ONRUSH (PlayStation 4) review
"This is why I drink."
In the final instalment of my “games that Flobknocker got in a sale that he’d been wanting to play for a while” trilogy, I’m going to tackle the one I wanted to write about the most here: OnRush.
See, there exists a pantheon of games that I hold dear to me like a baby: games that I won’t hear a bad word about, games that I keep coming back to, years after. Games like Worms World Party, Crash Bandicoot 3, Cel Damage, the Bioshock trilogy, Trackmania Turbo, Rayman Legends, and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift.
That last one is why this review hurts me so much.
For the whole PS3 generation, I kept coming back to the Motorstorm games, hooked on the heady cocktail of gorgeous graphics, (for the time, obviously) rocket-fast driving, slick crash physics, the soundtrack, the drifting, the jumps, and that endless rush of brutal off-road racing. It was nothing like the sterile racing games I’d seen elsewhere, and distinct from the Burnouts and the Need for Speeds I’d played along the way. Motorstorm Pacific Rift was my jam, and I can remember the best route for the Sugar Rush track better than my dad’s birthday.
So imagine my glee when I hear that Evolution Studios came back from the dead after the utterly joyless Driveclub, with a whole new racing game.
Oh, hello there bottle of vodka, are you here to help me get through the pain and misery of writing this one? You are? Oh, that’s great.
Before we get into the painful stuff and I succumb to the embrace of alcohol-induced oblivion, let’s talk about the positives, because there is a lot of good stuff here.
First and foremost, OnRush must be one of the most creative racing titles I’ve ever played. Unlike other games of its ilk, OnRush completely does away with the whole concept of there being a start and a finish. Instead of a set point to get to, or a time to beat, OnRush gives you a track, then absolutely fills it with AI drivers: half of these are your opponents and allies, and the other half are “fodder.”
OnRush’s whole deal, then, is to work together with your teammates to complete an objective, and to prevent your opponents from doing the same. These objectives take the form of Overdrive, Countdown, Switch, and Lockdown, and they’re great fun in their own way.
Overdrive is the most straightforward game mode, and the one that abuses the boost and “rush” mechanics of the game the most. The objective here is simple: you score points by boosting, if you boost enough, you get to use a special ability called “rush”, and you fill your boost by drifting, jumping, taking down fodder, and giving your opponents aggro. It’s a fast, simple, and brutal game mode, which shows just how much fun OnRush can be, and just how much effort went into making the game.
The Countdown game mode is a really nifty take on checkpoint-to-checkpoint racing, with the twist being that passing through a gate adds a small amount of time to your team’s timer. The time added for a single gate passed isn’t nearly enough to meaningfully extend your timer, though, so the real challenge here, is to be the first to get through the gate, in order to open it up for your teammates to pass through, because every car counts. Naturally, given this setup, getting right up in your opponents’ faces is a great way to make sure they don’t get through the gates, too, so feel free to get real nasty.
Switch is probably the most creative game mode here, being essentially a team deathmatch where everybody starts off on bikes. From there, the objective is to take down as many of the other team as you can, but every time you take down a bike, that racer will come back, in a bigger, meaner vehicle, ready to bully you around. As a biker, it’s your job to stay alive as long as possible, and if you go down, your new job is to take a new vehicle, and protect the remaining bikers. So it goes until one team is driving nothing but the biggest, heaviest vehicles in the game, whereupon that team runs out of available “switches” and loses. It’s clever, fast, and violent. I love it.
Finally, the Lockdown mode answers the age-old question of “what if sixteen people had a sumo wrestling match on an off-road racing track at eighty miles per hour?”
It’s a question that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time.
Turns out the answer is that you get a really great game mode. Stay in the rapidly moving capture zone, get some teammates in there to help you, take down any vehicles who try to invade your space. It’s simple, and it’s good stuff.
On top of the clever game modes, OnRush is rock-solid at the nuts-and-bolts level, and plays like a dream. Drifting around a corner isn’t quite as fun as it is in other racers I’ve played, but it’s still satisfying, and the sense of speed is wonderful, as is the sensation that comes from hitting the big boost button. Like Motorstorm before it, the boost works best when you hold it for a long time, but instead of a cooldown mechanism, your boost is theoretically infinite, just so long as you keep your meter filled up by doing cool stuff. If you keep boosting, you can activate the game’s title feature, “rush”.
Rush is good.
Rush is a super-boost that turns you into an almost unstoppable meteor of roaring engines, bright colours and heavy metal screams, and the exact nature of this boost varies between vehicle classes.
Speaking of the vehicle classes, that’s kind of OnRush’s other big thing.
As well as offering a variety of different vehicles like Motorstorm did, each vehicle has a neon-coloured set of abilities that can be used to help your teammates, or just be really mean to your opponents. These abilities range from a car that reaches out tentacles of boost energy to any friendly drivers in range, and a buggy that leaves a disruptive wake behind it, to a huge 4X4 that blinds any opponents behind it.
In practice, you won’t be using these abilities much, as the majority of situations can be best negotiated with judicious applications of aggression to the other team. If problem persists, use more aggression.
There’s also an interesting feature of gameplay, whereby the game will automatically teleport you to the middle of the pack if you fall back, and because there’s no first or last, all the cars will naturally end up staying more or less together in a single cluster of automotive violence. This makes sense, because as much fun as Motorstorm was, it was always best when you were in the middle of the pack - right where the real action was.
Continuing a tradition from its predecessor, OnRush is a looker, too, with some really nice environments, gorgeous car skins, and a camera mode to take some really pretty pictures with. The PS4 Pro version I played even has an option to go to a higher resolution, and make the game play at the framerate of 90’s anime. I tried it for five minutes before going back.
Wait… what was that, bottle of vodka? Microtransactions? Drink to forget?
Don’t mind if I do.
Having waited so long for a PC version of OnRush to come out (it’s not happening, folks,) I forgot exactly when it got released. I remembered almost immediately after booting the game up.
Of course, OnRush was made in that window of time between Overwatch unleashing the filth of lootboxes on the world, and said lootboxes being rightfully reviled, which means that OnRush is saddled with not one, but two nasty little features in there to make your time worse.
Honestly, I’m surprised there’s not a whole modding scene for pirated versions of games like this, just with all the nonsense removed. I’d pirate that.
Alas, without raising the Jolly Roger, there’s nothing you can really do about the state of the game inbetween the racing, because when you’re not racing, you’re either staring at something you don’t have the credits for, or the game’s lurid neon colour scheme.
Because apparently, everyone moaned about games being too grey a while back, so now we can’t have muted or natural shades. There is only neon.
Game aesthetics aside, there’s an irreconcilable schism between the gameplay and the rewards you get for it, and it’s entirely the fault of the microtransactions.
It’s a crying shame, really, because the cars in this game have some really cool decals and paint schemes, but they’re all priced between three and ten thousand credits, and a typical race gives you a prize value of precisely zero credits. Because apparently somebody creating this game hated fun, credits are doled out when you complete specific badge assignments, and not at any other point. Because this game came out in 2016, though, there’s also the lootboxes I mentioned earlier, which give you a random set of rewards when you open them, and are awarded every time you level up.
Because the game quite rightly puts the experience of driving well ahead of any story elements - or anything else for that matter - this creates a strange situation where there’s no endpoint to strive towards. Where any reasonable racing game with such a minimalist plot around it might award new cars, skins, powerups, tracks and such when a player finishes a new stage, all of that can be gained by just doing the first few races in the game over and over and over again. This way, a player could theoretically just keep leveling up until they amass an obscene collection of lootboxes, or complete the challenges until they finally gather enough credits to buy everything.
After months of grinding, of course.
As a result, the campaign seems to just exist for its own sake; you go round the tracks and shove your opponents around because that’s what’s supposed to happen, but there’s no real reason to keep doing it, no reward, just more racing.
If I wanted to drive for the sake of driving, I’d play Trackmania or Forza, or Simpsons Hit & Run. Hell, if I were in the mood for such a thing, I could have more fun by booting up Just Cause 3 and wingsuiting around Medici. And that’s the sad thing, really; as great as the gameplay is, it exists in a vacuum, where the only reason to race is because you really just want to finish all the races, and there’s really no good reason to do that.
Oh, and in case you were thinking about multiplayer, good luck with that. My understanding is that the game sold really bad and there’s hardly anyone online these days, so don’t be surprised if the servers are populated by tumbleweeds.
Here’s a funny little thing for you, though: I played Motorstorm Pacific Rift after I got fed up with OnRush’s unrewarding gameplay, and found that by some strange miracle, being given rewards for completing a set of races actually felt really good! I know, it’s crazy, right?
But all that aside, there’s actually some fun to be had with OnRush, and if you can pick up a second-hand copy for a handful of change, then it’s at least worth the few hours you’ll play it before the microtransactions get really annoying. Aside from that, though, OnRush should be more than it is. It’s a great driving game, but a truly awful economic model makes all your time feel cheap, like you’re just there to be fed microtransactions, and the game is an afterthought.
Of course, there’s nothing new I can really say about microtransactions, but given that I hold Evolution’s previous work in such high esteem, it seems truly criminal that such potential should end up drowned in them, leading to the ultimate demise of the studio.
Man, that’s depressing.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Patriot Surger to powerslide around an active volcano.
Community review by Flobknocker (January 08, 2020)
Flobknocker is the nonsensical nom-de-plume of a British guy who occasionally writes about videogames, and who belongs to a mysterious cult that all gather round a helmet every weekend to perform rituals in the hope of bringing about a new Motorstorm game
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