It hasn’t been the best year for games. We’ve seen a handful of hits like Returnal and Resident Evil Village, but the first half of 2021 has been light. That’s especially true for multiplayer games as there hasn’t been too much to get excited about beyond It Takes Two and Valheim.
That changed over the weekend with Knockout City. Published by EA, the sports title is a 3v3 dodgeball game with lots of character. While it didn’t particularly stand out when it debuted during the last Nintendo Direct, it’s a surprisingly fun game that’s worth checking out.
Those who are curious will need to act fast though. It’s currently free to play, but it won’t be for long.
The game itself is easy to pick up and play. Players toss rubber balls at one another in a “deathmatch” style mode where each team tries to secure 10 knockouts. There’s no aiming in Knockout City. Instead, players will auto-lock on to opponents when holding down the throw button. Press it and the game does the precision work for you.
Throwing is only half the battle, though. Players can catch a ball before it hits them and throw it right back. It almost shares more in common with a fighting game than a shooter. Matches are about reading an opponent’s moves and countering attacks. Players can even fake a throw to play mind games against the enemy team.
That’s all wrapped up in a stylish game with a fun attitude. Toss in free-to-play hooks like a seasonal battle pass and cosmetics and it seems like EA has a hit on its hands.
There’s only one problem: It’s not actually free-to-play.
Knockout City has a strange launch strategy. It is free for the first 10 days of its life, which EA has branded as a “block party.” Anyone can play for free on PC, Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation until the end of May. However, it’ll become a paid game after that point. It’ll only cost $20, which is a fairly low entry fee, but it’s still an eyebrow-raising decision.
It’s not like Knockout City is currently in a preview state or anything resembling early access. The game won’t get some massive content drop when it goes to $20. EA seems to be hoping that the game is so fun that players will want to pay to keep playing once they’ve gotten a taste. It’s a bold experiment, but one that seems like it could backfire in a crowded multiplayer market. Why pay a dime when there are dozens of other fun multiplayer games to play for free?
What’s also strange about the strategy is that the game is available on Xbox Game Pass. So while PC, PlayStation, and Switch owners will need to pony up, anyone who’s bought into the Xbox ecosystem can continue playing it with their Game Pass subscription. It feels like the game could have a thriving community on Xbox and PC, but it seems like the player base could be incredibly lopsided come June (though full crossplay means that this won’t be a problem for matchmaking).
It wouldn’t be surprising to see EA drop the $20 business model eventually. Knockout City has positive word of mouth at the moment, and the strategic shift will surely put a dent in that momentum. EA has a real chance to break through a competitive field with the next Fall Guys here, but it could just as easily end up with something like Ninjala that gets lost in a sea of multiplayer games. Which end it falls on largely depends on how EA reacts to its success in this pivotal week.
For anyone curious, Knockout City is free to try until May 31 on PC, Xbox, Switch, and PlayStation. It’ll remain a part of Xbox Game Pass via EA Play after the trial period is up.