Hands-On With “OnRush”, Codemasters’ New Racing (But Not Really) Game

After what feels like an eternity since it was announced, OnRush is finally in player’s hands. The full release comes next month, but Codemasters has launched an open beta this week to give us a feel for what lies ahead.

We’ve been playing it for the past few days and it’s fair to say our initial impressions are quite positive. A full review of the game will be coming closer to release, but let’s talk about the beta…

Not Your Grandma’s Racing Game (At All)

If there’s one element that Codemasters has tried to stress about OnRush, it was that this isn’t simply a racing game, and they’d be right. You’ll get a quick tutorial on start that covers how to accelerate, boost and crash opponents out. It’s all typical arcade racing game fodder, but that’s where the comparisons end.

The true meat and bones of OnRush presents itself in a way that transcends genre norms. There’s no orchestral music, high-polished car porn or try-hard vibes. The color scheme and UI design scream fun and approachability and there’s a good reason for that.

The beta includes two game modes: Countdown and Overdrive. Both of these modes pit players in a 6v6 team battle, with a goal to achieve a certain objective. For Countdown, both teams have a timer that they must keep replenished by driving through gates that are randomly spread around each track. Overdrive is a score attack mode that rewards players with points for boosting, jumping and taking down opponents.

Complexity Through Simplicity

Both of these event categories are simple but that is ultimately the biggest strength of OnRush. Complexity doesn’t come from the physics engine or memorizing a driving line – it’s all about decision making. For Countdown, it’s not as simple as just getting ahead of your competitors.

If you stay in the pack, not only can you still get the extra time by driving through gates but there’s also the potential to cause disruption in the pack. If everyone drives like Nico Rosberg, then the match is doomed to last forever in a boring conga line procession. That’s why — for the first time ever — you should be more like Pastor Maldonado.

By pushing enemy drivers around (and even taking them out, if you’re really sadistic), the whole team benefits. Making the right call to lead the way or disrupt your opponents is the real challenge. There aren’t many environmental obstacles you can rely on to thwart the other team. It’s up to you and your team to get the win – by all means necessary.

Overdrive is my personal favorite mode so far. At its core, the mode is basically a “score attack”, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unlike most titles though, the real challenge isn’t about earning points, but rather keeping them. Continuously racking up points will lead to higher combos, which then become vulnerable as the pack approaches and wants to see you in a crushed heap at the side of the road.

So, just stay ahead of the pack then, easy enough right? Wrong again. One mechanic in OnRush — which is sure to baffle driving game purists — is the ability to be flung straight back into the action. If you wreck your vehicle, you don’t get instantly put back on the track where you left off but spawned right in the middle of the madness. That means that eventually the pace setter will end up coming head to head with the trophy truck that just won’t give up.

There’s something stressful about protecting a 2500 point combo when you can feel the opponents breathing down your neck, but that’s not the only thing you have to worry about in OnRush.

In every mode, each player has a ‘Rush’ meter which fills up through boosting and performing vehicle specific perks. When this meter is full, you can unleash a speed boost that includes a special ability (that’s where the Overwatch comparison is drawn from). Overdrive also uses the mechanic to offer a double multiplier to your current combo.

Players have to carefully judge when to use the rush meter to cash in a double score. Do you use Rush as soon as possible whenever you get it to see incremental gain or wait out for a huge score and take a large leap to victory? It’s an added layer of depth which I’m sure the top players will figure out how to exploit.

Choose Your Weapon Wisely

The beta allows you to choose between four distinct vehicle classes, each with their own unique strength.

The Blade is fragile but nimble with a TRON-esque light trail that wipes out enemies in an instant. The Vortex is a trickster that can barrel roll, and yet another offers a disruptive boost current that can manipulate cars stuck behind it.

For those looking for a more even experience, the Interceptor is, essentially, a standard trophy truck, which I’d say is the best class for a beginner.

Lastly, the Titan is pretty much a battering ram used to smash up the competition. Each class offers something different that will be useful in different contexts.

That’s why Codemasters also allows you to change vehicle in the middle of a game. I’ve got a feeling in higher-end play this is going to be a massive feature.

OnRush Could be a Winner

As these are just initial impressions from the beta, I don’t want to go too in-depth about other elements of the game. With so much confusion about what exactly OnRush is, it makes more sense to explore the gameplay loop that Codemasters has crafted. It’s one that encourages you to keep playing and it does it accomplishes that goal with a rapid matchmaking system that doesn’t give you a moment’s rest.

There are a few small concerns so far. Whilst OnRush is fun once you get a grasp on its mechanics, getting there will take a bit of time. The tutorial doesn’t really offer much in way of player learning and your first few events will just feel like a chaotic mess.

Codemasters needs players to be a bit patient in order to understand the logic that underpins each event type and the overall game mechanics. If the approach is that players ‘learn by doing’ then it opens the door to frustration — or the assumption that the game is shallow — when it is anything but.

I’m also unsure if CPU players take over in half-full lobbies; I did see some generic names on the track that makes me think this may be the case. Regardless, for now it doesn’t really matter. There’s some real fun to be had here and for those who really get involved, maybe an in-depth competitive experience to be found as well.

I’m not going to muddle my words – OnRush is not a racing game. It has more in common with SSX, Pure and perhaps even Overwatch, with elements from these games coming together very nicely indeed. In a genre that struggles to find an identity and worthwhile spin on its norms, Onrush is looking like a substantial leap into the unknown. I can’t wait to try out the full experience.

You can try out the beta yourself on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One from Thursday May 17th.

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