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Review by David Jagneaux

Onrush Review

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A racing game that’s not about racing.

Onrush is the racing game for people that don’t like traditional racing games. It’s the Super Smash Bros. of the racing genre, and after spending several hours slamming into my opponents I can say with confidence it scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

In Onrush, you’re not competing to finish the course in the fastest time. There are no laps, no passing cars, and no placings at the end – just a winning team and a losing team. Instead, all of the cars during a match are mushed into what’s referred to as the “stampede,” a mob that careens throughout courses causing destruction and explosions with extreme frequency. This bizarre setup is a major shock to the system at first, but once I came to grips with Onrush’s unique flair, I realized that not all change is bad.

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There are four distinct game modes for two teams of six players to compete for extremely specific objectives – none of which have anything to do with individually coming in first place. In most Onrush matches, my finger was firmly pressing the acceleration at full blast the entire time, often holding boost simultaneously. When you’re flooring it the entire match the sense of speed tends to dwindle a bit, but swapping out vehicles like they’re heroes in Overwatch helps keep things exciting. Even if you can’t come in first place, keeping up with the violent stampede is incredibly important. If you fall too far behind you’ll automatically spawn back into the center of the pack, which can be frustrated when you get blind-sided immediately after respawning, so hounding your opponents constantly is the best way to stay on top of the match’s flow.

You can earn boost by taking out other cars, doing barrel rolls (or tricks and flips on bikes,) or picking up dead drivers’ tombstones and other bonuses from the level, which makes it common enough that you should rarely find yourself without any boost in the tank at all when you need it. There are also slow-moving, AI-controlled bikes and cars with a white outline around them (as opposed to your own blue team and the opponent’s orange team) that you can run over to build up your boost for free. They’re called “fodder” vehicles and work a lot like the grunts in Titanfall, in that they’re just there to give you something to hit and to help keep the action rolling right along in the event there are no players to bash into. There are few things in Onrush as satisfying as running someone over, even if it’s a meaningless fodder vehicle.

When it’s full, Rush is like engaging your boost on steroids.

Separate from your boost meter is your Rush gauge. When it’s full it’s like engaging your boost on steroids. The screen blurs and stretches, a giant blue aura emanates from your vehicle, and the soundtrack kicks into overdrive to really sell the feeling that you’re blasting off. It’s exhilarating in a way that no other racing game really is, especially due to how risky it all can be.

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In Onrush, you’re never really untouchable. Even when going full blast in your Rush state, you’ve got to drive smart. You can still slam into walls (as I’ve done more times than I’d care to admit), hit barriers, or even just get taken out like usual by anyone at any time. If you’re good enough and the match isn’t over super fast, you’ll probably get to use Rush two or three times per battle. While this makes each use extremely important and tactical, it also means long stretches of time without anyone in the race using Rush. Increasing the frequency would have helped kick up the intensity a few more notches. Having a bit more control in turns would have been nice, too, since the wide turning radius of most bulky vehicles is hard to compensate for when rocketing forward at max speed mid-Rush.

In Onrush, you’re never really untouchable.

At the start of every match there is a diverse selection of eight different vehicles (divided into four general classes) to choose from, each with their own unique abilities. For example, Blade a motorcycle that leaves behind a destructive trail of fire when you use your Rush mode, while the Outlaw motorcycle controls the same but drains the boost from enemies as you pass by when using Rush. Then there’s the Charger, my favorite vehicle, which has a larger-than-normal Rush effect around it that makes head-on takedowns easier. The Charger is also magnetically attracted to vehicles below it when dropping from ramps, resulting in crushing aerial takedowns.

Of the four game modes, Overdrive is the most basic. You simply rack up points for your team by keeping your boost active, engaging Rush, and chaining it all together with takedowns. It’s fun and is a great way to warm up, but if it weren’t for Onrush’s exciting destruction derby-esque takedowns, it wouldn’t have much going for it. Luckily, those spectacular crashes inject some serious adrenaline into every match and give me wonderful flashbacks to classic Burnout games.

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Countdown, on the other hand, is a bit more interesting and is the closest thing you’re going to find in Onrush to a traditional race. In this mode, each team is allotted 30 seconds to rack up points by taking down opponents while driving through gates to put time back on their clock. When a car crashes there’s a cooldown before they can come back into the stampede, and those few seconds of waiting feel like an eternity when you’re neck and neck in the final seconds of a Countdown match.

During Countdown matches I typically opt for a more agile motorcycle, like the Outlaw, to hit tricky time gates bulkier vehicles have a hard time with. Since you can change at every respawn, swapping out rides is encouraged and useful. However, there’s a cost: your Rush gauge accumulated in one car doesn’t carry over at all.

Five seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but it’s a bit more difficult than you’d think.

Finally, Lockdown mode is the racing equivalent of king of the hill or domination match types you might find in your typical first-person shooter. There’s a circular zone that’s constantly moving at the same general pace as the stampede across the track, and your team must occupy the zone for five consecutive seconds to gain the point. Five seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but when each car can be canceled out by the other team and the zone will, quite often, pass through walls, mountains, and chasms that you can’t access, it’s a bit more difficult than you’d think.

The fourth and final game mode is my favorite, and it’s simply called Switch. It reminds me a lot of Gun Game from Call of Duty: Black Ops, believe it or not. During Switch matches everyone begins on either a Blade or Outlaw motorcycle, but when you wreck you’re required to upgrade to one of the two vehicles from the next class. On and on the switching goes until you’re in one of the last two vehicles, at which point your mission changes from survival to eliminating opponents and getting rid of their remaining switches. That mix of gameplay styles keeps me on my toes the whole match.

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Speaking of, tracks in Onrush are long and varied. They don’t really feel like typical courses due to how wide the “lanes” are and each of them features multiple elevations, paths, and ramps that facilitate enormous crashes. You won’t find many “shortcuts” here since there is no finish line to race toward, but the long jumps help change things up a bit. Still, it could use more variety from one match to the next – as it stands, the weather and time of day are the only real variations you’ll ever find.

Switch mode turns the whole racing genre upside down.

Whereas each of the other three game modes has a single, consistent objective across the entire track for the duration of the match, Switch feels much more dynamic and really turns the whole racing genre upside down. Depending on which phase of your lifecycle you’re in you could be evading enemies, boosting through the stampede, or relentlessly hunting enemies in a bid to come out on top.

The six chapters of Superstar mode are Onrush’s version of a single-player campaign, but it feels largely like a tutorial rather than a replayable challenge or an interesting story. The whole thing can be played in co-op with up to six players, which is a nice touch. Each mission has specific objectives tailored to the vehicle you’re given to use, such as getting a certain number of aerial takedowns or dropping a certain number of boost items for teammates. But online is where the real meat of Onrush lives and it’s so much more satisfying to take out a real player and watch as the takedown tally rises. It often leads to mid-match rivalries, which is something that just can’t be replicated against AI.

Finally, there are the loot crates – but fortunately, they’re the relatively inoffensive variety. You’ll earn them just for playing games online or buy them with real money, [Correction: You cannot purchase loot crates with real money, only with in-game curency] and they contain a smattering of collectibles and cosmetic items like paint jobs, driver emotes, costumes, and other non-essential items. Because they follow the Overwatch model of only containing optional cosmetics and don’t affect gameplay their implementation feels far less intrusive than it has in other recent games.

The Verdict

Onrush is one of the most original driving games I’ve played in years, giving it a unique flavor. By forgetting about simply going faster than everyone else and mixing traditional racing mechanics with modes and subtle nuances typically found in other genres, Onrush managed to change the way I think about racing games. Its unorthodox online car-brawls and varied objectives go out of their way to feel different, and even when the maps become repetitive after a short while, its appeal remains for the simple fact that there’s no other arcade driving game quite like this.

Great
Onrush makes its mark by making you forget everything you thought you knew about racing games. Its a never-ending stampede of exciting chaos.
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