A racing game without finish lines sounds about as unnatural as a modern AAA game without a Battle Royale mode. Codemasters, or more specifically members who made Motorstorm, have tackled a brand new genre for arcade racing: class-based action without a need to worry about who’s in the lead. Onrush, named after the “ultimate” ability each car possesses, offers team-based racing with a focus on objectives rather than speed.
The basics are simple: each map has “fodder” enemies (think Titanfall’s grunts) that can be bulldozed for boost. Boost is the lifeblood of the game, and can also be gained from jumps, among other things. Much like Battlefield, Onrush is all about PTO: Play The Objective. There’s no reward for being in first place, so you must work together with your team to make sure you’re taking the steps necessary to win the match. Everything happens within what the game calls “The Stampede.” If you fall behind or crash, you’re put back into the thick of it instantly. It ends up being a far more interesting, if at times frustrating, way to do a competitive racing game.
The unfortunate downside to the stampede, however, is that after crashing or falling behind you have very little control of your place in it. Does your vehicle require you to be near others but you spawned at the front? Better slow down and hope you don’t get checked out. Can’t catch up? You might as well drive off a cliff and spawn again. It’s not an easy system to wrangle, tactically speaking, and it’s what keeps Onrush from feeling deep.
The game’s objectives are spread across several different modes, and none of them involve getting across the finish line first. The staple game type is Overdrive, in which using boost garners points for your team. Whoever uses the most boost, and fills their team’s meter first, wins. This is complemented nicely by the different ways each vehicle can get Rush to fill their ult meter: The Titan, for example, is a hulking SUV that gets Rush from taking out opponents. Wrecking the competition is a surefire way to keep them from using their boost or capturing an objective, so the balance of offensive and defensive vehicles form distinct classes and synergies. Some other modes include a king of the hill style variant where teams fight over a moving zone, and a time-limited mode in which each team gains precious seconds by barreling through gateways.
Once your team has a “comp” selected, each player must fill their unique role. The Dynamo gives boost to nearby allies, and gains Rush from driving near them. The Blade, one of the nimble bikes in the game, is easy to take down but can devastate enemies using its Onrush ability that leaves a deadly trail in its wake. The Charger (my personal favorite) homes in on enemies from the air and crushes them. The cars are all wonderfully balanced, and it’s easy to fill your role once you get the hang of your vehicle’s ups and downs.
To help train a new player in the game’s more subtle mechanics, a sizable single-player campaign is on offer. This mode can be played solo or cooperatively and asks the players to complete a number of objectives specific to the mode or vehicle they’re using. It’s a fun distraction, but after just a few of the modules I felt ready to get into the action and didn’t look back. In the end, it’s the same game as the online component, just with a little more direction and challenge. It’s a great way to get currency to unlock some of the game’s cosmetics though.
On the note of cosmetics (there’s no elegant way to transition to this) the game has loot boxes. They cannot be bought for real money, and they come fast and furious every time you level up, which is often. They can contain skins for cars and the game’s cast of characters, alongside other goodies. There’s plenty of customization in Onrush, in a way that’s comparable to Overwatch. You can’t customize your car or character’s colors, but you choose preset skins to sport on the battlefield.
There are twelve distinct maps, all with various times of day and weather. Some are treacherous at night, and inclement weather can have a serious impact on the flow of a match. This means the twelve maps end up feeling far more varied than they already are, and it adds an element of surprise to each match.
When you inevitably crash due to an enemy player (or teammate) shoving you into a tree or from driving into a gorge because you couldn’t see through a blizzard, you’ll have to wait around eight seconds to respawn. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s nailbiting when your team is on the cusp of victory, and a simple intervention is all it would take to push them over the edge. Unfortunately, the spawn director isn’t always the most forgiving. Sometimes I was spawned a second from sure death, others, I was placed unceremoniously in front of an enemy who made short work of my newfound life. Most of the time it works, but when it doesn’t you’ll be sure to feel the sting.
So how is Onrush as a value proposition? The game is full priced at $60, but is it offering enough to feel worth it? The answer is: not exactly. The game, in comparison to hero shooters and other full-priced multiplayer games, feels lacking in variety in regards to its moment to moment gameplay. You go fast, you crash people, you try not to crash. The classes and map variety are enough to push things a little further, but the skill ceiling (at least for now) feels rather low. There are four modes and twelve maps, with future free content updates planned, but as a wary observer, I think it’s a lot to expect for someone to jump into such an experimental game with a steep selling point.
I honestly applaud Onrush for trying something new with the arcade racing genre. It’s a game that’s brimming with confidence, from its ridiculous presentation to its wonderful soundtrack and gorgeous visuals. Unfortunately, I think the obtuse meta-game and seemingly shallow racing hurts its chances of success. When blazing along smashing everything in sight or assisting others in a rare team-based racer, Onrush is an absolute blast to play. I wish it handled its “stampede” a little more cleanly when managing respawns and had enough content to truly justify its price point, but we can only hope future updates and community management will lend it the hand it deserves in building a committed player base.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. A copy was provided by Deep Silver.