Onrush (PS4)

Factfile
Developed by:Codemasters Evo
Published by:Deep Silver
Released:2018
Format played:PS4

Ruminations

Codemasters have a rich heritage in the driving game scene. Dating back to their origins in the 8-bit era, churning out budget games like Grand Prix Simulator and Micro Machines, through the PS1 years with TOCA and Colin McRae, right up to the present day with genre standouts such as Grid, Dirt and the F1 series.

The team behind Onrush come with their own pedigree. Previously operating as Evolution studios, the studio was acquired by Sony in 2007. Then in 2015, a series of staff redundancies acted as the precursor to the closure of Evolution in 2016, the development team shifting over to Codemasters. The rebranded Codemasters EVO developers were the brains behind the PS2 World Rally Championship series, PS3 launch title Motorstorm and PS4’s Driveclub.

Released on PS4 and Xbox One in June 2018, Onrush was made available to PS4 players under the PS Plus service in December 2018. You can also read Edd’s thoughts in his own review.

Gameplay

Whilst innovation forms a key part of gaming development, it is arguably difficult to find too many new avenues to explore in driving games. After all, what more is there to say other than ‘race these guys to the finish line, first one to get there wins?’ There are tweaks to the formula to be sure; simulation games, kart racing, circuits, street courses, weapons, story lines and multiplayer have all featured. But the central conceit remains the same.

Onrush however looks to flip this on its head. Which is apt, given that you’ll be doing plenty of that in your vehicle. But more on that later. The gimmick here is that you’re not racing at all. Oh sure, there are pre-defined courses, laps and other competitors, however the aim of each ‘race’ is not to win, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather than a sprint to the finish line, each race is is built around achieving a set of objectives at the expense of the other guy. Each event sees you compete alongside 5 other racers in your team against another team of 6 competitors. Success comes not just from driving your own race but by working as a unit and stopping the other team from racking up points.

Confused? Let’s step through the various game modes;

  • Overdrive – points are awarded for chaining together boosts. Outscore the other team to win
  • Countdown – the most traditionally racy of the game modes. Drive through a set of checkpoints dispersed throughout the level, adding time to your clock as you do so. Run out of time and you lose the round, outscore your opponent and you win
  • Lockdown – stay inside a specified zone to score points. Bash the wheels off of any opposition motors that try to take your spot
  • Switch – 3 lives, 3 changes of vehicle. Take out the opposition before they can do the same to you. Last team standing wins.

It can be jarring to start with, racing seemingly without a clear focus on winning. Indeed your inclination will still be to drive at full pelt and get ahead of other cars but you soon develop a sense of how Onrush is best enjoyed. Despite your aim switching away from traditionally winning, speed is still very much encouraged. Success is often achieved by filling and then draining your boost meter, which in turn contributes to filling up your rush meter. Once unleashed, this gives you a limited burst of devastating speed. Much like Burnout, boost is filled through a combination of bold driving and carnage. See that ramp ahead of you? Jump over it for boost, or pull off a barrel rolls for extra credit. Vehicle further down the track, meandering in your way? Smash him into kingdom come, takedowns of rival cars earning a fill up of boost.

These game modes encourage absolute carnage, the release from a fixed goal freeing you up to seek out the most interesting parts of the course or to deliberately hunt down packs of cars. Should you find yourself falling too far behind the pack you are respawned back into the heart of the action to resume battle. Not only that but as well as the opposing team of 6, courses are interspersed with random, generic vehicles whose sole purpose in life is to exist so that you can smash into them, giving you an extra dose of boost. Takedowns are never less than satisfying to pull off, whether you look to smash them into a barrier, send your bonnet up their rear axle or, my personal favourite, drop down onto them from a jump and pulverise them into the dirt.

The developers had previously crafted Motorstorm on PS3 and it shows. Much like that series, tracks are dirty and brutal, offering myriad ways to smash either your own or someone else’s ride. Vehicle options echo the Motorstorm range, from the nippy but vulnerable bikes, slower but sturdier jeeps and all out assault, heavy duty armoured trucks. Changing up the vehicles presents a new challenge within both each course and each game mode. In a jeep, your ride feels sturdy enough to try taking out other cars but light enough to brave a jump or barrel role. In a bike, you are well placed to hit those time markers, perform a mid-air stunt and skim across the terrain but more vulnerable to being taken out. Whilst in the heavier classes, it’s all about maximum devastation, crunching through anything that moves but at the expense of top line speed. Within each vehicle class, specific bikes and cars come with a range of different advantages. For instance some allow you to steal boost from rivals or leave a trail of firey death in your wake when rushing whilst others offer more passive perks, such as a shield that protects your team.

The team theme is one you will keep coming back to. You start off in a single player mode, working through a series of race scenarios in what is effectively a glorified training ground. Whilst playing on your own, you still compete within a team and so it is in your interests to sacrifice personal glory for team victory. It is no good racking up a dozen takedowns if you forget to hit the time markers or drift out of your zone, doing so simply leaving your team to pick up the slack and risking your chances of victory. Instead it pays to focus on the objective of each scenario, seeking out takedowns and tricks only so far as they serve to help achieve the team goal.

But who plays a game like Onrush for the single player experience? Well me as it goes, being the unsociable loner that I am. But a game like this, especially with its team-focused ethos, is clearly best enjoyed with others. The same game modes apply as in the single player campaign but the addition of real world players adds a more competitive dynamic. AI controlled opponents are one thing but online, things become a bit more personal as you hunt down that wretch who took you out on the last lap or fight tooth and nail to control the zone, any defeat carrying with it a palpable sense of personal responsibility.

Visually Onrush has nice dirty, Mad Max look and feel to it that suits the vibe of the on track action, with a gritty soundtrack to match. Races are introduced with a gravel gargling voice over, intoning the match type and the conditions for victory. Character models by contrast are rather more cartoony and can be equipped with celebration moves and the like, reminding me of something out of Fortnite. Still, I won’t hold that against them.

The Grind

Mechanically, Onrush feels like a combination of elements of Burnout and Motorstorm. The boost mechanic, whilst not exclusive to any particular racer, features heavily in both and plays a central part of the action here. Like in Burnout, you’ll often find yourself taking courses at full speed, rarely lifting off the accelerator, often times holding both accelerator and boost for entire laps with an added rush here and there for maximum carnage. Motorstorm was of course little pickier with its boost, blowing your vehicle to smithereens if you used it for too long. Rather the influence of that game is felt in the handling and crash mechanics. For make no mistake, you’ll be a crashing a lot, a consequence both of the sense of encouragement to drive dangerously as well as the very real threat offered by both environment and opponents.

The combination of speed and carnage rarely disappoints but inevitably there comes a certain level of grind. The four game modes, as well as the array of vehicles, provide flexibility of options but ultimately you are performing the same tasks repeatedly. This grates in particular when you move between stages and find yourself with the same game mode in consecutive events. Once completed, and all achievements unlocked, it is unlikely you will come back to the single player mode either, your time better spent online. In fairness the game tries to offset this with a healthy dose of trophies and other in-game unlockables. Completing specific achievements grants you XP, which in turn gives you additional content, allowing you access to new vehicles, characters and other add ons.

For a game based around such a visceral driving experience, the propensity to crash and burn can feel a little off, whether you find yourself clipped by another vehicle or just missing a jump and wrecking your car. Handling at high speed can be troublesome too. More than once I was merrily pedal to the metal with boost engaged, only to come a cropper at a corner, my boost-laden jeep suddenly developing all the turning physics of the Titanic as I go smashing into the wall. In these moments, I found myself wishing that crash resistance was more robust, these super charged violence machines feeling a little soft centered to be engaged in such action. Still, respawns are fairly painless, giving you the option to switch out vehicles. Beyond those respawns, there isn’t anything in the way of damage per se. You get a warning if you take a bad knock but through avoiding further contact for a short time, can soon recover. Bashing into team mates is, thankfully, not penalised. As such, you are generally free to drive like an utter maniac at all times.

Bottom Line

Breaking free of the constraints of the driving genre, Onrush is a boost-drenched slice of gloriously violent chaos.

7/10

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