numerous aspects that serve to give the gameplay more complexity, variety and depth. The most important being that with the correct timing, players can catch any balls heading their way. Become proficient at catching the ball, which is achieved by pressing the left trigger just as it’s about to hit you, and your team’s chances of victory will undoubtedly improve.
In some cases, however, catching a ball is tough. Those throwing a ball can make use of a couple of manoeuvres to curve its trajectory around or over objects. They can also fake throwing a ball, perhaps fooling their target into trying to catch it. That then leaves their target wide open for an actual ball to be thrown at them.
Another layer of complexity is that there are sometimes special balls littered around the dodgeball arena. A multi ball can be thrown three times, for example, while a moon ball allows its owner to jump like they’re on the moon and makes its victims defy gravity. There’s also the aforementioned explosive ball; effectively a ticking time bomb. You don’t want to be the one holding it when it explodes.
Balls are limited in each area, so at the start of each match there’s often a mad rush to secure them. Though providing a teammate is near, there’s always an opportunity to attack. By holding a button, a player can instantly turn into a ball themselves, allowing a teammate to pick them up and use them as a weapon. If they charge up their throw, the human ball can even target their opponents while in the air, crashing forcefully down on the ground.
Normal balls can be charged too, as well as special balls, making assaults with them even more lethal. There are also numerous charge levels, with passing the ball between teammates, and catching balls thrown at you by opponents with perfect timing contributing to overcharge. Needless to say, skilled players who take the time to master Knockout City‘s mechanics will be able to run rings around unprepared amateurs.
There are some additional gameplay mechanics too, such as each player’s ability to tackle. It can be used to deliver a mighty thwack to opponents, knocking them back and making them drop a ball if they’re carrying one. It can also be used to dodge out of the way of an incoming ball or, if timed correctly, head straight at one to knock it out of the air. Each of the five maps available at launch also has its own gimmick, from air gusts that allow players to travel further with their parachutes that they always have handy, to Sonic-esque tubes that transport them from one place on the map to another.
The action in Knockout City is fun, fast and unpredictable. A match can be going your way, only to be quickly turned around if your opponents suddenly find a groove, start catching balls and landing hits. The easy to pick up but hard to master gameplay draws you in, and as your skills improve there’s a rewarding sense of progression. There are some frustrations that players might encounter, however.
For a start, teamwork is key in Knockout City. Play it with friends and you’ll have a great time, but with random strangers your experience might be hit and miss. The gameplay can also get quite messy in close quarters, with players tackling each other and attempting to collect and throw balls resulting in unflattering chaos.
One of the game’s match types at launch, Party Team KO, can also prove to be less fun to play. It switches out all of the balls on the map for special balls, and if they’re all of the same type, specifically steel cage balls that trap those hit with them in ball form for a short while, it can lead to drawn-out battles that get repetitive fast. You’ve got to either pick them up then throw them off the map to score, or hit an opponent with a player in ball form, and you don’t get much time.
In addition to the standard match type, Team KO, and Party Team KO, there’s One on One, which allows for tense battles where individual skill really comes into play. There’s also Diamond Dash, where players are required to collect Diamonds dropped by their opponents in order to win. They can also pick up the diamonds dropped by their teammates, denying the opposition of valuable points. Velan Studios is also promising more match types, maps, and special balls after launch, delivered as the game moves from season to season.
As you’d expect, Knockout City has a progression system which rewards players with all manner of cosmetics to personalise their dodgeballing avatar and profile. There’s a huge number of challenges to complete too, which award large sums of experience when completed. And those who want to get the most out of Knockout City would be wise to create or join a crew, which allows them to more easily team up with others and earn crew exclusive rewards.
Knockout City has surprised me. It has all the ingredients of a successful multiplayer game: an enjoyable core gameplay mechanic, a high skill ceiling, and the promise of continuous and meaningful support. It’s the type of game I could easily see becoming a popular esport. If you’re after a new competitive online game to play that’s fun and rewards teamwork, be sure to give it a try. If you’re an EA Play or Game Pass Ultimate subscriber, you don’t even need to pay anything for it. Velan Studios has taken the simple concept of dodgeball and turned into one of the most original and enjoyable multiplayer games I’ve played in quite a while.
Knockout City Review: GameSpew’s Score