You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has never played a game of dodgeball before. One of the time-honored gym class traditions that separated the nerds from the jocks, dodgeball invokes memories of Axe body spray, scraped knees, and getting last week's algebra notes absolutely smacked out of my head. But no amount of suppressed adolescent trauma could stop me from getting excited about Knockout City, the newest multiplayer shooter that trades out pistols and assault rifles for good old rubber balls of pain.
This comes courtesy of Velan Studios, the team responsible for last year's mixed reality racing game Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit on the Nintendo Switch. Published by Electronic Arts under its EA Originals label (the same label that published A Way Out, It Takes Two, and Sea of Solitude), Knockout City hopes its multiplayer offering will be easy enough to pick up and play, while still offering a high skill ceiling for competitive players. It's a sweet spot that many games strive for, but few nail successfully.
So what about Knockout City? After spending a few hours with the game at Knockout City's review event, I'm happy to report that Valen Studios has a standout title on its hands, one that feels great to play and begs to be mastered. Knockout City taps into the multiplayer sweet spot that makes abnormal shooters like Splatoon so addictive, while offering short and sweet skirmishes across inventive maps. It also features cross-play and cross-progression and sidesteps any of the nasty microtransaction business that has become so prevalent in many multiplayer shooters. However, whether Knockout City has the legs to keep the momentum going remains to be seen.
Bottom line: Knockout City is a simple concept that feels great to play, both alone and with friends. It's the kind of live service game you dream of — one that's fun and fair, packed to the gills with unlockables, and thanks to its dedicated team, will only get better over time.
- Cross-play and cross-progression
- Lots of unlockables, with no paywalls in sight
- Fast and furious matches are perfect for quick play sessions.
- Unique multiplayer maps
- Bright and colorful visuals are easy on the eyes
- Lots of planned content in the works
- Lack of variety in current playlists
- In-game models are ugly as sin
- Stable internet connection is a must
Knockout City for PC: Keep it simple, stupid
|Windows 10 (64-bit)/AMD Ryzen 3 1200 / Intel Core i3 6300 Dual Core / 8GB RAM / AMD Radeon HD 7870 / NVIDIA GTX 660
|Up to 8 players
Knockout City exists in a world obsessed with dodgeball, and because there are no weapons in the universe, the only way to settle a score is by tossing those rubber orbs at each other's head. Why is that the case? Why are people obsessed? And what's up with the flying cars, jump pads, and crazy outfits? None of that needs an answer — the only thing that matters is whether you can dodge a ball. Dodgeball is a simple game, and Velan Studios understands this.
Matches in Knockout City aren't full of much filler; you and your team have five minutes to score 10 knockouts before the other team. At the start of each match, you must rush to the dodgeballs littered on the map. Once someone's grabbed a ball, you'll either chuck it at an opponent's head or try to catch it and rally the ball back at them.
Unlike other shooters, putting yourself in the line of fire is beneficial, and this risk and reward keeps the momentum high during matches. The game features a very generous auto-aim that helps you pick off opponents, but those who find themselves on the receiving end of an attack will have their screen filled with a red border that highlights the direction the ball is coming from. You never feel like you're at a disadvantage, even when players are running, jumping, and even gliding all around the map.
This makes Knockout City incredibly accessible, but there's a lot of depth hidden underneath the surface. If you get caught in the sights of another player, for example, you can shoulder tackle them and knock the ball from their hands. If you find yourself without a ball, a teammate can become your ball for an instant KO. Finally, if you're facing a particularly skilled foe, you can add a curve to your throw to catch them off guard.
You'll have plenty of different opportunities to catch players off guard. In addition to the default dodgeball, one of five special balls will be randomly assigned to the map that can really mix up the gameplay. There's a bomb ball with a timer that starts ticking as soon as it's picked up, and a moon ball that sends players flying upon impact. My favorite was the cage ball, which forces players into a ball that can then be chucked at other players or right down a pit.
Respect the drip
The world of Knockout City is vibrant and unique, with a mix of both retro rockabilly fashion and futuristic technology. Nicknamed "Tech Deco" by the studio, the unique flair of the world adds to the character of both your dodgebrawler and the areas you find yourself in. There will be six maps available at launch, each with their own distinct flavor and hazards. One level sees you dodgebrawling between rooftops, while the other has a train that periodically runs through the map, taking out anyone who finds themselves in its way.
The cosmetics also add a lot to the charm of Knockout City. There are a lot of looks and a lot to unlock, with 17 customization slots in the menu, each with a couple of rarity tiers. Everything from taunts to sunglasses and gloves and can be swapped in and out to create your ideal character. You can even take it a step further by creating a Crew, which is Knockout City's clan system. Up to 32 people can join a crew and can complete challenges to expedite XP gain and unlock Crew cosmetics for the whole team.
With all of these cosmetics at your fingers, the first thing you'd probably think is "how much?" but there is a distinct lack in microtransactions that I genuinely adored. Cosmetics are unlocked by leveling up, completing Contracts, or purchasing items with Holobux earned. Now you can buy Holobux with real money to spend in the store, but there's no battle pass to be purchased or item that couldn't otherwise be earned through normal play.
This makes the $20 price tag so much easier to swallow, and an even sweeter deal for those subscribed to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate or EA Play, as they can play the game for free. All of this in addition to cross-play and cross-progression across platforms makes Knockout City an exceptional deal.
Knockout City for PC: Concerns about longevity
While Knockout City definitely impressed me with its gameplay, live service games like this always give me pause. Luckily, Velan Studios laid out extensive launch plans for the coming weeks. In addition to a lengthy season 1 roadmap that features a new map, ranked modes, and new playlists, there are plans to swap playlists in and out every week as well as mid-season events to keep things fresh. It's hard to say how much better or worse the game will get over time — as it stands, the game will launch with three 3v3 playlists and a 1v1 playlist, with a 4v4 playlist launching at the start of the season on May 25.
While I very much enjoyed the typical playlist, I found myself craving more team-based modes and 4v4 playlists that didn't rely solely on a gimmick. The aforementioned 4v4 playlist requires you to use your teammate as a ball when I'd much rather play a normal deathmatch with an additional player. It's not a huge deal now, but I can already see larger parties getting broken up by the playlists available, especially if they're cycled often. It's something that could be adjusted though.
What can't be adjusted are the absolutely horrendous in-game models. Knockout City's art style is somewhat inconsistent. The art used on loading screens and in the menus looks great, but it does not translate at all to the characters themselves. There's really no way to make them look appealing, which is disappointing considering how many cosmetics there are in the game. It's hard to stunt on other players when your character looks like they were grown in a lab.
It's also worth noting that because Knockout City is a multiplayer-only game, a stable internet connection is key, maybe more so than other shooters. One of the core mechanics of the game, the act of actually catching the ball, requires perfect timing. If you're experiencing even a little bit of lag, you're gonna find the experience almost unplayable. This might go without saying, but you'll definitely want to find the most stable connection you can.
Knockout City for PC: Is it worth the download?
Knockout City impressed me with just how much game can be squeezed out of such a simple concept. The game looks, feels, and plays like a labor of love, crafted by dedicated developers who seem like they genuinely care about the product they're crafting. With a free 10-day trial at launch and availability on Xbox Game Pass, I hope that Knockout City can find a dedicated audience and continue to grow. Games as unique and as fun as Knockout City deserve it.
Knockout City is a breath of fresh air in an overcrowded market of looter shooters and free-to-play cash grabs. With polished and accessible gameplay, cross-play and cross-progression, and tons of characters, the world of Knockout City is already one of the best multiplayer games on the PC that can only get better with time.
Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.