It’s very hard for me to review games when I know people at the publishers and studios behind them and know they’re trying their hardest to push for accessibility, especially when the game I’m reviewing just misses the mark. Rocket Arena is one of those games. EA is doing such good a11y work and yet, Rocket Arena is an accessibility failure on two fronts.
Rocket Arena, developed by First Strike Games and published by EA is an online 3v3 shooter, a genre not particularly known for robust accessibility. Each of the heroes has unique abilities and backstories and the arenas in which you have your shooty, rocket fun are wonderfully designed for just enough challenge. For some players, that is.
The game has an accessibility menu, which one would assume means it’s an accessible game but that’s not always true. The first problem I ran into was being unable to access the menu until after I’d finished the tutorial.
Subtitles are on, with the high contrast option toggled, by default and that’s a wonderful thing. The subtitles, while not resizable, are a decent size and the background makes them easily legible for most throughout every part of the game.
The first (of many) barriers I faced came when the tutorial was making me go through the dodge ability section. Because the game goes right into the tutorial on first launch without allowing players to change any options, the control scheme forces players to use a right stick press to dodge. You’re required to do this twice, so my thumb dislocated itself twice.
Another massive barrier, once I finally could access the menu upon completing the painful tutorial was that even though there are eight control scheme options, not one of them leaves nothing bound to stick presses.
In terms of deaf/hoh accessibility, while the subtitles are great, this game isn’t particularly story-driven and the game can easily be enjoyed without ever knowing what’s being said. I’ve said it before, but I doubt many are playing an online shooter for the engaging story. We’re playing to shoot things, with rockets, and launch our opponents into oblivion. The biggest problem I had in Rocket Arena, once I’d put my thumbs back in their sockets, is that I was the one being launched into oblivion. Over and over again. Because there is no visual indication that a rocket has been fired at you, aside from the sound, until the rocket hits you.
In the image above, there is plenty of shooting going on around me. In fact, I captured this image right before the opponent behind me hit me with a rocket. But Deaf and hoh players have no way of knowing this until they see this:
Luckily, my opponent missed me in the above image. But not so luckily for me, I had no idea I’d been shot at, or that an opponent was even near me, until they were close enough to easily get a KO.
Rocket Arena is, once again, a testament to the fact that just because you have an accessibility menu does not mean you have an accessible game. What could be a fun and lighthearted shooter from First Strike Games and EA is instead a punishingly hard and inaccessible experience for Deaf and hard of hearing players and will leave console players with mobility issues at a major disadvantage due to limited control scheme options.
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