When Knockout City launched last May, it had all the makings of an instant hit. Published by EA, the multiplayer dodgeball game was a creative mix between a shooter and competitive sports title. With positive buzz from critics and content creators alike, it seemed like it could become a popular, kid-friendly hit. There was just one problem: You had to buy it.
That may not sound like a big deal, but the age of free-to-play has shifted the way gamers think about multiplayer. With so many quality titles to choose from that cost $0, it’s not easy to get players to spend a dime. An initial Xbox Game Pass launch helped the game build initial buzz, but it didn’t quite shake up the multiplayer scene in the way that it could have despite getting over 10 million downloads in its first year.
But one thing about rubber dodgeballs: They always bounce back. After parting ways with EA, developer Velan Studios is now taking the game into its own hands and switching the game to a free-to-play model starting today. While that won’t fundamentally change too much about the title, it’ll happen just as the game launches its sixth season, City of Tomorrow. I went hands-on with the new season, which introduces the new Boomerang Ball and a surprising Among Us crossover, before it launched. It’s the same game it was a year ago, but that might be a good thing.
City of Tomorrow brings a few tweaks to the Knockout City universe. For one, the game’s hideout hub has been slightly updated with a few more bells and whistles. There’s a soccer field and basketball hoops scattered around, buffing up its role as a social zone for squads. On top of that, the update brings four in-game events, a new brawl pass, and some science-themed cosmetics.
Self-expression remains one of the game’s defining features, much like it is in multiplayer games like Fortnite. And in season 5, players can express their love for another multiplayer hit: Among Us. The unlikely collaboration brings four new cosmetics to the game, including a “dumb” post-it note that’s worn as headgear and an emergency meeting taunt. Though the best addition is a new endgame pose where an imposter pops out of a vent and spits a ball into the players’ stomach. Rude, but on brand.
Collaboration is perhaps the place where the EA split is felt most. Previously, Knockout City has featured content from other games, but those partnerships rarely made sense with its style. Dead Space’s Isaac Clarke isn’t exactly a hip teen fashion icon. No longer constrained by EA, Velan can seek out partnerships that feel a little more natural. In fact, the developer says that it’s already planning on pursuing more collaborations in the future.
On the gameplay front, the only notable change here is the addition of a new special ball. The Boomerang Ball does exactly what you’d expect from the name. When you throw it, it’ll come right back to the player, who will need to catch it. If they don’t, it’ll knock them back a bit and bounce away, giving their opponent a chance to turn it against them.
The Boomerang Ball is a simple addition, but one that opens up some strategic potential. It brings a level of risk to the game, as players need to keep their eye on the ball after its thrown or risk losing control of it. But there’s a high reward too. In my matches, I already noticed one player bouncing it against a wall and catching it to increase its power. I can already see how it’ll lead to high-level play for the competitive scene.
Other than that, my experience with season 6 wasn’t much different than it was last May. That might sound a little boring to those who’ve been with the game for a long time, but Velan is right not to twist the concept on its head ahead of the game’s free-to-play pivot. The base game is still wildly fun, holding the same creative charm as Splatoon. No other game has done what it’s done in the past year, so for curious players coming into the game for the first time, it’ll feel as good as new. The only difference is that they’ll have more cosmetics out the gate and a more established rhythm of live service events.
With the summer looking a little slow for games, I could see the free-to-play relaunch giving Knockout City a longer moment than it had last year. Season 6 seems like it’ll be as good of a time as ever to hop in, even if there’s not a flashy new feature to entice those who already bounced off it. Sometimes, the only thing an attraction needs to succeed is a change to the price of admission.
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