Platforms: Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher
The racing genre can be tricky to innovate in, especially since many of the titles coming out tend to focus more on the realism side of things. Onrush, though, wants to bring back the arcade thrills while also doing something a little different, ditching the normal racing concepts of trying to be ahead of anyone else, finish lines and laps. Instead, it brings in a little bit of Rocket League, a dab of Overwatch and a hell of a lot of destruction derby to create something that acts as a welcome kick in the racing genre’s nads.
Overdrive is the main mode of the game and also the best example of what Onrush is all about; two teams of six vehicles collide with the aim being to score points by boosting, and to earn more boost you jump, smash, slide and basically drive like a freaking lunatic that’s trying to escape the cops. In other words, if you don’t have your finger on the boost button constantly you aren’t playing the game right. Boost enough and perform certain other actions related to the vehicle class you’re driving and you’ll be able to activate the gloriously fun Rush mode which sends you barreling along the track in a blur of neon color while also letting you swipe cars and bikes aside with ease.
Let’s talk about getting that lovely boost. As mentioned doing jumps will earn you more, as will driving dangerously, and the tracks are littered with ways to get airborne, but the most brutally satisfying way is to smash stuff. Aside from the two main teams there are lots of black fodder vehicles bumbling around that are easy prey, and these provide a great way to keep boost chains, which score better, going. Those don’t come with the same sense of satisfaction as wiping out one of the opposing team members, though, and while sometimes the way the game decides who took out who can feel a little wonky, for the most part it feels freaking awesome to T-bone someone, land on them, swipe ’em into a rock or bait them into crashing, and the game knows it feels good, letting you enjoy the action in brutal slow-motion. If it happens to you it’s simply a case of watching the humiliating replay, waiting a few seconds and then spawning back into the action.
Speaking of the action Onrush likes to keep you in the middle of the game lovingly refers to as the Stampede. If for whatever reason you happen to slip too far back from the full-metal mayhem you’ll be plucked from the track and transported right back into the mosh pit. It’s so strange because for years in racing games myself and almost everyone else has hated the idea of rubber-banding, a system employed by designers to slingshot A.I. or even real players who were falling behind back into the action, and yet it is, more blatant than ever but now perfectly sensible. It keeps less skilled players in the action and having fun, and ensures that the mayhem rarely lets up.
It’s hard to do justice to the sheer intensity of the on-track action using mere words and pictures. It never lets up, practically every second bringing with it near misses, shoves, crashes, desperate saves and awesome moments. I had a friend round during my time with the game, and we spent an entire day taking it in turns to do events and were laughing the whole time, congratulating each other on amazing takedowns or wincing as we were annihilated. It’s anarchy and freaking glorious. It’s a level of pure fun that I haven’t felt in a while in a racing game, or in any game, for that matter.
There are a few other modes on offer, including one that involves capturing a moving zone which plays brilliantly into Onrush’s love of cars and bikes smashing into each other. Another sees both teams start with 30-seconds on the clock and they have to pass through gates to add time to it. First, team to hit zero loses. Again, like the one that involves capturing the zone it focuses the action as players jostle for space, shoving each other in a bid to keep them from passing through the games. And that’s as if hitting the gates wasn’t hard enough on its own amidst the carnage.
The final mode is Switch where everyone starts on bikes and when they get taken out must switch to the next vehicle class up. Each player only gets three switches and once the team runs out its game over. What I loved about this mode is how it encourages actual teamwork as people who have already been switched into the bigger trucks can actively defend the people still on bikes.
Maybe it’s because Onrush actually has a lot in common with games like Overwatch that it works so well. There is a grand total of nine vehicles to choose from, ranging from some lightweight bikes up to chunky trucks that look like they could drive through buildings with relative ease, and each of them boasts special abilities that help to define its role out on the battlefield. One, for example, can drop boost pickups for team-mates and is thus a good choice for Overdrive, while the Titan is capable of providing a shield for its nearby allies. There’s a bike that can deliver a shockwave when it lands, a car that will gently pull itself toward an enemy in mid-air for better chances of crushing them. They all also get extra boost and Rush by doing certain things, like taking down fodder vehicles or doing tricks.
The system isn’t as in-depth as a pure hero shooter; you don’t need to worry too much about team composition, but it does help to take into account what everyone else is doing. It’s a little extra layer of thought in a game that actually has a higher skill ceiling than it might seem at first glance. The more you play the more you can learn to read the action and position yourself smartly, the better you’ll become at judging a swipe or knowing what vehicles work best in certain situations.
All nine vehicles handle really nicely, too. This is purely an arcade racer so you can sling your chosen ride into corners with reckless abandon, only occasionally touching the brake or handbrake, and even then it’s mostly so you can quickly fall back behind an enemy before ramming into them. Despite this arcade feel, though, there’s still a good sense of weight to the cars when you slide them or slam into other people. They’ve got a solid physical presence.
The singleplayer campaign injects a little story into proceedings by explaining how Onrush come about as a sport, but for the most part, it’s pretty normal stuff where you take part in event after event, unlocking new chapters of the story by earning enough stars in races. Mostly it serves as a way to learn the ins and outs of trying to commit vehicular murder before you venture online.
Yes, unsurprisingly online is where the real meat of the game can be found, and so far there’s a strong community enjoying the metal mayhem. It’s just a shame that Codemasters didn’t include a local multiplayer option, too, because Onrush feels like it would have been perfect for it. Still, while the A.I. may be reasonably effective when it comes to racing nothing compares to the feeling of elation when you slam another player into a train. Generally speaking, I didn’t find any connection problems, but with that said there are absolutely no dedicated servers on offer, so you’re relying on peer-to-peer connection and that means there’s always room for problems.
Everything you do earns you experience points which in turn levels you up and unlocks gear crates. Naturally as soon as I found out about this I could literally feel my happiness levels dropping as I anticipated the microtransactions that would surely be accompanying the crates, but happily Codemasters have included absolutely zero ways to buy boxes using real cash. What you get inside these little cubes are a variety of new shells for the vehicles as well as celebrations for various racers, new bike tricks and even tombstones for when you get wrecked on-track. You also earn credits that you can use to buy shells and stuff directly if you prefer. I actually found myself enjoying getting my hands on new variations of my favorite cars.
The only true issue Onrush face’s at this point is its lifespan. As much as I’ve loved playing it, as much fun as I’ve had with it, I can already feel the desire to keep playing it fading away into the background. The big thing more serious racing games with a focus on simulation have is that high skill ceiling where players can keep coming back to work on their skills and pit them against others, and it remains to see if Onrush will have enough going on to keep pulling its audience back to the action.
Onrush manages to deliver something that feels fun and fresh and new. By tossing out the need to be ahead of the pack, hitting apexes perfectly and silly old things like laps Codemasters have really managed to make Onrush feel unique, which is impressive when you consider that it actually does have elements from quite a few other places. The almost hero-shooter way cars and bikes have abilities, for example. It all works, melding together wonderfully well. This one gets a hearty recommendation from me.