The recently revealed Knockout City is a project four years in the making from Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit developer Velan Studios. This multiplayer action game relies on the fundamental mechanics of a third-person shooter, but instead of slinging bullets, you're hurtling dodgeballs to try and knock your opponents to the ground. It's a project that is so uniquely ambitious that the developers had to build their own engine and scripting language just to ensure that its mechanics would be functional within an online space. It may not be out until this May, but fortunately, we were recently invited to access a short hands-on demo.
I can't say that I have ever played an online dodgeball game before, but I found Knockout City to be largely accessible, as it handles for the most part like your typical third-person shooter. By clicking the left mouse button, players can throw the ball towards their opponents and the longer they hold onto the ball the more aggressive it is thrown. The right mouse button is used to catch the ball, and each subsequent catch causes the ball to move at a faster pace until eventually a player is finally knocked towards the ground.
Things are certainly easy to grasp, but that doesn't mean there isn't depth lurking beneath the surface. Skilled players can play mind games by pretending to throw the ball and this can lure their opponents into a vulnerable position if they try and catch too early. There's also hook shots that can be performed to hit a target when they are behind obstacles. Then there's the dash mechanic. By dashing, players can charge into a rival and knock the ball out of their hand, and they can also veer out of the path of an incoming ball if timed correctly.
Teamwork is vital in Knockout City if you want to get ahead of the competition. Sometimes it's much wiser to pass the ball to a teammate closer to a target than it is trying to take aim from a greater distance. It might be tempting to brave it alone and try and rack up as many KOs as possible, but utilising the others around you almost always proved to be a much stronger strategy. It's also important to stick together in numbers, as if you venture out alone, you can find yourself overwhelmed by the onslaught of several opponents.
Within the demo, I had access to three of the five maps that will be available at launch and these were: Concussion Yard, Rooftop Rumble, and Knockout Roundabout. Something I liked about each of these maps was how different they felt from a design perspective and how each introduced their own set of environmental hazards. In Concussion Yard, there's a giant wrecking ball swinging its way across the map, and in Knockout Roundabout, there's oncoming traffic that can plow into you and send the ball flying out of your hands.
We were also able to get our hands on three special kinds of balls. These only spawn on one specific part of the map and they can absolutely devastate your opponents if you are able to land a hit. One that we encountered was a bomb that started ticking once picked it up and another imprisoned our rivals inside a metallic ball. At launch, there will be six different types of these balls, and I was told within a presentation I attended that new ball types and maps will be steadily introduced through new seasons every nine weeks.
Within the demo, I was able to sample three different modes: Diamond Dash, Team KO, and Ball-Up Brawl. Diamond Dash, the first mode that I was able to try out, tasked each team with being the first to gather 30 diamonds. Here three diamonds are released by a player when they are knocked out and you only earn points by collecting those that have fallen from the opposing team. What I liked about this mode is that even if your opponent is able to defeat your teammates it still doesn't mean they will get rewarded for it. If you're quick and vigilant, you can scoop up the diamonds from your fallen teammate so they receive nothing. You do have to be careful here though, as it can be all too easy to be struck with a dodgeball to the back of head whilst you're distracted and scrambling around to scoop them up.
Ball-Up Brawl is currently the frontrunner for the most wacky and unique mode of the bunch. Here there are no dodgeballs present and you have to roll your teammates up into a ball to sling them at your rivals. Transforming into a ball is fun, but you have to be careful, as if you do it too close to a rival you could be scooped up and thrown off a cliff. There's also what is known as an Ultimate Throw here. If your teammate fully charges you up then you can morph into a bomb and come crashing down like an airstrike to deliver an instant KO.
The last of these three modes sadly felt a little bland by comparison. Team KO simply sees you fight to be the first team to reach 10 KOs, and that's pretty much it. There's nothing particularly wrong with this mode, as it of course still features the same addictive action at heart, but there just isn't a distinguishing hook present like there is within the other two. Still, whilst it's not my favourite, I can see why some might gravitate towards Team KO, as it's the Knockout City's action distilled into its simplest form without any other gimmicks.
Outside of matches, players can completely personalise the look of their sporting hero by purchasing cosmetics with the in-game currency that they earn. There's 100s of different cosmetics here, and along with shaping their appearance, players can even customise things such as visual taunts and the look of their hang glider. Refreshingly, Knockout City doesn't feature any loot boxes and microtransactions when it comes to cosmetics and everything in the game can be unlocked through progression. This is something I certainly appreciate, as it can be pretty off putting to be harassed constantly to spend money in-game.
With its straightforward control scheme, refreshing concept, and consumer-friendly approach, I can certainly see Knockout City taking off to be one of the first big multiplayer hits of 2021. Its multiplayer action is entertaining and it manages to strike a perfect balance of feeling accessible, whilst also being engaging and in-depth. Of the modes I was able to sample, both Diamond Dash and Ball-Up Brawl provided fun twists on the core formula and I'm excited to see what the other three modes at launch have in store. Be sure to head back for our full thoughts when Knockout City launches May 21, 2021 on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series.
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