Dodgeball probably wouldn’t make a great game by itself, so what if you swap to larger arenas and add a range of funky balls, skills and abilities to make for some intense, crazy team-based action? Well that’s when you get Knockout City, and it’s extremely good fun.
The concept is easy enough – run around in a small team, grab a ball and fling it at the opposing team’s players. Once a player gets hit twice they’re knocked out and head back to a team base area, ready to start the carnage again. Simple right? Well, the fun is in the details. Every round offers up a special kind of ball that you’ll find dotted around the map. This might be a timed explosive ball, the moon ball that makes the holder leap higher, or one of many other game-changing options. Finding these balls can make a huge difference, giving you a tactical edge as you hunt down the opposition, and yet it doesn’t matter which ball you have if you telegraph your throw and open yourself up for a devastating counter throw.
Chucking a ball isn’t just jabbing a button and hoping for the best. Balls lock onto the nearest target automatically, but from there you can adjust the throwing speed, curve shots (including some incredibly satisfying throws round corners) or lob them with some devious topspin to take them up and over obstacles. Each type of shot, with the range of trajectory and speed, means it’s potentially tricky for the opponent to second guess what you’re going to do, and while you can catch an incoming ball (in fact, it’s heavily encouraged to try) pressing the catch button stops you from trying to catch again for a second or two. As such if you mistime your attempted catch you can expect a ball to the face and potentially, the shame of getting knocked out and sent back to square one. So face-offs become like dances with two players facing off against each other trying to mix up their throws, drop fake throws and curve balls in the hope of catching out their opponent. Every catch powers up the ball to allow you to throw it back even faster, making the timing even harder, and that’s without even worrying about another player rocking up and smacking you in the back of the head while you’re focused on what’s in front of you.
As if the chaos isn’t already at the max level, players can curl themselves up into a ball and get picked up and thrown by their teammates, including a super-throw which turns you into a human mortar flung across the arena to try and cause as much damage as possible. There is a bit of a downside to this – if the opponent grabs you then you’re letting yourself in for being chucked off a very tall building – but when there aren’t any balls around to grab it’s a useful tactic to have up your sleeve.
The visuals are pretty obvious in terms of their style, the cartoony settings and characters being a wonderful fit for the game itself, but it’s the sound design that really pops and makes Knockout City stand out in a very crowded PvP market. The impending swoosh of a ball headed your way helps in the timing of your catches and dodges, the various announcements throughout the game crop up at genuinely useful times and don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with them, and the music choice works well with the high intensity action. But it’s the sound of a standard ball hitting you, that plastic-football-on-face sound from your childhood, that is the absolute trademark of the game. It’s an incredibly satisfying noise when you’re winning the points for it, and the fast and frantic choke points where six players are all flinging things at each other to the echoes of the balls pinging off their targets… it’s a really great bit of audio work.
With a new season coming up soon and the promise of new game modes, new special balls and new maps to try out, it’s clear that EA are planning on keeping Knockout City up and running for quite some time. The new stuff will be a welcome addition, the starter set of gameplay options are starting to wear a little thin after all, but if you’re after a fast and extremely fun multiplayer game (cross-platform at that) that takes you away from the usual shooters or battle royale games, this should already be downloading.
Reviewed on PS5
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