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One genre that's been left behind by AAA studio consolidation and closure is the arcade racer. There's nothing wrong with racing simulators, using the latest technology to accurately model real-world cars and tracks, but that's not where my love lies. In previous generations, there were a whole host of racing games that would let players tear across magnificent tracks in unrealistic fashion: Motorstorm, Burnout, Ridge Racer, F-Zero, Cruis'n, Midnight Club, Rollcage, Extreme-G.
As the previous generation moved forward, this genre was whittled down to nothing. Blur and Split/Second marked the closing of Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studio. Publisher Electronic Arts moved Burnout developer Criterion Games over to the Need for Speed franchise, then shifted most of its employees over to Ghost Games; now Criterion helps other EA studios make Star Wars games. Evolution Studios left Motorstorm behind to do Driveclub, but the studio was ultimately shuttered by Sony. What do we have left? Forza Horizon 3, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the upcoming The Crew 2. It's a sad state of affairs for the arcade racer.
Onrush represents a small hope though. This racer comes from Codemasters, a studio known for racing titles like Dirt 4 and F1 2017, but the this particular strain is a familiar one. Codemasters hired the former employees of Evolution Studios to create a new team, and that team's first effort is Onrush. It's a game that carries forward a lot of Motorstorm's verve and style. It's a little different though.
Onrush isn't really a straight racing game. Yes, there are cars. Yes, there are tracks. But you're not racing in Onrush to get first place. There's no traditional racing mode in this game at all. Instead, the game is laid out like some sort of mad dash demolition derby. You're supposed to go faster and cause more damage than your opponent.
Onrush offers four different modes of play, all of which are team-based. Overdrive is the first mode, tasking both teams with going as fast as possible, doing stunts, taking down opponents, and chaining all of that together in order to reach a score threshold before the opposing team. Countdown has everyone trying to race though highlighted gates in order to keep their timer up; you want more of your people going through the gate than the opposing team. Lockdown has you trying to hold onto a moving control zone; have more of your team inside the zone and you'll make it yours. (I'm not a fan of this mode.) Finally, Switch starts players as the fastest and most fragile class of vehicle. Get taken down and you'll switch to the next class up and lose a life. The goal is to deplete the other team's stock of lives, but as they lose, they get heavier vehicles
Across all four modes, Onrush isn't just about racing or destruction, it's about the careful balance between both. You need to stay on the track and with the pack, but you also need to watch out for others trying to take you down. In Lockdown, you need to know where the zone is spawning. In Countdown, you want to make sure you get through each gate, but the gates act as chokepoints, forcing conflict and takedowns between teams. And you're always in the scrum, as the game will respawn you in the pack if you get taken down or fall too far behind. Onrush is about awareness, not just speed.
It's also about making smart choices. There are a total of eight different vehicle classes, which cover roughly four roles. Outlaw and Blade are the motorbikes, which are faster than the other vehicles and gain boost easily through stunts. Vortex and Charger are the lighter cars, offering relatively high speed, but the ability to take a hit better than the bikes. Interceptor and Dynamo are the next step up the ladder, while Titan and Enforcer rule the road as the slowest vehicles, but also the ones that can deal out the most punishment.
Each vehicle class has its own Special Ability: Titan can give a shield to nearby teammates, Dynamo can drop Boost pick-ups for your team when you Boosts, or Outlaw makes shockwaves when it lands from a big jump. Every class also has its own way to gain Rush. Think of Rush as a super meter for each vehicle class; you gain a bit of Rush for going fast, doing stunts, and finishing off enemies, but each vehicle has an enhanced method as well. Blade gains Rush directly by doing front and backflips, Charger gets Rush simply from driving near opposing team members, while Interceptor gets Rush for near misses.
Once your Rush is full, you can activate it for a limited-time Ultimate ability depending on your vehicle class. Good driving can keep your Rush Ultimate sustained for longer, as you still gain Rush while using your Ultimate. Your vehicle's Ultimate also makes you more liable to takedown an enemy.
So the matches are more like a demolition derby, but the your vehicle selection is more like a fighting game. You'll gravitate towards specific vehicles as you play—I'm a fan of Charger, for example—but you also have to cognizant of what the team needs. An entire group of Titans is probably not going to do all that well on Lockdown or Countdown, but one acting as the bouncer, keeping the enemy team away? That's a very good choice.
The tracks in Onrush are all giant loops, but they're remarkably varied. There's a lot of paths, jumps, big drops, and obstacles to wreck yourself on. There are a total of twelve tracks, stretching from the Redwood trees and rainbow waters of Volcano Lake, the upper-class greens of Links Bay, or the odd geodesic dome of Crimson Base. Not only is every track absolutely gorgeous and full of tons of vertical play, but you also get a different version of each track from all four seasons. And yes, winter and spring tracks are harder to drive around in, with snow and rain making things difficult.
I was playing Onrush on PlayStation 4 Pro and this is a damned beautiful game. This team are some technical wizards, with the entire game running at or near 60 FPS. The Pro has options for prioritizing frame rate or resolution, but with a game like this, frame rate priority is the only sane choice.
Sometimes there's actually too much on screen in Onrush. Once you're in the scrum with Rush abilities going off and the weather system raining down hell, it's hard to tell what's going on. At that point, you're not necessarily steering your vehicle, as much as hoping and praying you're heading in the right direction. Onrush is a very chaotic game and that can sometimes get in the way of the awareness you need to do well. Even setting aside the visual busyness, there are times where it feels like you don't entirely have control of your vehicle. I also found that sometimes the game will respawn you into a situation where you die immediately, which is horribly unsatisfying.
There's a campaign mode called Superstar that will give you the lowdown on each vehicle and a feel for the game's tracks and modes before you jump online. Winning races and oing well in Onrush nets you Experience and Onrush Coins (or whatever the in-game currency is called). When you get enough experience, you level up, which also gives you a Gear Box. The Gear Boxes are loot boxes offering cosmetic items: new shells and colors for each vehicle, new clothes for the drivers, Crashtag banners, and more. All of the items look to be cosmetic and as far as I could tell during the review period, there doesn't look to be any real money hooks here. But if you hate loot boxes period, they exist in Onrush.
I still wish there was at least one traditional racing mode available in Onrush, but I understand why Codemasters avoided it. What's here on display is a wonderfully unique racing title, to the point that I'm not even sure I can call it a racer. It's a little bit Motorstorm, a little bit Burnout, a little bit SSX, but ultimately Onrush stands on its own. And while I may have some issues with the game here and there, the entire package is very good for a studio that was on death's door a few years ago. It's a great foundation to keep building upon. Here's to Onrush and the revival of the arcade racing genre!
Onrush makes a bid to revive the arcade racing genre with this wonderfully unique title. It's a little bit Motorstorm, a little bit Burnout, a little bit SSX. It's a beautiful game, with a selection of amazing tracks full of jumps, drops, and takedowns. Onrush is at times too chaotic and busy, but in the end it's damned exciting.
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