It’s good then, that Codemasters brought in former Evolution Studios staff to create new racing games. The first result of this partnership is Onrush; an off-road arcade driving game that might not be exactly what you were expecting.
As the intro states, this is not a racing game. There are no podiums here. In fact, just take everything you know about driving games in general and throw that knowledge in the bin. Onrush is a team-based action game, with only one of its four game modes actually consisting of anything close to resembling a race. In Countdown, both teams will begin with a timer that is counting down to zero, and only driving through checkpoint gates will slow the timer. The other three modes consist of: Overdrive, in which points are scored by using your boost, earned through various means, and the first team to 10,000 wins each round; Switch is one of the most fun and frantic modes, as everyone begins on a motorbike, but being knocked out via Burnout-style takedowns will switch to the next tier of vehicle, with three switches in total for each team member. The first team to burn through all their switches is the loser; lastly, and possibly the strangest mode, is Lockdown. This is basically a zone capture mode, with a moving zone appearing and the team with the most vehicles in the zone for a total of five seconds, wins the point. The first to a set number of points wins.
Lockdown perhaps represents Onrush’s total shift away from your average racer. Hell, it practically creates its own sub-genre; one that actually more closely resembles Overwatch than anything in the driving genre. No, I’m not kidding. Every event is team-based, and each vehicle type does specific jobs within each game mode, thanks to their own special abilities. You’ll build up an ultimate ability by boosting, which can prove devastating when used properly. Onrush even has loot boxes, coming in the form of “Gear Crates” earned upon levelling up; they are opened in the same way as Blizzard’s game, although with a slight comic violence as the eyes on the crate’s little digital face go wide, before they’re smashed into pieces by an incoming monster truck.
Wait, where are you going? Yes, I know you hate loot boxes, but much like Overwatch’s boxes, Onursh’s Gear Crates offer only cosmetic items. These range from new paint jobs for each vehicle, to costumes for each of the characters (and even celebration animations for them), and even various designs for the tombstones left behind when you’re wrecked in-game. Almost everything can be bought with in-game credit too, for if you want that rare paint job or costume; those that cannot be bought are unlocked via completing specific objectives within the campaign.
Superstar, the game’s campaign, consists of six separate stages, each containing at least half a dozen events. Most of them are made up of eight or more, some of which are multi-part “weekenders.” Progression is a little odd, as it’s not always about winning events; every event has objectives to complete, which will award you with stars for progression, so you best pay attention before jumping in. Some of the objectives aren’t easy either, but it rarely hampers your ability to move through the campaign. Each stage of Superstar introduces a new feature; be it a new game mode or other tracks, or even night races and intense weather. This keeps everything fresh throughout, and will certainly keep you playing for hours on end. I was actually almost late leaving for work one day, sneaking in a few cheeky matches before heading out the door.
That brings me nicely to the gameplay itself (“finally,” I hear you exclaim). I don’t think I’ve ever played a game quite as chaotic and captivating as Onrush, in the entire arcade racing genre. The handling of each vehicle type is as tight and responsive as the best out there, as you barrel along at ridiculous speeds with relative ease; but don’t mistake the ease of controlling the vehicles, for the game itself being easy. As I said, this isn’t a racing game; there is no finish line, only “the stampede.” This is what the game calls the crush of vehicles, keeping everyone together in order to make it competitive and ensuring that the player is always a part of the action.
Each event has two teams battling it out in the current mode, but in order to keep them in the stampede, they have to earn boost (by hitting big jumps or taking out your opponents, etc.) or be doomed to fall behind; this simply results in the player being teleported forward, rejoining the stampede. However, the stampede isn’t just made up of the two teams. AI “fodder” constantly spawns in and around the other competitors, and hitting these results in them flying off in a comical, almost Micheal Bay-esque way, but crucially it also adds to your Rush meter, allowing you to boost for longer. I absolutely love the ridiculousness of it all, as cars fly all over the place, or are shunted into walls or crushed beneath the wheels of airborne competitors. This is without even taking into account the special ultimate abilities, from bikes leaving a trail of devastating fire that explodes anything unlucky enough to hit it; trucks that drop walls of light that slow down rivals; and buggies that leave a wake of light behind them, physically pushing competitors off to the side and potentially into walls or off cliffs. The drawback to these is that I often found myself unable to see beyond my own ultimate ability’s light show, as they’re incredibly intrusive and distracting. In fact, when several abilities are going off at once, it’s almost impossible to see the track ahead, which can lead to some unfair wrecks.
When you are taken out, you’re able to switch vehicles before respawning back into the action (except, ironically, when playing Switch mode), which can make all the difference when your team is struggling. Much like when your Overwatch teammates refuse to pick a support class or tank, so you’re forced to change your own character. Again though, an issue arises here; in a game that works so hard to keep everyone in the action at all times, it takes far too long to actually get you back on the track after a wreck. Perhaps this is meant to punish the player, but when you can be taken down as soon as you respawn, or a respawning player can instantly take out an opponent, it only serves to frustrate.
None of these issues stop Onrush from being one of the most interesting and unique arcade driving games out there. Its intense mix of takedowns, teamwork and pure chaos, combine to create a game that is always exciting, whether played alone or in the instant action of online multiplayer. This might not be the Motorstorm follow-up you expected, but Codemasters has given the former Evolution Studios folks the freedom to create something even better.
And guess what? Onrush is better. You can quote me on that.
A unique take on the genre
Great driving action
Fantastic team-based game modes
Too many on-screen effects
Takes too long to get you back in the action