Right out of the gate, a lot of folks are going to look at the orange-versus-blue team-based combat racing of Onrush and claim that Codemasters have liberally lifted ideas from both the Burnout and MotorStorm franchises, as well as from Blizzard’s Overwatch. It would be a hard point to rally against, since elements of all three games have been brought together here to make something that almost defies description, let alone rational logic.
First off, you should disavow yourself of any notion that you’ll be taking part in traditional racing action in Onrush. You won’t see a single starting grid, lap counter, or finish line here. Instead, you and your team – whether consisting of real people online or your new AI-controlled pals in single-player – must band together to beat one of four specific goals. Depending on the game mode, you’ll either be racking up points by chaining boosts, occupying and defending a moving zone on the track, barreling through time-awarding gates to keep your team’s clock from running out, or trying to wreck the opposition enough times that they all run out of lives.
The craft from which you’ll be asked to choose are split into four distinct pairs. There are two nippy-but-weak bikes, two light and agile speedsters, two slightly beefier vehicles, and a pair of what could reasonably be called tanks. You’d think that eight vehicles that can all travel at much the same speed would limit things, but the differences in what you can do with the hardware means that Onrush provides a surprising level of tactical depth at times. The composition of your team doesn’t come into play in every game mode, but in extreme cases, your choice of vehicle can make all the difference. If your squadmates take five bikes against six APCs in a game of Lockdown, you’ll likely be on a hiding to nothing if you do the same, as the stronger opposition will barge you out of the target zone with ease. Jump into one of the heavier vehicles yourself, and you can at least try to provide some protection to your weak-minded allies. In fairness, if they all choose bikes for a game mode that needs a combination of strength and speed as opposed to just the latter part, they probably should be left to get what they deserve. Get on your metaphorical tricycle and ride the other way, singing “You’re all idiots, la-la-la!” as you go, I say.
Toeing the Line
Were you able to attempt that, you wouldn’t get very far, given that Onrush comes complete with a catch-up system that prevents you from dropping too far behind at any given point. Fall far from the action, and you’re either wrecked or just picked up and thrown further toward the action, depending on the game mode. At times, this feels a shade overly aggressive in a game that contains mostly generously-wide tracks and handling that is relatively forgiving. I understand why the system is in place, but when a warning is showing up that you’re falling too far behind and you’ve got the entire pack on your screen dead in front of you, it’s a little much.
Maybe that’s a bit picky, though, as the whole catch-up system exists for two reasons. Firstly, it prevents players from dropping back and cruising along unharmed during certain modes where that would provide an advantage. Secondly, it keeps things interesting at the head of the field as all 12 drivers or riders are never that far away from each other at any one time. From the very first second you get control to the time the hooter sounds, Onrush is a bumping, rubbing, scraping, barrel rolling, nitro-boosting assault on the senses. In a good way. The briefest moment of hesitation or indecision could see you face-planting into a tree, falling off a cliff, or being smashed to smithereens by an opponent. When that happens, you’re usually able to change into a different vehicle (if you wish) before being thrown right back into the action. There’s no pulling out of the pits and trying to catch up, or gradually bringing your vehicle up to speed. You respawn just behind the heart of the action, with the gas pedal to the floor, the rev counter maxed out, and the speedometer needle pointing ninety degrees east.
There are more ways to get the job done than with pure speed, though. Each vehicle type comes complete with a trait and ability that affect gameplay, as well as a “rush” ability that comes into play when you’ve filled your rush meter by jumping, flipping, taking opponents down, and boosting your way about the place for long enough. Firing your rush (that sounds smuttier than it should) can temporarily blind drivers behind you, leave a trail of fire that causes people to skid off the track, or drop blocks of light that slow your opponents down. Rushing cues up a musical hit that sounds like one scream-based note from “Stop!” by Jane’s Addiction being constantly played for fifteen seconds directly into your ears. Fortunately, it can be just as devastating for the opposition as it is for your auditory canal.
I make a point of calling out the musical cue there as sound design is probably Onrush’s weakest area. A very decent soundtrack backs up the action but is interrupted by entirely different music when you’re respawning, as well as being constantly overrun by what feels like a dozen different talking heads during gameplay. It all feels very desperate, as if the game is constantly trying to remind you of how cool it is, when it doesn’t need to. Taking a single opponent down and then hearing a nonsensical “MULTI KILL!” or “phhrrrrarrararararrazzzzzzzzppsssh” (which is how I imagine random unintelligible static would be spelled) from somewhere doesn’t sit well. It’s especially jarring when the other parts of the aesthetic pie – the visuals – are so tasty. Visually, even when there are ten takedowns going on in front of you at night in driving snow, Onrush doesn’t miss a step. Some Split/Second-style falling towers dotted around the various tracks wouldn’t have gone amiss but on the whole, everything looks great. The development team knows full well what they’ve created here too, even including a photo mode for those that like to have a little tinker with their viewfinder.
During the pre-launch beta, some – including myself – found that they were doing incredibly well at the game but didn’t exactly know how or why. Early on, Onrush does sometimes feel that way. You’ll be boosting and picking up points in a game of Overdrive, taking down opponents that happen to be in front of you, then win the match without feeling as if you’ve done anything that takes any skill. You were simply driving around the course. As you play on though, the tactical nuance does start to show itself. Engaging boost when you’re in the air to increase your gravity so that you come crashing down on an opponent, purposefully hitting a barrel roll to dive out of somebody’s way, or boxing somebody out of the zone in a round of Lockdown, all becomes second nature sooner rather than later. I’m happy to say that the feeling of accomplishment doesn’t get old quickly, either. Hitting a rush in one of the final races of the single-player campaign and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve gotten from a game in a good while.
Once you’ve worked your way through that single-player career – which is a relatively simple race, unlock, race, unlock affair with optional bonus objectives that can also be played in online co-op – you’ll want more action. At launch, Onrush provides a quick race mode that throws you into a lobby to play throwaway race after throwaway race. That’s fun, but a Ranked Play mode also shows on the main menu and will launch at some point post-launch. Codemasters say that they want to make sure things are balanced well before launching ranked mode, but that leaves things feeling very, very thin right now. Even thinner still, when you consider that the standard online system leaves a fair amount to be desired. Sure, you can see who the MVP was in a match, and you’ll get a random stat such as “Most Boost Refilled,” but you aren’t told anything else about how everyone played. Practically every online game in the last 20 years has given a kill-to-death ratio or a list of how many points each person scored, but not Onrush. This lack of information – along with a very sparse number of stats for each player in general and absolutely no historical records – means it’s very tough to gauge your skill level or tell if you’re getting any better at the game. I’m sure that having ranked divisions and levels will help to some extent, but it would have been nice to have seen something even as basic as a count of how many MVP awards you’ve won. Alas, it isn’t to be.
The lack of ranked play leaves reviewers in a bit of a quandary. So far, I can tell you that Onrush is a very solid game that provides the thrills and spills that the likes of Burnout and its ilk used to. It looks great, is enjoyable, addictive, provides a stack of new ideas, and gets the adrenaline pumping. It’s also easy to pick up and contains a very nice level of tactical depth to ensure that continued play feels rewarding. Without the forthcoming ranked play, there’s still a handful of hours of enjoyment to be had in single-player mode, and you’ll likely play more pointless quick play matches than you would imagine due to the game’s addictive nature. The problem is that ranked play is where pretty much every Onrush player will likely end up and will undoubtedly be what drives the future of the game as the months go on. With no exaggeration, a ranked play mode with a compelling and interesting structure could push the final review score a point or two higher. I can’t see any reason why the franchise couldn’t go on to make inroads into the eSports landscape. But we have no idea how it’s going to work or even when it’s going to be available.
What we can be sure of though, is that Codemasters has at least put together a great foundation on which to build. They’ve promised that as well as that ranked mode, new content and features will roll out to players going forward and if they make the right steps, Onrush could end up being an absolutely huge deal. At launch though, it serves as a great taste of what could be, even if it could go with just a little bit more fuel in the tank.
Onrush review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.