You probably haven’t heard of Onrush, a game that combines the framework of a racing game with some hero shooter elements and coated with severe X Games attitude. It’s a new take on vehicular combat, a genre which has been somewhat absent off late. Developed by a team of ex-Evolution Studios employees (MotorStorm and Driveclub) at Codemasters, Onrush launched without much fanfare or advertising. And that’s a shame, because Onrush is one of the boldest and freshest takes on vehicular combat games since the original Twisted Metal.
In Onrush, players drive eight classes of vehicles (including cars, off-road buggies and motorcycles) across large tracks which often feature hilly terrain and multiple lanes. Right away, the game takes pains to let players know that it’s not a racing game. There are no finish lines, and coming first in the group gains you no additional points. You earn boost in the game by performing tricks, driving fast and smashing into competitors. And in a nod to hero shooter games, Onrush scatters lots of critter vehicles around the tracks (called “fodder”) for you to run into and earn more boost. When you collect enough boost to fill your Rush meter, you can go into Rush Mode, which functions as a form of super boost mode (even though you are still susceptible to crashing).
Players win rounds by cooperating with their teammates both in single-player and multiplayer modes, none of which are remotely similar to traditional racing games. For example, in “Overdrive,” teams win by boosting as much as they can; the first team to hit the points target wins. “Lockdown” is Onrush’s take on capture the flag – teams must remain within a moving target zone to capture it and the team that captures the target number of zones wins. While the modes are generally fun and imaginative, Onrush still feels a little light on features. There are only a handful of tracks and cosmetic vehicle and player upgrades to earn as you progress through the game.
Onrush is designed to be enjoyed online. In my tests, the network code appeared to be rock-solid. Racing was smooth, and there was little to no hint of lag – all of which are important in an arcadey racing game. There’s a genuine effort by the developers to create a sense of community around this game. You can customise your avatars and create “crashtags” and select emotes. That’s all well and good, but frankly, it is hard to see this taking off without players being aware of this game in the first place. Deep Silver needs to put more funding into advertising this game to build a sustainable online community.
The best thing about Onrush is just how great it feels to play. The handling of the vehicles is deliberately arcadey, with vehicles tightly powersliding across the tracks. Strangely enough, the vehicles’ handling reminds me of Sega Rally 2, one of my favourite racing games on the Dreamcast. Track design is wonderfully open, giving players a myriad of ways to drive and strategies to implement across the various modes. The fodder vehicles get destroyed with a satisfying crunch and elevate the chaos of each round. Sparks and dirt continuously fly into the camera. It’s exhilarating.
The soundtrack features the adaptive mixing technology like that originally featured in SSX – songs seamlessly fade in and out of each other and are mixed “live.” The song selection is diverse and high energy, featuring artists from the likes of ODESZA, The Heavy, Giraffage and everyone in-between. Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be lavished on the game’s user interface. Compared to modern racing games such as Project Cars and DiRT, Onrush’s UI falls short. It is busy and a real distraction, especially when considering the number of particles flying into the camera. Letting players have a highly stylised icon is excellent…until you have to look at all of them on screen at the same time.
Praise must be given to the developers at Codemasters for creating something truly original – a “racing” game that’s not about racing at all. It would have been easy for them to create another Motorstorm clone. Instead, they took elements of arguably one of today’s most popular genres, hero shooters, and combined it with fresh thinking of what a vehicular combat game can be, resulting in one of the most fun arcade “racers” on the market. Despite its lean offering and sometimes questionable presentation, Onrush is a fun ride and worth recommending to those looking for a different racing experience.