If you’re a racing game cynic, you might come to the conclusion that racing games have already been all they can be. Oh, sure, there are variations to the formula; perhaps there are more cars, or perhaps the tracks are more difficult to navigate, et cetera. Thing is, though, it’s always going to be the same thing. Several drivers compete to be the first across the finish line. That’s the most essential element of racing games. Right?
Enter Codemasters’ OnRush, a game which aims to change all that. OnRush was developed by several former members of Evolution Studios, who gearheads might remember from the MotorStorm series and the somewhat ill-fated (yet criminally underrated) DriveClub. Evolution Studios was disbanded by Sony back in March 2016, likely due to DriveClub’s lacklustre performance (seriously, guys, go check it out, it’s a lot better than anyone gave it credit for). OnRush could be seen as the spiritual successor to MotorStorm and DriveClub, although far more the former than the latter.
OnRush is a racing game, but it doesn’t have a finish line for its cars to cross. Put down your pit stop coffee, though, cause we’re about to proclaim something pretty bold: OnRush might well be the future of racing games. Think about it. Simulations can only go so far, and when absolute realism is achieved, that’s pretty much it; there isn’t anywhere else that type of game can go. Of course, other games have toyed with the idea of removing the finish line from their races (Carmageddon springs to mind, as does Twisted Metal), but those games are primarily vehicular combat titles rather than pure racers.
Let’s back up a little and explain what OnRush actually is, and what it’s doing so right. Essentially, the game consists of challenge modes not dissimilar to FPS games like Call of Duty, or hero shooters like Overwatch. Four game modes are available to players, and none of them involve crossing a finish line. There’s “Overdrive”, in which players compete to use their speed boost powerup as much as possible; “Switch”, where takedowns net points; “Countdown”, where racers must drive through checkpoints dotted around an open map to tally up their team’s score; and “Lockdown”, a racing-style take on the classic King of the Hill territory control mode.
The vehicles are where the hero shooter element of OnRush comes in. Each vehicle has its own bespoke abilities, as well as its own unique way to earn RUSH, the game’s super-charged turbo boost resource. The Interceptor, for example, earns RUSH through near misses, while the Vortex must perform barrel rolls to earn RUSH. As one might expect from the MotorStorm folks, the vehicles are chunky, cartoony and satisfying to drive; each one feels markedly different, and requires players to adopt a different play style in order to master them.
Further cues from hero shooters are taken with the division of vehicle classes. OnRush’s eight vehicle types each roughly correspond to hero shooter-slash-MOBA-style character archetypes. It sounds ridiculous to say this, but if you’ve ever wanted to play a racing game in which you get to support your team rather than chase the glory, OnRush very much delivers. The Titan is a huge APC-style vehicle which can debuff opponents and shield teammates, placing it firmly in the “support” stable. The Dynamo, meanwhile, is all about supplying teammates with speed boosts and ensuring the player’s team gets ahead.
While it’s true that OnRush’s pedigree is very much on show in terms of MotorStorm and DriveClub, and its hero shooter elements come correct, the other comparison to make is with legendary arcade racing series Burnout. The way in which certain modes require takedowns to gain points is very Burnout-esque, as is the vibrant palette. OnRush doesn’t quite feature the satisfying single-player campaign of its closest stablemates, but it offers enough multiplayer action to compensate.
Let’s go back to racing game cynics for a moment, and why we chose the rather provocative title for this piece. If you are indeed a racing game cynic (we’ve got our fair share of them on the team), OnRush could well be the game to change your mind. It’s about as far from a simulation as it’s possible to get. If tuning suspension, choosing the right tyres and optimising race lines doesn’t sound like a good time to you, the folks at Codemasters have you covered. It’s just nice to finally see something existing loudly and proudly alongside the Gran Turismo and Project CARS of the world (which we mean no disrespect against, naturally).
OnRush feels a lot like the arcade-style racing game that the PS4 has been missing. While the likes of TrackMania Turbo, WipeOut and the Need for Speed series have been catering for the more powerup-hungry player (some of those with diminishing returns, it must be said), nothing feels like it’s nailed the balance between satisfying driving physics and, well, good ol’ fashioned fun like OnRush has. For those who are after something less in-depth than a typical racing sim, OnRush is going to be very hard to top, especially if you’ve been hankering after some Carmageddon-style antics.