If you're after some measure of whether Laser League - the all-new future sports game from OlliOlli developer roll7 - is any good, then consider this. Promotional banners are being furled up and packed away at a preview being event held in a windowless sticky-floored east London sports bar where the toilets have no lights, it's impossibly hot and I should have left for home two hours ago. I can't tear myself away, though, and neither can the other five strangers squeezed into two sweat-sodden sofas, because things are getting serious.
It's one game apiece between our two teams of three, and we head into the decider with our heads full of potential new tactics, new strategies and new ways to play; the next few minutes whir past in a blaze of colour and a chorus of screams as plans are quickly hatched and just as quickly fall apart, and just as victory is grasped at the very last a brief lull descends.
And then we turn to one another and say let's do that again.
It's best to describe Laser League in such experiential terms, because when you write it all down on paper it's hard to see where the magic lies. A game of 3v3 (it can also be played 2v2), it sees teams running around small arenas where nodes appear in rhythmic succession, with each arena having its own sequence to run through. Touch a node and you activate it, sending a pattern of laser walls protruding out across the arena that mean instant death if they come into contact with members of the opposing team. Eliminate all the other team members and you score a point.
Reducing it to such base fundamentals would be just like saying football is just about 22 people trying to kick a ball into a net and leaving it at that; really, what's fascinating about Laser League is all the little complexities that arise, the strategies that slowly emerge and the sheer thrill of discovering them in tandem with other players while locked in competition. It's intoxicating stuff, and the last time I can remember such a thrill is from heady night-long sessions of Towerfall Ascension or Nidhogg. Laser League is more than worthy of such company, I think.
It's got a few hurdles to overcome first, though. The name's a little too on the nose, openly inviting comparisons to Rocket League that don't necessarily do roll7's game any favours. Not that it's inferior in any way; just that it's very, very different, offering a starker and more neatly designed brand of competition. The allusion to eSports implicit in the title might also repel as many people as it attracts, but the simple truth is that Laser League is a welcoming game that's seemingly best enjoyed in a room full of friends.
It's still a better name than what went before, though, and you might even recognise Laser League by its previous moniker Cosmic Ultra Neon Tactics. That game made a brief cameo at EGX a couple of years back before someone clocked that the acronym wasn't exactly suitable for a family-friendly show, and Ultra Neon Tactics - as it was more politely known - has been an unofficial sideshow at events ever since. 505 Games - a publisher that's shown some taste in its investments, having previously helped bring the likes of Brothers, Abzu and Virginia to life - soon stepped in, and the two years since have seen a simple idea expanded upon and fleshed out with the likes of a class system and item pick-ups.
It feels very much like a roll7 joint, despite those fancy 3D graphics, and at its heart is performing a similar trick to the brilliant OlliOlli. It's about the joy of seeing a popular genre being deconstructed then built out with thought and wit until the end result's quite unlike anything you've played before. It's brilliant, in other words, but the best way to find that out is by playing it yourself. Thankfully that's possible via a closed beta that's accepting sign-ups right now, and Laser League should be hitting early access a little later this year.
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