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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Codemasters
Release Date: June 5, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Onrush'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 16, 2018 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

With ample incentives to race with style and send your opponents to the dirt, tearing through tracks in Onrush is an exhilarating competition of speed, flare and perseverance.

Buy Onrush

If you believe in second or third chances, Onrush may be your lucky charm. It's the third major racing property by the developers formerly known as Evolution Studios, and it could be their ultimate redemption. After the embarrassing CGI trailer announcement of MotorStorm for the PS3 over 10 years ago and the botched launch of DriveClub on the PS4, which caused their eventual demise at Sony, there was little hope that the studio would find its pacing. Then Codemasters acquired many people from Evolution Studios, ultimately paving the way for the new driving experience, Onrush.

As someone who writes about video games, I don't merely look for titles that do things the best; I also look for titles that do things well in a different way. They may or may not succeed, but I feel they should be commended for trying. Onrush is such a game. It takes certain risks, not all of which pay off in the end, but it also brings back a nostalgic vibe that doesn't rely on cheap callbacks or outdated game mechanics. Onrush isn't a racer, so there isn't an actual finish line in this title. Perhaps there should be, but for now, let's focus on why the cars don't seem to go anywhere but smash each other into concrete walls. Short version: It's flashy and fun.

While Onrush doesn't grab its inspiration and ideas out of thin air, they come together in an intriguing way. The basic premise is that two teams of six compete in matches on racing tracks. It transcends the idea and concept of a hero- or class-based shooter and applies it to vehicles. It's not about shooting; it's about taking out people so they can't earn points for their team. It's about earning rush, so you can activate a special ability and support your team with your class' abilities. You're stuck on a merry-go-round with 11 other humans, exchanging chassis paint and dents while trying to burn boost, drive through checkpoints, capture zones, punish everyone in your way, and stay alive. A close approximation of the gameplay is Burnout crossed with a team shooter.

The moment-to-moment gameplay is as chaotic as it sounds. Every vehicle in the game has a distinct skill, rush ability, and method of earning boost. Rush is filled up when we boost, so we want to always be boosting. Boost can be earned through our special ability or through takedowns and jumps. Special abilities only last for a limited time and can provide perks, such as barriers, takedowns, draining rush from opponents, or granting rush to allies. It's a typical class-based game in the sense that certain vehicles are suited for different roles within the team, so having a variety of classes in your team to offset weaknesses enhances your chances of winning. For example, one of the two bikes in the game is quite vulnerable but quick to turn, with and its special abilities make opponents slow and vulnerable. It can easily be used to hit an enemy car and steer clear so a teammate can swoop in and finish the job.

The 12 tracks provide a wide area to drive on. There are plenty of ramps, trees and walls, but there are also destructible environments to blast through, and chaos is sure to ensue. In addition to the 16 on-screen contestants, Onrush features "fodder" vehicles, which are similar to the pushover bots in Titanfall. They crash easily and provide a steady supply of boost if you can consistently string them together. The result is an on-screen escapade of flying bodies, scrap metal and sensory overload.

There are four gameplay modes:  Countdown, Lockdown, Overdrive and Switch. Countdown is the closest thing to a proper race mode in Onrush, as it has you and your team race through checkpoints to add time to your clock and be the last team standing. Lockdown is a zone capture mode, where zones spawn and move around; they need to be captured and held by your team for five seconds. Overdrive earns your team points as you burn boost and chain combos together. The most fun mode is Switch, which starts everyone on a bike and three lives, or switches. Each time you are taken down, you move up a class. When you're out of lives, you respawn as one of the heaviest vehicles and try take out the remaining opponents before your team is eliminated. A crashed opponent cannot score points. In the end, it comes down to the basic crashing mechanic that works similar to the Burnout series.

If you've read the article, you probably did your math. Twelve tracks, six vehicles and four modes don't provide a whole lot of variety when compared to similar titles, especially since Onrush was released at the full retail price. It isn't as bad as it sounds, though. Tracks have alternative routes and provide multiple jumps and routes. They also feature day and night scenarios, all four seasons, and a range of extreme weather conditions. A track covered in snow looks very different, but it doesn't change the overall gameplay variety. Codemasters clearly set up Onrush as a Games as a Service title with a steep entry fee, hoping to add relevant content as it grows. To be honest, they have delivered thus far, as major updates have added a training mode and ranked game mode.

Onrush features a solo campaign that basically strings together back-to-back races with a few videos and challenges. It actually resembles an extensive training mode because it introduces the vehicles one by one, adds game modes, and then adds weather effects and day/night cycles. It's a good way to get the hang of things, but it also can be pretty dull, since the AI isn't very challenging. Apart from that, when Onrush launched in June, it offered custom games with a thorough rules list for private online games and a Quick Play mode.

The problem is that Onrush clearly wants to be a competitive team shooter on wheels, but then it doesn't highlight the competitive elements. Quick Play allowed players to engage in quick matches that were very fun but unfulfilling. The game doesn't display your ranking in relation to other people in the lobby. There are awards for performance at the end of each race, but for a game that is supposed to be all about online gaming, the comparison methods seem odd and unintuitive.

The good thing about reviewing the game a little later is that we can look at the content updates since launch. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it helps Onrush stand out a bit more. We now have a detailed photo mode/video editor, a dedicated Training Challenge mode with local high scores in case we want to train a particular vehicle, and most importantly, a Ranked mode. It took Onrush over two months, but that addition is a minor game-changer for the better.

The Ranked mode is simple, but that's what makes it enjoyable. It provides the player with some incentive to actively compete in the game. The Ranked mode works very similar to Rocket League in that we have to win matches and earn points to climb up the categories, tiers and ranks. The four categories with four tiers, which consist of six ranks, feel very standard. There are special seasons for ranked events, and special challenges and rewards are tied to the season, so the reward and ranking system feels even more like Rocket League.

Onrush has loot crates but, there aren't any microtransactions. Crates are earned with every new level and unlock new cosmetic customizations for cars, drivers and tombstones, which are left on the track when we crash. The loot can range from common to epic, and loot can include tricks for bikes, a chassis, or a victory dance. By completing in-game challenges, we earn a steady flow of crash tags, which are name tags for our profile, similar to those in Rocket League. Every crash tag has a static and an animated version that is slightly tougher to unlock. If you're a completionist, this may become your new favorite game.

Technically, Onrush throws a few punches. The game looks and runs beautifully, with smooth 60fps gameplay coupled with vibrant and detailed visuals across all modes and gameplay styles. It feels like a truly polished experience that even offers HDR and higher resolution support for the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. We have rarely seen a bug or a hitch, and the net code is equally impressive. When jumping into Quick Play, we never really have to wait because the game throws us into a lobby immediately and connects us to a running game or starts a new one. If there aren't enough players, bots jump in until a human player is found. It's fast, responsive, and well realized. Bots aren't in Ranked mode, so you'll see some longer loading screens, but it's nothing too wild.

Onrush sounds like a pretty great racing game on paper, but a lot still doesn't add up. With the fast and wild gameplay on the screen, skilled play is subject to a lot of lucky moments. There is too much going on to have an overview and be in control of the events. If you're engulfed by flying car wrecks, driving skillfully is probably the last thing you'll do. If it's snowing at night, it's almost impossible to make out anything in certain situations.

Unlike a shooter, the Onrush experience seems to be equal parts skill and luck, so it's out of the control of you or your team members. It's a fun and beautifully messy racer, but the concept itself is flawed. Crashes sometimes feel random. There were moments when we'd steer into a tree nose-first at top speed but emerge unscathed, just to jump over a ramp a few moments later, land on all four wheels in an empty area, and crash immediately for seemingly no reason. The initial omission of a Ranked mode was similarly mind-boggling, but this has been addressed by a recent update, and it adds a great deal to the core concept and value for the very active and loyal fan base.

There are some minor design decisions that are odd, such as the incredibly stiff driver models that showcase odd victory dances for every trophy. The dances are earned through free loot crates, but they're thrown around like candy, so they feel devalued. That's still infinitely better than having microtransactions, though.

Strangely enough, Onrush checks every item on my gamer wishlist while still staying well below its potential. It's beautiful, fun and technically sound, but it also has an identity crisis that won't go away anytime soon. It's a great casual online experience that wants to be more than that — but doesn't actually offer enough to achieve it. The continuous updates may nudge the game closer to that goal, but recent layoffs at the studio don't instill hope that updates will continue at a consistent rate. If you're looking for a fun, bare-bones, online racing experience, Onrush may still be the perfect game for you. It still has a long way to go to fulfill its potential.

Score: 8.0/10

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