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Title: Knockout City
Developer: Velan Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed and played on PS5), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: May 21, 2021
As a former intramural dodgeball star at University of Central Florida (I once led a comeback for my team down 1 against 4), I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Knockout City. But this isn’t just ordinary dodgeball. This is dodgeball amped up, a rather intense, team-based multiplayer take on the childhood (or in my case, collegiate) game.
Knockout City is definitely one of those games that easy to pick up and enjoy competitive multiplayer matches. But there’s a deceptively complex nature to the gameplay that hardcore competitive players will undoubtedly enjoy mastering.
The rules are simple, although they vary based on the rotational game modes that become available. But the gist of it is you and your team must eliminate the opposing team by nailing them with balls that spawn across the map. A player must be hit twice to be “knocked out” and count as a point for your team. But it’s knocked out in the sense that you only score a point, the actual player can respawn.
There are variances of this core Deathmatch mode which add some wrinkles to the game. In Diamond Dash, for instance, you must collect diamonds that are dropped by knocked out enemies (similar to Call of Duty‘s Kill Confirmed). In Ball-Up, you must throw your own teammates to eliminate the opposition.
Because of the auto-targeted aim that automatically locks onto your opponent, Knockout City is less about your accuracy and precision and more about the individual choices you make during a match — specifically in those intense 1v1 duels you’ll often find yourself in mid-match. That’s not to say there is no skill involved in the game. On the contrary, there’s quite a lot of skill expression through your reflexes and strategic tactics. Various ball types and throw styles, dodging versus catching, and using the environment to your advantage are what separates the good versus great players in Knockout City.
To make up for the lack of traditional weapons (ie. guns) in most multiplayer shooters — this is dodgeball, after all — there are differently powered balls. The Bomb Ball is on a timer and detonates, dealing explosive damage to enemies and teammates. The Moon Ball allows the holder to defy gravity and jump higher. The Cage Ball will trap any opponent you hit with it inside of it. All of these different types of balls add an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay.
In addition to the different ball types, there are multiple ways to throw the balls. By pressing and holding certain buttons, you can add some spin or throw a lob, keeping your opponents off balance. There are other useful tricks you can employ, such as rolling up into a ball yourself and having one of your teammates toss you for a big explosion.
One defense, you’ve got multiple maneuvers you can do to dodge throws or knock the ball out of an enemy’s hands. You can dash into an opponent, causing them to drop the ball. You can spin away from their throw. Or if your reflexes are good enough, you can actually time their throw to catch the ball and fire it back at them. Catching the ball requires a bit of timing but I was surprised at how easy it was to pull off.
What I love about Knockout City is how easy it is to just jump into and have fun. Learning the basics, and even the more complicated moves, doesn’t take very long at all. After just a few matches, I found myself able to pull off some pretty wild throws and dodges. Some of the greatest moments were mid-match 1v1 showdowns in which me and an enemy teammate would go back and forth throwing the ball at each other. These duels would sometimes go for multiple throws and felt like a test of skill.
Part of what makes Knockout City so approachable is its art style and tone. The cartoon-ish graphics, the vibrant and colorful cityscapes, the fast-paced jazz-inspired music, the excitable live commentary by the in-game DJ, and the eclectic customization — it’s basically like a big party. It’s got wide-range appeal.
Map design is another area where Knockout City shines. Each map feels different and unique (but also part of this wild universe), and there’s usually some sort of environmental wrinkle or gimmick that offers a twist on your gameplay. The maps are fairly small but even so it’s sometimes hard to find other players with the team sizes so small. There’s also a good amount of verticality so you can sneak up on enemies and nail them from above without them seeing you.
As is the case with most online multiplayer games these days, there’s an in-game store where you can purchase cosmetics. And the game is consistently updated with themed events that usually come with their own special cosmetics that you can earn by completing associated Contracts (challenges). Think of it as a Battle Pass but less predatory.
If there is one area of improvement to be made, it’s the matchmaking. I was often dropped into matches where players had rage quit mid-game because they were losing. And with how long it would sometimes take to find a match, throwing me into one where it was such a lop-sided defeat already in progress was quite frustrating.
I’d also like to see some improvement with the user interface and menu navigation. It just feels clunky and obtuse. And I’d like to be able to access my character customization or in-game store while matchmaking as well.
Knockout City is definitely one of the more interesting competitive multiplayer games to release this year. The premise alone helps it stand apart from a very crowded genre. I don’t know if it’ll ever have the mass appeal of a traditional shooter, but I could see it having a very dedicated core fanbase and potentially offering some sort of esport allure.
There’s great potential to be had here, but Knockout City will need consistent updates and events to maintain the allure and keep players engaged. Keeping up with the likes of Fortnite, Overwatch or other blockbuster multiplayer games could be difficult (but not impossible) to do as a budget-friendly title.
Velan Studios Approachable, but surprisingly deep, Knockout City is one of 2021’s biggest surprises and a refreshing take on the team-based competitive multiplayer genre.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our?Review Policy.