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Geek Review: Knockout City

With a neon Fortnite-esque art style and Splatoon-ish colours, Knockout City combines the right aesthetics with an easy-to-pick-up formula to become the next big multiplayer team game, if that is even a possibility. Like Fortnite, it’s a game that’s truly cross platform, bringing together players from across PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, and PS5 and Xbox Series X and S owners are also able to join in the fun with backwards compatibility.

Gameplay is simple – think dodgeball with over-the-top acrobatics, add a variety of balls with special effects, played across dynamic maps each with their own unique elements, and you have a recipe for endless fun.

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In each game, every player has two “strikes” before they are knocked out and have to respawn. Every knockout gives your team a point, and in the traditional Team KO mode, the team that scores 10 knockouts first wins the round, in a best of three rounds format. To keep things fresh, there are many fun, recognizable game modes blended into the dodgeball formula such as Team KO (TDM game mode), Diamond Dash (Kill Confirmed), Face Off! (1v1) as well as innovative modes such as the highly chaotic Ball-Up mode where balls don’t spawn, and you can only throw your teammates. More on this later.

Progression comes in the form of levelling up, unlocking cool (albeit sometimes campy) cosmetic items to customize your brawler. It’s important to note that these functions are purely cosmetic with no gameplay advantage, such as new outfits for your character, colourful taunts and MVP animations when you win a game, making Knockout City a game where skill truly matters. 

The controls are simple to pick up, you walk over a ball to pick it up, and hold down the right trigger to lock the ball on an enemy and charge a throw, releasing it to throw. A more you charge a throw, the faster it flies. Pressing the left trigger allows you to catch an incoming ball within a small window of time, allowing you to return the ball with extreme prejudice. You can pass the ball to a teammate, which also charges the ball, making quick passes between teammates an efficient way to prepare charged balls quickly. You can also jump to get to higher vantage points and hitting it twice lets you glide for a bit much like in Fortnite

Beyond the basics is where the fun begins. You can dodge balls by dashing, and this also doubles up as a tackle when you hit a player, knocking their precious ball out of their hands and dazing them for a bit. One button lets you spin, while another makes your character flip, allowing you some maneuverability in the air, while doing so before you throw also allows you to do the harder-to-predict Curve Throw or Lob Throw respectively. You can also do fake throws, allowing you to bait an attempt to catch from your opponent while opening them up to a follow up strikes. 

Aside from the basic dodgeball, there are also a wide variety of unique balls that spawn throughout the map that make gameplay lively. From the gravity-defying Moon Ball to the anxiety-inducing, time-ticking Bomb Ball, there are six dynamic spheres you’ll have to master. Velan Studios have also added a training area in your player’s Hideout, for you and your crew to practise moves and throw balls at a dummy and also serves as a mini social hub for your crew to hang out.

After a quick set of tutorials, you’ll match up against other solo newbies getting familiar with the game in Team KO 3v3 matches. Each of the five map layouts is simple but include their own interesting elements that help keep matches dynamic, such as jump pads, endless fall pits, busy highways and giant swinging wrecking balls. The UI is clear and intuitive, which goes a long way in helping new players focus on the action with minimal distractions. There are indicators at the edges of your screen that highlight when an opponent is targeting you, as well as teammates silhouettes through walls for you to know where they are. Landing your first shots and KOs on opponents is a highly cathartic experience, letting you fill that competitive itch.

As you start levelling up, you’ll start to match up against Crews, clubs of friends in Knockout City. Playing against your first Crew of experienced players will quickly give you a sense of how high the skill cap is in the game. Truly coordinated crews mix in simple tricks such as quick passes between each player to more complicated combos such as performing a Ball-Up, where a teammate rolls up into a ball and another throws him at opponents with reckless abandon. 

Each match starts the same way, with both sides spawning across the map from each other, and each player scrambles towards ball spawns at fixed locations on every map. It will often feel like there are always fewer balls spawned than players in the match to keep things from getting too chaotic and spammy. As both teams converge, teamwork and communication is key to winning, as it’s easier to hit players and score knockouts when you gang up and attack a single opponent with an onslaught of balls. It will require lots of practice to properly time counters when three balls are coming at you at breakneck speeds from different directions. Group movements and target callouts are essential, and you will never want to find yourself separated from your team with multiple opponents charging throws at you.

Like most multiplayer-only titles, Knockout City doesn’t include a story mode. It actually offers no explanation as to why our characters are playing dodgeball with reckless abandon and no context to the setting. There are no NPC characters, but the player models are incredibly vibrant and offer a great degree of personalization with the wide array of earnable cosmetics that you can get from levelling up your Street Rank or purchasing with earnable in-game currency or microtransactions.

Velan Studios have created a unique and balanced gameplay formula that is simple yet fun for casual and competitive players alike. It’s an impressive undertaking because Knockout City is their second project that they have developed wholly themselves as a new developer, after Mario Kart: Live.

The game’s simple to learn, difficult (but highly fulfilling) to master formula is truly what makes Knockout City stand out. Its simplicity is also its strength allowing players to focus on the action, and there is a lot of it. Many games like Rocket League and Arms have followed this formula and found niche esports success, and grown their own dedicated fanbases. Combined with the support of EA and dedication of Velan Studios, with its cross-platform playability, Knockout City has enough room for players to showcase their skill and develop their own unique playstyles, giving it potential in becoming the next big esports title. 

Right now, it’s also free to play until you hit Street Rank 25, so you can easily jump in with a few friends to try it out for yourself!

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

A simple, chaotic multiplayer game, Knockout City shows great promise as an esports title.

Overall
7.8/10
7.8/10
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Story - 6/10
    6/10
  • Presentation - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 8/10
    8/10


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