The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.
Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?
As you would expect from an arcade racing game, the vehicles race, drift, and corner smoothly. Cars and motorbikes handle similarly, differing mostly in their weight. Heavier vehicles have an advantage on the ground, while motorbikes are vulnerable on the road yet dangerous when attacking from above. Each vehicle has three unique abilities – a passive trait, a way to charge their Rush (their super ability), and an effect applied during their Rush. Players riding the Blade bike can build their Rush charge by performing backflips, while Dynamo drivers can use their Rush to boost teammates.
Applying classes and abilities directly to the cars is an interesting approach. However, the abilities made little impact. Even after hours of racing, I didn’t establish any preferences about which class of car to use in any mode. I also hadn’t needed to think about strategy or tactics.
This is because Onrush‘s primary selling point- keeping players continually in the action- is also its main weakness. If you get too far ahead of or behind the other players, the game will reset you into the middle. As a result your actions can feel meaningless because the game can cancel your movements at any point, to place you where it thinks you should be. At the same time you can launch into a race, walk away from the console, and return to find yourself still gaining points for your team.
Onrush doesn’t want you to be bored, yet by removing any opportunity for downtime, the uptime itself becomes boring. This paradox runs through many aspects of Onrush. Having boost for 90% of each race doesn’t make that 90% feel awesome, it makes the other 10% feel wrong. Spending almost the entire race in the midst of a crowd of fighting cars doesn’t make the action feel exhilarating, it makes everything else feel wasted. By trying to make a never-ending rush of high-energy play, Codemasters have instead turned intensity into monotony.
I tried out Onrush during a free-play weekend, and accidentally played the game for much longer than I intended to. Its mindlessness had the same effect as the “autoplay” button on YouTube; turning Onrush off required more thought and effort than playing it.
Personally, my time with Onrush was forgettable, because the races felt exactly the same regardless of my effort or my performance. Yet I don’t want to be harsh to Onrush. Its underwhelming, yes, but it’s not disappointing in the same way as No Man’s Sky or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Onrush is not an example of overhyped and unscrutinised claims, nor a cynical contract fulfilment. Similarly, Codemasters have abstained from nearly all the sins of modern day game devleopment. They didn’t make false promises about what Onrush would be, they didn’t make Onrush pay-to-win, and they didn’t fill it with season passes and microtransactions.
Codemasters have my respect for trying new ideas rather than relying on sequels, reboots, and loot. Based on the odd state of current game development, releasing a mechanically competent game without major issues elevates Codemasters above many other developers. Plenty of developers and publishers have got away with poorly-made games and manipulative monetisation in recent years, so Codemasters having to lay off staff as a result of Onrush seems like an undeserved punishment.