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Rocket Arena is basically Rocket Jump: The Game, and it's more fun than it has any right to be

Some 23 years ago, a Quake player inspired by a Doom speedrunning technique decided to fire a rocket at their feet. Instead of killing them, this sent them, well, rocketing upward. And thus, rocket jumping was born and competitive first-person shooters were changed forever. Since Quake, rocket jumping and its sister techniques have been a major part of countless shooters in some way or another, from grenade bunny hopping to rocket riding. That said, I've never seen a shooter commit to the idea quite like Rocket Arena, a free-to-play 3v3 hero shooter from Final Strike Games and Nexon. For all intents and purposes, Rocket Arena is Rocket Jump: But A Whole Game - and as I learned at a recent pre-E3 demo, it's heaps of fun.

Every gun in Rocket Arena fires rockets of some kind, even the grenade launchers. As you may have guessed, all of these can be used to propel yourself forward through a classic rocket jump. Not only that, because your rockets don't actually damage you, you can also chain rocket jumps together to scale walls like some kind of extreme rock climber. Add this to the triple-jump (!) already available to every character and you've got some high-flying mobility indeed. 

Of course, Rocket Arena being a competitive shooter, you'll also be shooting rockets at people who aren't you. But when you hit someone with a rocket, you won't technically damage them. Instead, you'll fill up their rocket meter. The higher their rocket meter, the further your rockets will knock them back. See, your goal isn't to kill people, but instead to knock them out of the map, kind of like Super Smash Bros. If you hit someone whose meter is red and maxed out, you'll instantly KO them, but you can also get 'kills' with well-placed shots even at lower meter levels. 

The kicker is that your meter will go down if you don't take any damage for a few seconds, which creates an interesting game of chicken. Whenever my rocket meter started to fill up, my initial reaction was to take cover. The trouble is, this meant I had to stop rocket jumping for a few seconds, and honestly, screw that. Rocket jumping is fun as hell, and Rocket Arena's generous gravity really accentuates the thrill of shooting yourself skyward. Then it hit me: if rocket jumping didn't work, what about rocket jumping even more

I soon realized I could hide in plain sight by chaining rocket jumps and regular jumps together to stay mobile and dodge incoming rockets. Every weapon in Rocket Arena fires fairly slow-moving projectiles, so leading shots is a key part of the game. This makes mobility an incredibly potent weapon in its own right, so to my delight, rocket jumping even more turned out to be a viable tactic as long as my reflexes held up (and they didn't always hold up, but I digress). Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Of course, jumping around like a madman also meant I had to get better at leading my own shots, but I enjoyed the challenge, especially as I experimented with different characters and weapons.

Every flavor of rocket

There are currently six characters in Rocket Arena, and each one has a simple, easy-to-use kit of two weapons and one active skill. Weapons have infinite ammo and reload quickly, and skills have pretty short cooldowns, so Rocket Arena gets a lot of mileage out of its limited abilities. My first character was Izelle. Her rockets fly quickly but have short range, but she can make up for this using her bola which brings snared enemies toward her. Her skill can be used to dash through the air, and as you'd imagine, this is also fun to use in combination with rocket jumps.

Izelle is great, but as I started to play different modes, I felt the need to try new characters. Rocket Arena currently sports three main modes. In Knockout, you KO enemies to take their badges. The team that loses all their badges first loses. It's not bad, but I preferred Rocketball and Mega Rocket, which better leverage what makes Rocket Arena unique. Rocketball is like Capture the Flag, except the flag is a giant wiffle ball and home base is a goal you can dunk or shoot said ball into. Similarly, while Mega Rocket is a lot like King of the Hill - i.e. hold a zone to claim it - because knocking people around is a central mechanic of Rocket Arena, it feels distinct from the many King of the Hill modes I've played. Why kill the people on the zone when you can strategically send them to kingdom come? 

Izelle quickly became my go-to Mega Rocket pick. I'd use her leap to get to the next zone quickly, plus her bola can pull enemies out of the zone or set them up for an easy kill during heated contests. But for Rocketball, Amphora is the MVP. Her main gun fires tiny grenades, and you can charge it up to launch a proper rocket. She can also throw out large homing grenades, but her skill is what sold me: she can turn into a manta ray and quickly slide around the battlefield. Then, when the time is right, she can change back and create a huge pillar of water at her current location. Her manta form is ideal for chasing the ball - you can't use it while holding the ball, though - and the water pillar it creates is great for denying shots or blocking lanes.

Even in my short play session, I was able to experiment with a lot of matchups for different characters and modes, which leads me to one of my favorite parts of Rocket Arena: matches are short. Like, five minutes short. Maps are compact too, and again, everything is 3v3. This creates a fast, snacky experience that's easy to pick up. There is some decent depth to it, though. Aside from the learning curve of leading shots and chaining jumps, you can customize your loadout using an artifact that adds a passive skill. I instantly equipped the artifact that gives you a temporary speed boost after every rocket jump, but there are over a dozen tempting choices. You can also fight over pickups like throwable bombs and a temporary speed boost.

I went into Rocket Arena expecting basically nothing, but I left eager to tell my friends to apply for the upcoming closed beta so we can all play together. The beta starts on May 23, and the game itself is free-to-play so everyone will get a chance to try it soon. Give it a go; you might be surprised! I was.