What happens when you shutter a studio that’s brought some of the most engrossing racing games to market over the last few years? Codemasters snaps up the talent and gets them to keep on making games. A bittersweet story for the old Evolution team, after they completed the superb support on DriveClub they were closed down, but fortunately were able to continue as part of the premier racing game developer in the world. It’s great news for gamers because lessons learnt from the many years of Motorstorm games coupled with the online work in DriveClub means we’ve got ONRUSH to play, and it’s a real departure from your typical racer.
Leave all your knowledge of how a racing game works at the door when you boot up ONRUSH, this is nothing like completing laps or pelting from point to point. Being in front doesn’t matter, and neither does being at the back. The key mechanic in play is teamwork – wherever you are and whatever game mode you’re playing, you need to work together or you’ll never succeed. Each race is about outscoring the other team in one way or another, whether it’s through pure points, forcing the other team to run out of “time”, or making the run out of “lives”. There’s a wide variety of events to take part in, but they all have the same focus – go fast, go hard on the opposition, and don’t ever give up.
Set in a near future where a group of individuals that got fed up with being bogged down by rules and regulations created a new type of racing; ONRUSH pits different classes of vehicles on off road courses with different win requirements. Designed to promote as much tactical thinking as possible, the emphasis is still on going as fast as possible and not crashing out, with this aided by a boost that’s earned through driving like a madman. Use enough boost and Rush becomes available which gives extra speed and unlocks additional abilities in the car that are designed to screw over the other team. Add into the mix the ability to wipe others out or slam them into obstacles and you’ve got a messy, fast and frantic sport that’s great to watch and exhilarating to take part in.
Comparisons to other games are inevitable and it’s fair that ONRUSH is pretty much Motorstorm crossed with Burnout, with a bit of class based play layered on. But then it’s also so much more than that as well. Take the titular mode where the it’s about scoring points through continual boosting, ramming others and building Rush. It kicks off as a rolling start with the teams clearly separated, though doesn’t keep it like that for long. Points come thick and fast when you’re tailgating, jumping and pushing others off the course, but run out of room, slow down or get shoved off yourself and the tally doesn’t build as quick. It’s balancing fast, aggressive driving with calm defensive work that makes the winners, almost as much as keeping your foot in.
Other modes are Countdown which is based on running through gates and preserving time for the team; Switch that starts everyone driving in the weakest vehicle (bikes), and with a limited number of lives that need hanging on to – each crash out results in a change to the next tier of cars; and Lockdown where a moving score zone appears and as many of the team as possible have to stay in it to take control and the points. They all feel more like they belong in Overwatch than ONRUSH and probably sound like that too, but it works, it really does. Stripping out the solo competitive objectives of coming in the top three and it relaxes the way you approach each race. It doesn’t mean there’s no action though… it’s chaos from start to finish with the two teams battering each other. Then there’s boost fodder in the guise of wannabe drivers deliberately placed in the way that encourages you to ram them off the track and keep pushing forward. Get too far ahead and the others will catch up, too far behind and the game zooms you back into the action. At no point are you left trundling along making up the numbers, it all counts to the end result.
With a comprehensive single player mode that forces you to try out all the types of car and modes, you can easily spend all your time there, but you’d be missing out on the main selling point of ONRUSH, the multiplayer. I’d argue that it’s a seamless integration because you get exactly the same experience on and offline, the only difference being that your fellow humans are more devious opponents and slightly worse teammates on occasion. The matchmaking is quick and loading into the track is only marginally slower than playing offline. It’s also a bonus that it only takes two start an online game with the rest of the team made up of AI until others join in. Levelling up is shared across both ways of playing though has no tangible benefit on your abilities, so it’s a level playing field for anyone jumping in at any time. What comes from gaining a rank is a lootbox to unlock that adds customisation options in the form of tricks, emotes, tombstones or paint schemes.
I think it’s part of the beauty of ONRUSH that the only thing to learn is what you need to do in each game mode, and how to press the boost button (there’s even a trophy for doing that for the first time). Unlike a lot of competitive online games, the more time spent in there doesn’t give any advantages beyond knowing what the tracks look like. With the same options for all taking part and a focus on objectives rather than individual performance, it might seem like a bit of pot luck on which team wins and loses, though you tend to know exactly why the match has gone the way it has. A quick score screen showing the MVP and randomly selected best scorers along with an XP increase is the only interlude, and then it’s straight into the next round and time to go flat out all over again.
Criticisms are difficult to level at a game that revels in destruction and letting you drive like a loon. There are minor niggles like a restriction in the views you can use (only external), not able to map the sticks in as accelerate and brake, and that sometimes boosting is not fast enough to get to where you want to go. That’s probably the main complaint in that because you’re always at top speed it does hit a point where it’s not feeling fast enough and you just want to kick it into a higher gear. Beyond those minor points it’s smooth, responsive and slick from the main menu to the game over screen, and accompanied by the superb engaging music choices that the old Evolution team were known for.
It feels like Codemasters have delivered on an entirely new racing genre that might draw influences from a number of other games, but has a unique spirit and feel of its own. I’ve not has as much fun with a racing game for sometime, they’re usually serious affairs where the only goal is to be at the front. Getting used to a different style of play needs a bit of investment in listening to the announcer, though it only takes a round or two to become familiar with it, and there’s a good tutorial that makes sure it’s clear what the basics are. With lots of options to personalise the look of your driver’s vehicles, a rewarding loot system that doesn’t ask for your money, and incentives for playing each day, there’s plenty of replay value, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing more added over time. ONRUSH is brilliant fun with a wealth of tactical options that are only ever as complicated as you make them, and will appeal to hardcore racers looking to let off some steam as well as novices wanting to just jump and crash. It’s a blast.
A PS4 review copy of ONRUSH was provided by the Codemasters PR team and the game is out now on PS4, PC and Xbox One for around £44.99.