Reviewed on PS4
In 2015, Rocket League became an overnight phenomenon, combining cars and sports into a fantastic game that defied the conventions of both genres. By taking liberties with both the rules of the sport and the setting, developer Psyonix struck a chord with many who would otherwise be intimidated or uninterested in a game about hitting a ball into a net, simply because moving around the field was simply fun to do, and easy to watch and understand instantaneously. Fast-forward three years, and a dream team of ex-Evolution Studios (Motorstorm, Driveclub) developers and other racing game veterans have finally come together under the Codemasters banner to take a shot at mimicking Rocket League’s formula for success— only instead of reinventing a sport, Onrush comes at Overwatch’s brand of class-based competition and positive vibes swinging.
At first glance, the action itself actually resembles that of Motorstorm, if that game were a little more colorful and somehow even more hectic. Events are a spectacle to behold, with over a dozen vehicles on screen at nearly any given moment, all navigating large environments full of huge jumps and criss-crossing paths, and occasionally bashing themselves into pieces on walls or one another. Running at a solid 60fps at all times and featuring strong dynamic weather and lighting effects, the carnage on screen never fails to impress, and I found myself frequently popping into the game’s photo mode just to appreciate it all. Onrush features twelve tracks in total, each with a unique visual identity and theme, from a massive dam to a winding canyon full of waterfalls and colossal drops, and much more. Additionally, each of these tracks can be played during any of the four seasons and at any time of day, drastically altering their appearance and the way they play. As far as I could tell, rain and snow didn’t alter vehicle handling in any way, but the visibility you get driving through a track at midnight during a snowstorm is a wildly different experience than driving that same location on a summer afternoon, which does a lot to add further replayability to what’s already a respectable number of locales.
The focus on vehicles aside, the notion that Onrush is not a racing game (for all its appearances) is a very important one— so much so that the game makes sure to tell players outright in the tutorial. There is no finish line, all vehicles have the same base speed, and leading the pack is actually counterintuitive in most situations. Instead, each of Onrush’s four game modes encourage a combination of Burnout-esque vehicular combat, cooperation with teammates, and situational awareness to nab objectives for your team and crush the competition. At the beginning of each match, players select from eight different classes, ranging from dirtbikes to massive hummers, each with their own unique passive and active abilities. These vehicles all fill different roles, from aggression to support, and not only feel totally unique to play, but also come off as viable competitive options, with no one vehicle that feels too weak or overpowered.
"The carnage on screen never fails to impress"
The feel of actually driving this array of vehicles is about on par with a Mario Kart or a Burnout in terms of accessibility. Codemasters are best known for their simulation games, but with Onrush they’ve definitely taken cues from Criterion’s racers in particular, blurring the edges of the screen in such a way that you get a tangible sense of speed as you tear around, as well as smooth, responsive handling. Where Onrush sets itself apart from its inspirations is an even more outsized focus on earning boost, and the many ways it can be earned. The main method, and one of the best original ideas in Onrush, is by ramming the dozens of infinitely respawning “fodder” vehicles that populate each track. Not only does watching these helpless scrap heaps crumple and go flying at the slightest touch feel oh-so-satisfying, it also adds an extra layer of on-the-fly strategy to consider; whenever your boost tank hits zero, you often need to decide between driving the sections of track where the objective (and other players) are, and the quieter alternate routes that are full of untouched fodder but will force you to move away from the objective and risk losing the round for your team.
Each event pits two teams of six players driving any combination of these vehicles against one another, and gives them some kind of objective to accomplish. All four game modes offer up a substantially different experience, charging you with diverse tasks such as driving through gates to add fractions of a second to a timer that’s slowly ticking down (and sabotaging the enemy so they can’t do the same), capturing a moving point by sitting on it Battlefield style, and more. Each is fun to play in its own right, and between the four of them, it’s hard to get bored. My only complaint is that the marquee Overdrive mode, where the main goal is simply to score points by using boost, might wear out its welcome a tad quicker than the rest simply because it’s the least demanding, though twenty hours in I’m still enjoying it just fine.
"The game goes to great lengths to make sure all players are recognized for their contribution to their team"
These modes are all playable both in twelve-person online multiplayer and in a sizable career mode that’s playable both solo and in co-op with friends. Career is a lengthy series of events set across the same modes and tracks used in multiplayer, with the addition of challenges to complete and the occasional gameplay modifier, such as extended round timers or forced use of a specific vehicle. It’s not the most compelling single player offering ever, but the AI is surprisingly competent, keeping it enjoyable and giving dedicated players plenty of unique events to play and goals to pursue. My only serious gripe is that in order to complete certain challenges, such as those requiring that you get a certain number of assists or win events, you’re forced to rely more on the AI’s help than your own skill. A single good player can’t win a round, and sometimes the opponent racers just happened to kick my teammates’ asses, which led to some annoying restarts on multiple occasions.
Online, on the other hand, is currently limited to a Quick Play mode that throws players into a random event, with a ranked playlist coming sometime in the near future. It’s easily the best way to play Onrush, and works very well. The netcode is stable, matchmaking is quick and seamless, and empty slots are instantly populated with AI, ensuring you never have to wait around in a queue. The game also goes to great lengths to make all players are recognized for their contribution to their team, both online and in career. Like the Blizzard-developed shooter that seems to have inspired it, Onrush rewards and highlights players for all their contributions; even if you didn’t earn the most points or take down the most enemies, you might have stayed alive the longest, gave your allies the most support, or assisted the most objective captures, and Onrush rewards you for that with bonus experience points and a highlight at the end of the match. Rounds don’t quite conclude with a “Play of the Game”, but they do showcase the top players’ drivers, cars, and emotes as a little bonus incentive for a good performance.
This obviously serves as a great chance to show off your loot, the main form of progression in Onrush. Taking yet another cue from Overwatch, cosmetic items are the only reward for play, and each level-up rewards players with loot boxes full of skins, animations, and more. I don’t think these visual rewards are quite as compelling as some other games, though— the cartoony look of Onrush’s character models isn’t quite on Blizzard’s level, and no amount of playing dressup ever made them look particularly handsome (or even good). Nevermind that six of the eight vehicles make the drivers completely invisible on the track, meaning the only time anyone will see them is that final showcase screen. Thankfully the vehicle skins are much better looking and much more visible ingame, offering something worthwhile to pray for every time you open a box. It’s also worth noting that as of right now, it’s impossible to spend real money in the game and that earning these cosmetic items is much faster than other games that use similar systems. On top of that, you’re regularly awarded hefty piles of ingame currency so if you’d like to unlock a specific item directly rather than praying for it to drop, you’ll never have to spend more than an hour or two grinding out what you need.
Crashtags (essentially Call of Duty-esque player cards) are the other long-term progression goal in Onrush. There are about 400 in all, awarded for completing long-term challenges based on criteria like playtime, use of vehicle-specific abilities, winning events with certain characters, and much more. Each has an easy variant, which just unlocks a static image, and a harder long-term version that gives you an animated version of the card. Many of these are actually pretty neat-looking, and the game makes sure to feature them prominently whenever you interact with other players or earn a spotlight, so if you’re the kind of person who already enjoys collecting cosmetic items, they serve as a great way to show your commitment and something to strive for once you’ve unlocked your favorite skins for each vehicle. Some players will still probably find themselves craving some more meaningful goals to pursue, though, and I don’t blame them. Hopefully Ranked mode becomes a solution to this when it’s implemented in the future, but unfortunately it cannot be evaluated as of this review.
Onrush is everything a modern arcade racer should be, and then some. It’s fast, it’s fresh, and it welcomes both racing fans and those who avoid the genre with open arms. With a focus on teamplay and inventive game modes instead of yet another sprint to the checkered flag, it’s hard not to recommend Onrush to anybody who digs multiplayer games and is feeling a little burnt out on shooters. It isn’t flawless, but it’s the kind of game that has me shouting at anyone who’ll listen to give it a real shot. It took me by surprise how much I’ve fallen for it, and given the reactions from the handful of people I know who’ve also played it, I know I’m not alone. I sincerely hope it manages to gain some kind of following because I’d love to see what kinds of additions Codemasters has planned for the future, but even as it exists right now, Onrush is impressive in just about every way and full of enough content to be worth all sixty of your hard-earned dollars. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cars to crush.