Velan Studios might be a new team, but they’re making waves with the industry’s biggest players. Having launched Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit last year, Knockout City sees them swapping Nintendo for EA, delivering an online multiplayer experience based around Dodgeball.
Focused on smaller team play with third-person gameplay, it never truly wows but you’ll likely have an enjoyable time.
Take Me Down To The Knockout City
After setting up a custom avatar, players are granted access to their own hideout, letting you practice basic gameplay before jumping into matches. You can make that a solo hub but if you join a crew, this’ll be shared with other members, going up to 32 players. Collectively, each member jointly earns unlocked crew cosmetics – providing you’ve logged in that week – so no one gets left behind. Should you set up your own crew, you’ll be designated the captain with abilities to customise your name, banner and jacket logos.
Once sorted, it’s time to venture into Knockout City, a thriving location that uniquely settles disputes through “Dodgebrawl”, a modified form of dodgeball that places the niche sport into a team-based arena premise. You’ve got several modes to choose between, but our main option is Team KO, a 3v3 option where the first team to score 10 KOs wins. To do that, players must land two hits on an opponent for a KO, and you can’t recover health.
Now, Knockout City doesn’t use classes, separate characters, ability cooldowns or ultimate moves like we often see. Everyone’s got the same moveset, so it’s all about position and timing. Outside basic movement, you can tackle, charge up shots, catch balls being thrown at you, lock onto opponents, and even pull out a glider to fly across gaps. While balls spawn in set locations, should it already be taken, you turn yourself into a ball for teammates to throw. If someone locks onto you, a red border warning appears if they’re not on-screen, so you won’t be taken by surprise.
Strategic But Safe
That may not sound like more than elaborate street dodgeball, but each match randomly selects a special ball to change up gameplay and there’s currently six available. For example, sniper balls can land long range shots, jail balls trap other players inside, and moon balls give the holder low gravity for better jumps. Ultimately, success comes down to team strategy and there’s an accessible experience within, providing a decent skill curve.
If you’re playing alone, that appeal may wear off quickly, but should you assemble a few friends, there’s silly fun within and that’s key to Knockout City’s charm. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with the mechanics and movement feels precise but unfortunately, everything about Knockout City feels safe, like it’s been signed off by multiple focus groups. Dodgeball aside, it doesn’t act that differently from other multiplayer games, which is fine, but hardly exciting.
To keep Knockout City interesting, Velan has promised weekly mode rotation. Most options are 3v3 matches and during this review, I accessed two options outside Team KO. One was Party Team KO, which plays almost identically but you’ve only got special balls, leading to chaotic sessions. Diamond Dash was the other, seeing your team collect the most diamonds before time runs out, hitting opponents to drop them, and that brought in some much-appreciated variety. Though I couldn’t access this, there’s also a 1v1 Face Off mode coming for solo play and 4v4 matches too.
Upon finishing a match, you’ll be rewarded XP based on your performance. Acting like a battle pass, Knockout City calls progression “Street Rank”, a 900-tier rewards system that unlocks cosmetic items and Holobux, the in-game currency spendable within the Brawl Shop, which features rotating content. While you can purchase Holobux separately, all items are purely cosmetic, so it doesn’t become a pay-to-win scenario.
As a live service game, Velan’s already outlined post-launch plans. New seasons will arrive every nine weeks, adding fresh maps, new ball types, further cosmetics and contracts, offering challenges that unlock XP and rewards. Naturally, I can’t judge unreleased content, but it’s reassuring there’s a roadmap in place. Right now, though, we’ve got 5 maps, 6 ball types, 4 mode playlists, street play for casual matches, league matches for ranked matches and private matches are also available.
The Verdict - Is It Worth Playing?
While Velan Studios has created a competent multiplayer experience, Knockout City’s not especially thrilling. There aren’t many games that use dodgeball as a core mechanic, making it somewhat unique, but it feels afraid to take risks, creating a highly entertaining but ultimately safe experience. If you can gather up some friends, there’s silly enjoyment within and considering it’s got a free trial – to say nothing of Game Pass/EA Play – I’d recommend at least trying it.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PC
[Originally Published on 21-05-2021]