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Onrush Beta – First Impressions

A ride in a roller-coaster

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When Codemasters revealed a new offroad racing game at Paris Games Week last year, I was immediately intrigued. To learn that this was the project of the team formerly of Evolution Studios (Driveclub, Motorstorm) which was picked up by Codies after it was shut down was fascinating. And then to finally learn that it isn’t really a racing game where you race to the finish line, but more of a 6V6 class-based vehicle game, almost made me lost my mind a bit. That’s a bit too much.

While I celebrate the boldness of the team to reinvent what a game with cars and bikes can be, I also worry if it can work. After spending some time with the beta (which is not available in PS Store Asia unfortunately), I still have mixed feelings. There’s fun to be had with all the chaos of every match, but there’s moments where I feel like I’m just on a ride in a roller-coaster rather than a multiplayer match as it’s appear to be.

So, let’s start from the top. Onrush is not really a racing game. It’s a 6V6 match where everyone gets to pick a vehicle class (which can be changed mid-match) that has unique traits and abilities. All twelve players, plus a few more fodder vehicles, will all speed through the track multiple times until one team can be declared a winner. All the vehicles are in perpetual motion, always rubber-banded together to form the “stampede”.

Think of Burnout’s Road Rage mode¬† where you keep on racing around the track over and over, and fodder cars keep on rubber-banding close to you. Now just add five teammates and a competing team of six.

There’s various modes in Onrush, the purest of all is Overdrive, where teams have to collect the most points in a round (a best of three) to win. Points can be gained by doing many things- takedown opponents and fodders, land big jumps, do tricks if you’re on a bike, draft behind your teammate, stay close as a pack, and more. The other mode in the beta is Countdown where you have to hit checkpoint gates to add more time to the clock, with the first team to have time runs out lose.

The beta gives access to four of the eight that will be available when the game is out. It’s interesting to see all their abilities and playstyles different enough. The Blade is a the sole bike in the beta that works well when you are alone at the front of the pack. The Titan is basically the tank class of Onrush, its bulky look not only gives a defence buff to nearby teammates with an area denial ability, the Vortex thrives on technical moves while the Interceptor is for the Burnout purists who just want to ram cars away and do sick near misses.

You gain boost for doing the many stunts and takedowns described, and using boost (as well as doing stunts specific to each vehicle) will build up the Rush- essentially your Ultimate ability, which gives an even faster boost, which has an ability attached to it, to gain a significant advantage over the other team.

In an early interview, Onrush was described to have influences from Burnout and SSX, which is clearly evident.

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However, in the first few hours wrapping my head around the concept, it’s hard to find it enjoyable. If you approaching it with a mindset that this is Burnout’s Road Rage mode then you’ll be disappointing by how takedowns work. You can just tap a fodder vehicle to send them flying but getting contact on an enemy team’s car can be tricky- it’s hard to get close when you’re chasing a car ahead- even if you’re boosting all the time because the opposition can do the same thing too- and slowing down to catch up with the back of the pack is too risky as it opens you up to be a takedown target.

You also don’t really get to rub together and smack each other a lot- a single tap will cause the other player’s screen to go darker and monochrome, like you’re in critical health in Call Of Duty. If that player can avoid a mistake in the few seconds they will recover again. If not, you’re get credit for a takedown.

Essentially, takedowns are hard to achieve in Onrush, so it’s rewarding when you scored one. And can be frustrating if you’re on the receiving end.

Switching to bikes feel like a different game. The bikes have SSX-levels of absurd tricks, but there’s no multiple button presses needed here- just hit square and a random trick appears. I find my time in the beta more enjoyable on the bike because it’s easier to avoid being rammed when you’re small and nimble.

The presentation is great. The slick, minimalist UI is juxtaposed with the frantic onscreen action. An early Onrush live event revealed that the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X can run at 60fps but not the base consoles, but I’m happy to report that the base PS4 will also feature a 60fps option- it’s just not on by default on the beta, see the breakdown by Digital Foundry for how well it runs (spoiler: it runs well enough, and potentially be better at launch).

Graphical wise it’s fantastic. Cars shift weight as they trudge through the bumpy offroad. The tracks are very wide, filled with jump opportunites, rows of threes to thread through and can be raced in various time and weather conditions. Water splashes and the destructive environments make the world feel alive and chaotic. The particle effects from the many pickups and vehicle abilities can be overwhelming at first, but once you’ve wrapped around the meaning of them all it’s easily identifiable.

I love the dynamic soundtrack, something SSX pioneered way back in the 2000 where the songs just continues, mixed in and out of certain loops and changes seamlessly throughout the menus and in-game. The song choice is an eclectic mix that arcade racer fans of the 90’s and 00’s will enjoy. Some hard rock tunes, some hip-hop beats, not as much dubstep or electronica as one would expect from a 2018 game, but they are sprinkled just enough.

There is also a photo mode, which is available in the Superstar Practice mode. It’s fully featured- there’s a lot of freedom in camera controls, apeture and shutter speed settings, filters, borders,etc.- but the best part is that the menu music fades in and plays in the background. As a result, I spent a lot of time just snapping photos.

The online multiplayer is functional but I can’t comment much about the connection- I am playing on a European server from Malaysia after all so it’s not the intended experience in any form- but there’s also a single player mode in the form of Superstar Practice. It’s one event only, fixed to the same mode and track, but it gives you a taster of the 90-event campaign, all playable solo or with friends via online co-op.

We only get to see some hints of the customisation options in the Onrush beta. There’s plenty to customise- the appearance of your driver, the crashtags (nameplates), tombstones (2D pixel art left at the point of your last crash), and even the paintjobs of the cars. But it’s all randomised for the beta with no chance to tool around with the options. That also means that there was no gear crates- the game’s in-game cosmetics-only loot-boxes to see. However, players will be rewarded with extra customisation options on the game’s launch based on the current level and experience gained.

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Onrush is certainly a bold direction for an arcade racer as it ditches the very core of racing- getting first to the finish line- for something else entirely. It’s fun, it has quality and love being put in it. Now the question comes from how engaging this new gameplay style is and will it resonate with players. I’m still unsure if it’s even possible to coordinate a team to strategise and race as a team, since most of the match just feels like a chaotic blur, which is still fun, but up to a point.

This game needs to be given the free weekend treatment from time-to-time after launch just so more people can try it out themselves. So while the beta is still live, just give it a go (for those that have a North American and European account, ahem) to see if this new kind of racing game (that’s not a racing game) is up to your liking.