GTA Online’s latest major update, Arena War, was a nice surprise that felt totally different than previous updates. It’s focused on automobile death sports and has a slick reality show theme, complete with announcers and promos between events. It even introduced a new progression path, with new rewards and titles.
I was excited to see what new events Rockstar would add to Arena War. The first event was a fun but not terribly interesting death race with motorcycles called Buzzer Beater. The latest new mode is more interesting: Bomb Ball, Rockstar’s spin on the popular car soccer game Rocket League. Unfortunately, the result of mixing of Rocket League and GTA Online isn’t great.
Bomb Ball pits two teams of up to eight players against each other in car-based soccer. The biggest difference between Bomb Ball and Rocket League is the amount of balls on the field during each round. Rocket League games usually have one ball, but Bomb Ball has 11 differently-sized balls that start in the middle of the arena at the beginning of each round. Just like in Rocket League, each team drives towards the middle, hoping to hit a ball towards the opponent’s goal. But unlike Rocket League, having so many balls makes the start feel a bit random and frustrating.
“Frustrating” is the word with which my entire experience with Bomb Ball could be summed up. If you’ve played even a few matches of Rocket League, you know that it is built around speedy and maneuverable cars that zip around the field and even fly above it. If you shoot past the ball, you can usually whip around quickly and try again.
If you’ve ever played GTA Online, even for a few minutes, you know that this isn’t how its cars work. I love the way cars handle in the main game of GTA Online, but their handling and controls feel terrible in a mode inspired by Rocket League. Missing the ball in Bomb Ball meant I would have to slam on my brakes, flip around, and usually spend a few moments backing up and then accelerating towards the ball. It doesn’t feel great and isn’t very exciting. And GTA Online’s famous lag spikes make trying to hit the smaller balls infuriating.
Actually making contact with the balls doesn’t feel satisfying, as the collision between cars and bombs is usually jumpy. I would often be driving straight and the ball, either due to physics or lag, would slip over my car or off to the side of it. Turning around to get it back was almost always a pain.
GTA Online shakes up the Rocket League formula by making goals not necessary to win, but this also has the knock-on effect of making goals less exciting. The balls in Bomb Ball are, as the name implies, bombs. Every round ends with balls exploding. If balls explodes on your side of the field, the enemy team scores some points. While goals do award more points, the frustrating ball handling makes them harder and more time-consuming to do. This, coupled with too many balls to focus on, makes it hard to feel like you are meaningfully contributing to the match. This lack of influence over the match is even worse in bigger games where a dozen players can be fighting over six different balls. At one point I wasn’t sure if I was even helping my team.
In Rocket League there is usually one ball and a small group of players battling for the ball. Each time you touch the ball it feels important and exciting. In Bomb Ball I would basically run into balls while trying to score or block.
Bomb Ball lets players pick different vehicles, but some of the options include massive trucks and limos. These vehicles were often used by players in the matches I played to completely and entirely block goals, making it hard and annoying to score goals. This seems like a simple issue to fix: Remove the bigger vehicles from the options available to players during the pre-game lobby.
It’s possible that Rockstar will do something to make Bomb Ball less frustrating, such as removing some balls or making goals more meaningful. But even if those changes occurred, Bomb Ball isn’t a mode I’m probably going to play again. Fast-paced car soccer that demands precision aiming and driving isn’t a great fit for GTA Online.
Arena War launched with some of the best modes I’ve played all year, but Bomb Ball feels like a misfire. Hopefully future modes will be better fits.
Zack Zwiezen is a a writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. He has written for Gamecritics, Killscreen and Entertainment Fuse.