When you step on the court for a game of dodgeball you will be filled with either excitement or fear, depending on where you stood in the pecking order of the sports class. The same goes for multiplayer shooters, as poorly made games deliver party or starvation results depending on ability. Knockout City masterfully combines the best of dodgeball and multiplayer shooters to create an experience that is hectic, fun, and welcoming for players of all skill levels.
Taking part in a match is hardly intimidating thanks to the optimized gameplay of Knockout City. All you need to know to start with is that you will find a ball on the map and then find someone to throw it at. The game automatically binds to targets so it’s less about how elitist your target is and more about how you approach each rubber ball gunfight. Once you understand the basics, you can learn different types of trick shots, how to use the various specialty balls, and how to master the timing of catching incoming balls. These games are going fast. So knowing exactly when you are being targeted (as indicated by a red outline on your screen) and learning how to read when balls are coming your way will make the most of the improvement.
As I learned to contextualize the plot and string effective games together, the excitement rose. In a chaotic sequence, I was at a two-on-one disadvantage and both opponents had a ball. By the time the first shot at me, I had my catch perfectly matched, which immediately gave me a preloaded throw so that I could hit it at full speed Throwers could shoot back before they knew what was hitting them and take them out. Then I ran to avoid the second incoming throw, grabbed another ball nearby, and made a twisting motion to curve my throw, wrap it around a rod, and hit the second opponent from an unexpected angle. Moments like these, switching from one satisfying move to the next, are extremely rewarding and make you feel like a dodgeball master.
Despite moments like this, you will be split into two teams of three in all modes (with the exception of the tense one-on-one face-off mode). Teams do more than just chances, however, as you can interact with your teammates to carry out stronger attacks. Balls get a charge instantly when you pass them on to a teammate, so your friends can instantly fire them at full speed to deliver the final blow to an enemy player. Players can even transform themselves into a ball so teammates can pick up each other and throw at enemies, or perform an Ultimate Attack that turns the held teammate into a bomb that explodes the area of effect on certain players.
Knockout City’s five maps are fun playgrounds full of focused battlefields, naturally flowing alleyways, and unique obstacles. I liked the rotating center structure of the Galaxy Burger card while the skyscrapers across from Rooftop Rumble create an intriguing dynamic with the two teams. The maps are also well filled with balls, which means you rarely have trouble finding something that will fire your opponent’s path.
Scattered through traditional matches are special balls that enlarge your dodgeballs so they explode, gain additional distance and speed, and move with lunar-like gravity. These power-ups are rare in most modes, but they are the focus of the over-the-top party team KO, where all standard balls are replaced with special balls. These games are exciting and unpredictable, but the mayhem can be a little too big at times, and during a typical gaming session I would go back to the standard team KO after a few party games.
Every action you take counts towards a number of goals listed in the menu. These goals range from knockouts with a certain type of throw to helping your teammates in a variety of ways. As you complete goals and level up, you’ll receive cosmetic rewards and holobux that can be exchanged for rewards such as new outfits, emotes, and gliders. Luckily, all upgrades are cosmetic, which means that nobody gets a competitive advantage from unlocking them.
Outside of approachable gameplay, the fact that the title supports cross-play and cross-progression is perhaps the greatest boon to making sure everyone can enjoy Knockout City together. I was able to celebrate PC gamers without any problems while playing on my Xbox. I still had to find the player’s name in-game, but the intuitive social menu makes connecting with friends and current players a breeze. You can also join a Crew, a unique twist on the traditional clan system that allows you to further customize your character with a logo, a vehicle to participate in the game, and much more. You will also earn additional rewards and experience for playing with your crewmates.
Unfortunately, Knockout City is missing important content at launch. The game contains four basic modes and only five maps. Developer Velan Studios has ambitious post-launch life plans, including new maps, modes, and playlists, but that’s all still in the pipeline. The existing content is strong, but after a few hours I got tired of what was originally on offer.
Aside from content-related concerns, Knockout City has an excellent base to build on. With gameplay that helps you get started and then encourages you to experiment with these mechanics to improve your mastery, Knockout City offers a refreshing take on both the multiplayer shooter and the classic dodgeball game.