ONRUSH preview: The Return of the Arcade Racer

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On a chilly afternoon in South Hackney in London, I was invited to get hands on with Codemasters upcoming driving game from the minds behind Driveclub and the Motorstorm franchise. I knew little about the ONRUSH out side of the announcement trailer, now I’ve actually played it and been told more about it, I know one thing for sure… I want it!

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, first things first, and in what feels an endless sea of hardcore sims like Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport and Project Cars, ONRUSH comes crashing through the gate to inject the adrenaline and fun you only get with the balls to the wall arcade experience of yesteryear. One key piece of information worth pointing out is that ONRUSH is technically not a racing game. There is no finishing line here, just competitive progress bars. Those represent your success in meeting the goals applicable to whichever game mode you are playing. There’s no placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd. You get one of two results; winner or loser. See the fleet of cars charging around on screen, well they are not all your enemy. Be it with friends online or AI counterparts, you are part of a team (blue vs orange) working together to accomplish the objective before the opposition, lone wolfs need doesn’t apply.

Game Director Paul Rustchynsky and Assistant Game Director Jamie Bradshaw walked us through a presentation about the game and what makes it so different from the other driving titles this generation. Their influences range from the obvious like Outrun, Burnout and Motorstorm to the more surprising like Rocket League, Street Fighter and Overwatch. But then, as I said before, this is not really a racer and when you look into the competitive aspect the game presents you with, those influences are not too hard to find.

One of the most unique and compelling features the developers have come up with is The Stampede. It’s a genius idea that’s so simple I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. If you find yourself falling to the rear, struggling to catch up and losing site of the pack too far behind, or maybe you’ve crashed and burned into a smouldering heap, thats not a problem as the game will transport you back into the middle of the fray. This means it’s all action, all the time and that no matter your skill level, you never get left behind.

ONRUSH also uses its soundtrack to keep the adrenaline pumping while also subconsciously informing you that you are too far ahead of the pack or that you’re starting to lag behind. It reactively alters to the on screen action, to be slower and quieter when you’re drifting away but blasts out high octane, brain thumping tunes when you are smack in the thick of it all. This is increased even further when you activate your Rush meter and it all gets turned up to eleven!

But what is “Rush” I don’t hear you ask, as this is an article rather than a conversation. Well, as you are driving around you can acquire “Boost”. This is done by hitting ramps, landing sick tricks on the bikes or trashing other vehicles. Once you got some you can use it to get a burst of speed, helping you collide with enemies, get through objectives and generally just go faster. Now, each time you use boost you gain “Rush”. Fill your Rush meter to the top and prepare to unleash your vehicle’s inner beast! You will hurtle forward at at ridiculous pace, knocking the snot out of any car silly enough to be in your way. This is not just an enhanced boost though, each vehicle type also has its own Rush Ultimate used to obstruct the opposition or assist your teammates. These moves vary from shock waves trailing behind your car causing those following to get forced to the side (potential into a wall or off a bridge, or just making them miss a time gaining checkpoint), giving infinite boost to friendly vehicles in your vicinity, to just dropping a barrage of barriers for opponents to slam into.

ONRUSH is not light on content, including a campaign called “Superstar Mode” which is playable in both solo or co-operative multiplayer. There is a selection of 12 unique driver models, with their own selection of 18 skins. Then there’s your option of the 8 vehicles; 2 bikes and 6 cars, each with individual perks and Rush moves.

There are 4 racing modes which are playable through both the campaign, quick race and 6 vs 6 online multiplayer matches;

1) Overdrive – This is all about your team earning boost as fast as you can to reach the required score. It’s all about the speed and style here.
2) Switch – Last man standing. You get three lives. You have to switch vehicle after each death. Last one to die wins.
3) Lockdown – King of the hill for racers. Your team chases down mobile zones and bundles as many people in there as possible. Team with the most players in the zone gets the points.
4) Countdown – You race against the opposition and the clock. Drive through checkpoints to keep adding time to your bar. To win you just need to outlast the other team.

All of this takes place over 12 great looking tracks with varying enviromental elements and details, be it dense forests, open sands, rocky ravines or abandoned dock yards. Each has multiple routes to take on as you’re zipping round at “Ahhhh!” miles per hour, including some only accessible by certain vehicles, meaning each trip round can feel quite different as you get knocked off course or find a ramp you missed before.

There also plenty of unlockables to get through gameplay from new tricks, taunts and celebrations for your driver to cosmetic customisations for your vehicles. Though I didn’t delve too much into this during my hands on, I did seem to be earning rewards crates quite regularly whilst playing and with so much stuff get it would appear the sense of progression is fairly consistent.

I was able to try out the campaign running on an Xbox One X and the multiplayer on a PS4 Pro and in both cases the game looked and ran great. The sense of speed is breath taking without feeling uncontrollable and there’s a real weight to the vehicles as you smash into the sides of your opponents or when you slam down to the ground after getting some serious air. It feels like classic Burnout (sorry Paradise City) but taken to the next level because you are actually encouraged to crash into people, though when your on the losing side of a collision a nice takedown replay shows exactly what happened in loving slow motion. Strangely though, the game I thought of most when I was finally dragged away from the console and the controller was prised from my hands, wasn’t any of the games previously mentioned here. No, it reminded me of the first time I played Wipeout on the PS One. The speed, the beautiful bright colours, the awesome energetic soundtrack and that sense of pure unbridled enjoyment. It’s not always about the 600 cars, 70 different track layouts and learning the perfect racing line. It’s fun for the sake of fun. ONRUSH is a true return to the Arcade Racer of my youth and before today I had forgotten how much I missed them. Roll on June 5th.