There’s a lot to love about a quick glance at the arcade-combat racing of Onrush. Its blistering speed, giant-jump racetracks, and shrapnel-spewing four-wheelers impress instantly both in screenshot and hands-on modes. This positive first impression absolutely proves the chops of the game’s devs at Codemasters Evo, who previously kicked butt in this genre with the Motorstorm series.
But for all the game’s impressive tech and satisfying slam-to-speed action, Codemasters Evo somehow falls short—incredibly short—of delivering a true successor to the Burnout throne. Both on a macro and micro level, Onrush includes a number of puzzling design decisions and execution bobbles. And the resulting disappointment is downright crushing.
Revving to Overdrive
In its purest form, Onrush encourages crazy driving for the sake of speed boosts. Much like in the Burnout games, you can steer an opponent’s vehicle into a wreck for a huge surge in your “boost” meter, while other high-octane moves (jumps, stunts, near-misses) tick the meter up more slowly.
Onrush veers off the Burnout path by putting a singular emphasis on competitive multiplayer. The full game hinges on six-on-six team-race competitions. (Solo players are directed to a “campaign” mode in which AI fills all the other driver seats.) What’s more, none of these modes offers a traditional race or time-trial mode. In order to emphasize combative, collision-filled racing, Onrush offers four modes.
“Overdrive” is the best of these modes, because it very simply encourages each driver to burn through his or her vehicle’s boost meter; whichever team uses the most of its boost (and makes sure to replenish it regularly!) wins each round. You’ll need to drive aggressively to keep your meter up, and keeping the boost button held down consistently offers a score multiplier for each racer. Conversely, smashing another racer off the track offers the dual benefit of awarding the aggressor some boost and keeping the foe’s car out of the boost-scoring realm for a few seconds.
Driving near and ramming into foes is the best way to rack up boost, but Codemasters Evo also offers the clever addition of ghost cars—AI peons that are meant to be rammed into and crumble at the slightest touch. The sheer act of navigating your fender through these black-and-white trash cars is a real delight, mostly because Onrush makes them such destructible wimps and they offer great driving lines to aim your car through while navigating the game’s treacherous hill- and debris-lined courses.
In “Lockdown,” teams must speed ahead to a small, colored zone, which moves at the same speed as a fast car, and race within it for five full seconds to claim a point. Ideally, this would lead to a scrum of cars all jockeying for the same zone and bonking each other out of it. But in practice, it’s an exercise in frustration.
The default boost speed isn’t apparently high enough to quickly reach where this zone appears. Time and time again, I’d have to brace for a perfect, boost-at-all-times run toward a zone just to get close to it, with even one slip sending my car behind the pack. I had better luck using the game’s built-in “reset position” button to get in range of the thing—and if a built-in warping button works better than just playing the game, then that seems badly optimized.
“Countdown” asks all racers to drive through a series of constantly generating slalom gates to keep a meter alive for their team. This mode works in a very weird fashion: each gate pair’s opening grows in size when any racer goes through one. I consistently found my teams were better off staying slightly behind our opponents to enjoy the biggest gate sizes possible so that more of my team members would tick our meter up to stay alive, since their skinny defaults are easy to miss. Why faster racers aren’t rewarded with, say, a higher meter boost for going through skinny lanes is beyond me.
And “Switch” is a pure combat mode in which every driver has three lives. When one side loses all its lives, the other team wins, but “dead” players get to keep racing and smashing into the competition. This pure-combat mode might be more fun… if it didn’t depend on Onrush‘s online infrastructure.
Netcode taps the brakes
Reviewing pre-release online games is hardly the best indicator for a final product, but Onrush already has us wondering if, or how, it’s going to deliver fluid, twitchy, 12-player team combat racing across various latency and connectivity issues.
Despite attaching wired Ethernet to my testing Xbox One X console, I consistently struggled with car crashes that looked decidedly WTF. Cars that didn’t appear to be anywhere near mine would warp into T-boning me (or I would do the same to other cars, as I’d consistently see “you took someone out!” notices and wonder how). Any time a number of cars and bikes bunched up during the Lockdown mode, the where-and-how of my rivals was a grab-bag. My own teammates frequently shoved my car into danger thanks to random, rapid shifts into my trajectory.
A few times, I even watched my car “crash” with zero other cars driving anywhere near mine. (I had to start using the “Xbox record that” function to prove that I wasn’t imagining things, as Onrush doesn’t offer a “wreck cam” during its online matches.)
Codemasters Evo has elected not to employ any form of frame-limiting or catch-up protocols in these instances. Instead, its netcode appears to aggressively guess-and-revise how your opponents are accelerating, braking, steering, and boosting. And, as of press time, it does a lousy job.
But let’s say my pre-release testing was a fluke and that Onrush ultimately delivers on its promised six-on-six racing. The question at that point, then, is: what’s still missing?
Onrush offers eight classes of vehicles, but they don’t differ in Mario Kart fashion (i.e., weight versus acceleration versus handling). Instead, they offer slight differences in how each vehicle accumulates and uses its boost meter, along with different special abilities. These differences are all meek, and they fail to emphasize unique strategies or encourage significant teamwork. Sure, some cars dole out bonuses to teammates or attacks to foes, but many of these only trigger when your special meter is full—meaning, roughly twice a match.
Maybe more-intense, class-specific powers could have been combined with smaller team sizes in modes that had been tailored for three-on-three or four-on-four racing as a way to make each class feel more impactful and to possibly remedy whatever ails Onrush‘s current netcode.
Listing image by Codemasters Evo