Knockout City Cross-Play Beta Impressions: High Octane Dodgeball Fun
Last week I wrote an article about Knockout City and how it looked like an amazing game that had the potential to become part of the esport family. After playing the Cross-Play beta for 14 hours. I can safely say that this game has exceeded my expectations and swiftly became my favorite game in the short span of two days. With that, I think I should elaborate on how Knockout City played, my first impressions of it, and judge its potential to become an esport.
I jumped right into Knockout City not knowing what to expect, and after playing the five tutorials the game gives you, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t expect the game to be as complex as it is. The control scheme may come off as weird at first, but it’s intuitive enough to pick up on pretty quickly.
Movement is similar to your usual 3D platformer game, with your character having a double jump, but that’s where the similarities end. I played on keyboard and mouse, but the controller layout is also easy to grasp as well. Your double jump is not bound to hitting the spacebar twice. That’s where your glider comes from, which is used in a couple of levels as means of transportation. Your double jump is bound to Q and E. Q makes you do a flip, and E makes your character spin.
While this seems like a weird place to put your jump button, let alone your character’s second jump button, it makes sense. The two jump buttons are not just used for jumping, but they are also used for throwing the ball in different ways. You can throw your ball regularly, but if you press one of the buttons to spin or flip as you throw, you can also curve your ball, making you able to send your ball around walls to enemies you cannot see, as well as lob it in the air, making your ball fly up and then down on top of the enemy. These are important as they can give you the ability to hit enemies who might be in spots a regular throw can’t reach. And this is a core mechanic in the game; without it, you will have a hard time competing with the other players.
Catching the ball is an option as well. When an enemy throws the ball at you, you have a short window to right-click and catch the ball, while doing it with perfect timing causes a perfect catch. This adds what is called “overcharge” to the ball, as you normally can charge your shots up to throw the ball at varying speeds. Overcharge is faster than a regular charged ball and can be stacked up to 6 times if both you and your opponent are skilled enough at catching. But the overcharge does wear off, so wasting time to put yourself in an advantageous position puts you at the risk of losing that extra speed on the ball.
Aiming is not much of an issue in the game. You can free aim to hit shots on the enemy, while getting close enough allows for a lock on to whoever you’re trying to hit. This form of “auto-aiming” may seem like the game is too easy, but the real challenge lies in how you throw the ball and how you respond to getting the ball thrown back at you. There are multiple ways to stop yourself from getting hit aside from catching. One such way is to dash, which is used to not only jolt in one direction to escape an incoming attack, but also to deflect a hit, as dashing into an oncoming dodgeball will knock it out of the way, leaving you unscathed. Dashing can also be used to “tackle” enemies, knocking them back and forcing them to drop whatever ball they’re holding, giving you a fair fight in tight corner situations.
Ball Form & Special Balls
Another very useful gameplay mechanic is the “Ball form,” which allows you or a teammate to curl up into a ball. This makes one player able to throw another player into the enemy, which is a 100% confirmed knockout in the game. And while that sounds overpowered, it is perfectly balanced. As fights are normally three versus three, a team intentionally puts itself at a disadvantage by effectively trading one player for a more powerful attack. The opposing team can also catch the ball form teammate, trapping them in the enemy’s clutches until the ball form player presses space 12 times. However, if the enemy team is skilled enough, this can prove to be a fatal mistake.
You also cannot fully charge-throw a ball form teammate. Doing so will turn the teammate into a bomb, which will be sent high into the air, where the ball form player can move around to choose their landing spot. If other enemies are in the area of effect, that also counts as an instant knockout. However, the downside is that any miss will result in either your teammate being too far away or surrounded by the opposing players all by themselves.
Each map has a rotating special ball as well; in the beta, there were four, with a fifth one planned on release. Those are:
The Moon Ball: Increases your jump height; hitting an enemy causes large vertical knockback. Knocking out an enemy causes their ragdoll to float away without gravity.
The Sniper Ball: Cannot be lobbed or curved, allows for long-range attacks at full charge; extremely fast but can be caught with proper timing; any lower than full charge will cause the ball to move very slowly towards the target.
The Cage Ball: Forces a player hit by it into ball form for a set amount of time; they can roll away but are unable to escape; can also be used to throw enemies out of bounds for an easy knockout.
The Bomb Ball: Picking the Bomb Ball up will start a timer, which counts down till detonation. Hitting an enemy will trigger the detonation; anyone caught in the blast will get counted as a hit.
Moreover, there were three game modes included in the game as well.
3v3 Team Knockout: Go head-to-head with two other teammates against another team of 3; 10 knockouts wins a round, win two out of three to win the match.
1v1 Face-off: Go against one other player in a raw dodgeball-only match. A ring closes in on which hurts you if you stand inside. Knocking someone out resets the ring; get three knockouts to win a round; best two out of three wins the match.
Diamond Dash: Two teams of three grab diamonds of knocked-out players. Getting a ball form knockout makes the enemy drop more diamonds, collect enough diamonds to win a round, best two out of three wins.
Alongside the three game modes, there were private matches if you had a group of 6 who could play against you. But the gameplay was not the only shining achievement of Knockout City’s beta. There was more.
Customization and Leveling Up
This game allows you to dress your character up in whatever they want, with cosmetics not locked to specific body types. Players were free to go wild and make their character look like whatever they wanted. The game also started me off with some Holobucks and Style Chips, and while some of my friends I had played with didn’t receive them, I was lucky enough to.
The Holobucks are earned by leveling up, as the game’s leveling system functions like a regular battle pass, each level nets you a new cosmetic, EXP item, or some Holobucks to spend in the Brawler Shop. This might seem bad at first, but the game’s announcer and Pirate Radio DJ state multiple times throughout the introduction to the shop that no cosmetics have a distinct advantage. Through leveling up, you’ll unlock all cosmetics without having to spend money in the game.
Since Velan Studios is working with EA as a partner, their saving grace to EA’s business tactics is the EA Original’s branding. As Velan Studios makes their game under EA Originals, they have full creative control over their product, allowing them to choose their monetization brand.
As for actual customizations, they can range from faces, hair, glasses, hats, clothes, shoes, gloves, holograms for your ultimate throw, back icon, and even emotes and intro animations. The customization options for Knockout City are superb and extremely varied, even if they’re preset designs.
As for leveling up, it’s extremely easy to level up. While you net a small amount of EXP from playing matches, there are rotating challenges and milestone rewards for anything from hitting a player with a ball form throw or catching a specific number of dodgeballs. The XP given right from the start can boost you to Level 5 if you participate in the tutorial levels, which are open playgrounds for you to play in with demonstrations of the game’s mechanics. As for the challenges, they can net you from around 1000XP, which is 95% of a whole level in the early games, so completing a match and a challenge can net you one whole level per game. As for the milestones, they’re worth 2000XP, which, when completed, can net you anywhere from 1-2 level-ups in a single match. Even so, Knockout City’s Street Rank system, which is their take on a free battle pass that nets cosmetics, offer XP boosters so that you can level up quicker for a set amount of time. In the beta, they took the form of energy drinks, named “Dizzy Fizzy” and “Grenade-ade” each one gave you an extra 500% XP boost based on every hit you made with a specific throw. With Dizzy Fizzy being for Curveballs, and Grenade-ade being for Lob throws.
Potential for Esports
I think that Knockout City is a perfect game for Esports. Playing it myself and getting into matches showed me the core concept behind the game is not only a breath of fresh air, but it’s easy to learn too. Coupled with being a hard to master game that focuses on teamwork and cooperation, this gives it a lot of potential to be an esport. While games like Overwatch and Call of Duty have metas for characters and loadouts, Knockout City’s Meta is focused heavily on teamwork and reflexes. During my 14 hours of playing the beta, I remember that a lot of games could’ve been completely changed had the players I was playing with or the enemy team opted to either stick together or balled up to take us down. I remember being in a fight with another player where I was unarmed, and a friend could have saved me but instead opted to run away to find someone else to fight. But I also remember playing with a group of 3 where one other player and I took out a whole team armed to the teeth by throwing each other at them. We had won multiple games in a row purely by working together, and it got to the point where we were being matched with equally skilled players and the games we played became nail-biting, battles down to the last Knockout.
While the gameplay is simple to understand, playing against someone of an equal skill level made every win we scraped by with feel all the more satisfying. Every moment with that group of three felt like we were working together like a machine. It was exciting, and I think that with the right game modes, such as the just-announced Ball-up Brawl, where the maps contain no dodgeballs and the teams must use each other, is a perfect introduction to competitive play.
Velan has been very open to the idea of Knockout City not only being a casual game, but a competitive one, with the introduction of League Play in the full game. I wholeheartedly believe that we will see Knockout City in the esport limelight in some aspect in the future.
Velan’s Transparency and What to Expect for Launch
Velan Studios has been extremely upfront in what to expect for the game’s release, a handful of information can be found on their Discord server. As well as a community to find friends to squad up with when the game launches. They’ve also taken to the internet to discuss the game and any concerns players might have for the game’s release on Reddit.
If you’re worried that the game will include microtransactions, Velan has stated that the game is going to be 20 dollars at the door. All cosmetics and Holobucks will be gained through leveling up, but the option to pay for Holobucks will remain in the game.
For those who think that game is not worth the 20 dollars but still want to try it, Velan revealed that at release, the game will have a free trial, to entice people to check the game out and give it a shot before deciding on purchasing the game.
The game will also be updated constantly, with seasons continue for 9 weeks, and at the turn of every season, the game will get new cosmetics, maps, and more for you and your teammates to play!
If you fear that the game will have long queue times at launch, Velan has also opted to make the game cross-platform to help alleviate that. As the mechanics don’t give players on different consoles an advantage by using keyboard and mouse, the game will feel balanced and fair for everyone else. Counting the free trial at launch, the game will be sure to have low waits for matches and bring in new players constantly.
Knockout City has proven itself to be one of the more innovative games on the market at the moment. I know for a fact that I’m going to be putting the money in for this game, and I hope that you’ll at least give the game a shot by the time the free trial happens for launch.