Onrush is that most modern of motoring concepts: a hybrid. But let’s not get things skewed. This isn’t some sort of eco-friendly, tree-hugging hatchback powered only by organic hummus and its owner’s sense of smugness. Instead, it’s a brutal new beast of a racing game. A supercharged slugfest that approaches traditional automotive etiquette with all the grace and refinement of a knife fight in a scrapyard.
This may make Onrush sound very base and lowbrow, but, actually, it’s extremely clever. For years, racing games have done little more than go around in circles. Now, by combining tactical variety to its vehicles with novel twists to its events, Onrush provides something genuinely fresh and intriguing. Developer Codemasters has a long heritage of exploring driving in its many different forms. Here, it’s staged a head-on collision between Motorstorm and Overwatch, and the result is basically Mad Max as a motorsport.
Onrush, then, is a team-based car combat game where two crews of six drivers apiece are pitted against one another in freewheeling warfare. Finish lines scratched out; battle lines drawn. Launching yourself off jumps, performing perilous tricks and callously wrecking other vehicles fills your boost bar. Using the boost you’ve accumulated in turn builds your rush meter, which allows you to unleash devastating special moves.
it’s staged a head-on collision between Motorstorm and Overwatch, and the result, is basically Mad Max as a motorsport.
There are four types of event, each one a destructive arcade racer/multiplayer shooter cut-and-shut contrivance. Overdrive is ostensibly the game’s base mode, with teams accumulating points by boosting. The first side to the target score wins. Countdown demands a surprising measure of care to guide your vehicle through checkpoint gates that add precious seconds to your team’s clock as time ticks away. Lockdown sees both squads trying to take control of a constantly moving circle by positioning their motors inside it, while Switch insists on adaptation, starting everyone on a bike then moving each player up a vehicle weight class every time they wreck until one team runs out of rides and respawn chances.
For all of this to work, the racing needs to be tight, something Onrush achieves by enforcing a strict ‘must-play-with-others’ policy that adds a feeling of ruthless incitement to the racing genre’s usually generous rubber-banding techniques. Here, vehicles are all but shackled together gladiatorial style, relentlessly compressed into a stampeding pack of fuming petrol junkies that includes both teams of competitors, accompanied by a constantly regenerating troop of feeble fodder vehicles that can easily be destroyed for a small boost bounty.
It’s an incessant assault on the senses, scrambling, swiping, blocking, boosting, drifting and destroying all at breakneck speed
Maintaining this claustrophobic conflict is the key to Onrush’s success. It’s an incessant assault on the senses, scrambling, swiping, blocking, boosting, drifting and destroying all at breakneck speed as you’re enveloped by screaming engines, scorching Nitros and the corpses of other vehicles cartwheeling past you into oblivion.
The opposing senses of risk and reward are your perpetual co-pilots and, essentially, wrecking rivals delivers a crushingly satisfying adrenaline burst. The most pleasant difference between Onrush and a regular racing game is that here, anyone can make a major impact without the need to be running at the front of the pack, or anywhere near it. This exposes exciting new strategic opportunities, which Onrush duly exploits with its eight different vehicle divisions ranging from lithe and spritely dirt bikes, who use their manoeuvrability to goad others into errors, up to the heavy-set Titans and Bulldozers, blunt instruments who barge and bully the smaller fry into submission.
Everything you need to learn to fully enjoy the motorised madness is revealed throughout the game’s patiently-paced single-player campaign. This, however, is just a warmup for the heat of online multiplayer where your race skills and reflexes need to be even sharper as you and seven other speeding souls weave through woods, bolt along canyon bottoms and careen around quarries surrounded by the blink-and-you-miss-it natural beauty and alternating weather of Onrush’s 12 tracks.
There are some niggles. Primary among them is the feeling that, slightly too often, the game is just as confused by all the chaos as anyone else and makes seemingly arbitrary judgements about who wrecks who when two vehicles come together. There are also times when I wish Onrush included some straightforward, Motorstorm-style races. I know this would run contrary to the game’s USP, but it would also provide a change of pace that would add to the entertainment. Finally, I could definitely do without the Fortnite-esque driver characters and their cringeworthy post-race prancings.
These issues, though, are not so much spanners in the works, as flies on the windscreen. And Codemasters deserves wholehearted congratulations for successful experimentation in the field of petrol-fuelled fisticuffs. If you parked a Toyota Prius in front of a TV screen showing Onrush, it would probably spontaneously burst into flames. Which is exactly the response its makers were driving for all along.