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Rocket Racing is now the best reason to play Fortnite

Rocket Racing is now the best reason to play Fortnite
Rocket Racing – Fortnite is really motoring now (Picture: Epic Games)

After Lego Fortnite , GameCentral offers its verdict on Fortnite’s other two new modes: Fortnite Festival and Rocket Racing.

If you’ve largely ignored Fortnite’s existence for the past six years, Chapter 5 might be the time to start paying attention. No longer just a third person shooter, and a chaotic Creative sandbox, the latest season adds the Minecraft-inspired Lego Fortnite, an arcade racer from the creators of Rocket League, and a new music rhythm game from Rock Band developer Harmonix.

All three modes are now available to play, entirely free, through Fortnite’s hub. After giving our impressions on Lego Fortnite earlier this week, we can now dive into the other two modes on offer – which are also looking to pull new audiences into Fortnite’s ecosystem.

In the case of Rocket Racing, anyone who pines for more Burnout or F-Zero will find this one of the best new racing games in years. As an arcade racer it covers similar ground to Hot Wheels Unleashed, only with slicker traversal mechanics and a greater sense of momentum. Imagine the chaotic acrobatics of high-level Rocket League condensed into a propulsive, mechanically rich racing experience – with a level of polish comparable to the rest of the Fortnite suite.

During our play session, we were guided through the tutorials, which concisely introduce the drifting systems and aerial movement. The fundamentals are very familiar. If you drift around corners by steering long enough, your boost meter will start to accumulate faster. When your meter hits a certain threshold, you can fire off a boost at the touch of a button, which can be tapped again within a certain window to gain a secondary burst of speed.

For sharp corners, you’re encouraged to rocket boost while drifting, which fires off thrusters from your vehicle’s sides. Rocket Racing’s defining mechanic, however, is the ability to fly and stick to track pieces either above you or slanted vertically. You can rocket yourself in the air at any time at the press of a button (or repeatedly tap to efficiently maximise your flight boost meter).

When you fly off certain ledges, you can attach to hanging pieces of track or tunnel rooftops if you fly nearby and hit a button, allowing access to shortcuts or additional boost pads.

Once you nail down the drifting and boosting rhythm, Rocket Racing becomes all about capitalising on secret pathways and mini-shortcuts – from classic cut-throughs hidden behind waterfalls to short clips of road suspended in the air for quick advantages. In the advanced tracks we played, races were a consistently close-knit thrill of bobbing and weaving around the other 11 opponents across various plains. Crucially, like Psyonix’s Rocket League, it feels fantastic to play, with the flying and track-switching being smooth, responsive and satisfying to execute.

Since our preview session of all three modes, Rocket Racing is the one we’ve been clamouring to return to. It seems like there’s plenty of rewards to chase as well, through cosmetics for your customisable cars – like decals and other novelties – and quests tied to a battle pass. In a nice touch, every car you purchase/unlock in Rocket Racing will also be available in Rocket League as well – presumably through syncing Epic Games’ accounts.

With the tease of plenty of post-launch support, including more tracks beyond the initial 26 at launch, a time trial mode and track editor in 2024, Rocket Racing feels like it could become a much-needed breakout moment for an underserved racing genre. It helps that it’s placed inside Fortnite, leveraging an experience which could have easily fallen under the radar if it wasn’t thrown into the faces of such a massive player-base.

Interestingly, Fortnite Festival is likewise championing another genre that has dwindled in popularity in recent years. From developer Harmonix, this is basically the mechanics of Rock Band implanted into the world of Fortnite, albeit with some ill-fitting results.

Fortnite Festival is split into two modes. There’s the traditional rhythm game of hitting scrolling musical notes, with the exact same overlay as Rock Band. The main difference is, instead of using toy instruments, all the inputs are tied to buttons either on a controller or keyboard. On a PlayStation 5 controller, for example, the four buttons are mapped horizontally across the D-pad and square and circle buttons. This applies to every instrument you play as well, whether you’re vocals, drums, keyboards, or guitar.

This fits relatively naturally when playing keyboards, but for the guitar, where you no longer hold notes and strum, the setup of having to time instant button presses can feel jarring. The disconnect between the controller and music is heightened on higher difficulties. When we tried to play drums for The Killers’ Mr. Brightside on hard, we ended up adopting a claw-like stance over the controller to simply keep up with it all – to the amusement of the developers.

They did stress, however, that they are working on allowing the use of guitar controllers and other peripherals in Fortnite Festival, for a potential future update.

The other mode available utilises Harmonix’s music mixing technology from Fuser . Up to four players can jump into a jamming session, where you combine different elements from tracks in the music library to create new mixes. It’s unclear whether it can grow beyond a short-lived distraction but there’s some hilarious fun to be had in messing around with the tempo and pitch of famous songs, like blending Psy’s Gangnam Style with The Cranberries.

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At launch, the package is led by the inclusion of various skins based on The Weeknd, with more presumably set to come based on famous musicians, like the recent addition of Eminem. The library of songs, while nowhere near as expansive as Rock Band 2, is also decently sized and eclectic enough to please most tastes – featuring modern pop breakouts like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish, naff party anthems, and more traditional rock from Queens Of The Stone Age.

Ultimately, the problem with Fortnite Festival is it’s currently a lesser version of what Harmonix has accomplished before. If it can grow to become the ultimate Rock Band live service title, bolstered by its placement within Fortnite’s infrastructure, we could be looking at the title that will revive the music rhythm game for a new generation. As it stands, however, this is a party package hampered by some unnatural compromise.

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