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Onrush Review

Onrush on PlayStation 4

Onrush isn’t a racing game in the traditional sense. There’s no start or finish line, no checkered flags, and no podiums. Instead, the action is focused on teamwork, objectives, and carnage. That’s not to say there’s no racing pedigree here. The developers are a Codemasters sub-studio that’s made up of Evolution Studios employees that moved over when Sony shut the studio following the troubled launch of Driveclub. Onrush also shares many similarities with the likes of Motorstorm, Pure, Blur, Burnout, and Downhill Domination, all of which released during the last console generation or earlier. However, it’s the influence that modern team-based shooters like Overwatch have clearly had on Onrush that makes it such a unique experience, and the most enjoyable arcade racer I’ve played in years.

The idea of a team-based shooter and racing game crossover may sound confusing at first, but it’s easily explained. There are four modes in the game: Switch, Overdrive, Countdown and Lockdown – each with entirely different objectives –  and your aim is to win each round as part of a six-man team. The basic aim is to drive as quickly as you can around the course, taking out the other players and ‘fodder vehicles’ that are in the way. As you spectacularly takedown those other vehicles and fly over the ramps, your boost bar fills up, which in turn fills up you Rush meter, allowing you to unleash a super-boost of sorts that turns you into an almost unstoppable force for around 10 seconds.

That gameplay loop of speed, takedown, and boost is at the center of every mode, but there’s something more specific you need to do to win in each one. Countdown tasks you and your team with driving through small gates, adding time to your team’s clock every time someone does, with the team that runs out of time first losing. Lockdown is a King of the Hill type mode that sees a capture point speed forward ahead of the racers, and each team tries to capture it. If your team has more racers in the zone than the other team for five seconds, you win that zone. Overdrive is the most simple, with the aim being to use as much boost or Rush as possible. Boosting gives your team points, and the first team to hit the target score wins. Finally, Switch is the most complex, but best, game mode. Everyone starts as a motorbike and has three switches. Get taken out once and you become a buggy, crash again and you’re the next vehicle class, until you’re the final class that only has the aim of taking out other racers. It creates tense, cat and mouse situations, with the team that uses all their switches first losing the round.

All the modes are wonderfully designed and require different tactics, but none of them ditch the fast paced carnage that’s integral to the fun.

The team-based, tactical approach also extends to the vehicles themselves. There’s eight to choose from, two in each class, and they work just like the characters in games like Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch. They each have three abilities, which can range from sending a shockwave out when you land a huge jump, to leaving small barriers behind you when you activate Rush mode. Bikes are more vulnerable to takedowns, but are faster and more nimble, allowing them to get in front of the pack in modes like Countdown and Lockdown, while the larger vehicles act like battering rams. Choosing a balanced team, and picking a vehicle that suits the mode and your playstyle is vital to your team’s success, and that depth is what elevates the fun of the simple action.

For example, picking a team of six bikes would be foolish because you’d have no means of halting the opposition from taking the objective. The bikes would be able stay out of danger due to their agility, but they wouldn’t be able to take out the opposition due to their physical weakness. Rounds are won by staying alive long enough to complete the objective. Therefore, you need to build a balanced team that can simultaneously do that and disrupt the other team.

It also helps that the driving itself is also great, no matter which vehicle you’re using. It has the same lightweight feel of Motorstorm, which allows you throw the vehicles around at will, dodging trees and rocks at a moment’s notice, but the combat feels a lot like Burnout. Taking an opponent down while driving alongside them isn’t as easy as in the classic series, but the way vehicles lose control after a light tap, and how vulnerable their back ends are is reminiscent of Criterion’s games. You almost always feel in control when all four wheels are on the ground, but it’s clear that the game is helping out a little when you’re in the air. Cars spin at the perfect rate to pull off spectacular barrel rolls, no matter what angle you take a ramp at, and you’re sometimes moved in mid-air to perform a takedown as you land. That occasional interference isn’t a bad thing, however, as it keeps the momentum up and adds a little flair to the full throttle driving. How easy it is to take out the fodder vehicles, the way the game goes into slow motion as you perform a takedown, and the responsive handling make Onrush feel incredibly satisfying.

It’s a beautiful game as well. It’s lacking in location variety slightly, with a canyon, a lush forest, and a sandy beach being the recurring settings, but what’s there looks phenomenal. As you’d expect, debris will be flying everywhere as you race, and that’s enhanced to by the clouds of dust and water that plume as you hurtle along the course. Vehicles themselves are quite basic, and the characters are quite caricatured, but the locations themselves are incredibly realistic. It only takes one dabble with the excellent photo-mode to see how detailed it is. For example, if you zoom into the wheel of a vehicle, you’ll see the individual beads of water, and the branding of the tires.

You’ll jump into the single-player ‘Superstar’ championship to learn the ropes, which is great, aside from a few frustrating events that limit which vehicle you can use. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of meta forms in the online multiplayer in the weeks following release. It’s just Quick Play now, but a Ranked playlist will be added in soon. All the vehicles seem well balanced as of now, but that could change when the masses get their hands on them.

Since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One released in 2013, the gaming world has been pretty devoid of arcade racers, instead opting for open-world or simulation experiences. The likes of Motorstorm, Disney’s Pure, and the criminally underplayed Blur have disappeared recently, but Onrush’s blend of classic arcade racing, stunning visuals, and online team-based shooter ideas make it unique enough to stand out even against the competition of old. It’s an unconventional idea, but it’s the most fun you’re likely to have with a racing game this generation.

Score: 4.5/5 – Great


Pros

  • Fun, chaotic, Burnout-style action.
  • Unique modes that promote team work and planning.
  • The locations are stunning and the photo mode does a great job of showing them off.
  • Loads of customization options.
  • Balanced roster of vehicles, each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Cons

  • Some single-player events frustratingly limit your choice of vehicle.
  • Feels like there’s not many courses due to some being too similar.

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