Arcade racers come in many guises. Motorstorm was a massive off-road brawler; Burnout was a slick, fast-paced takedown racer; Mario Kart is a cartoon battler; even Need For Speed offers nitro boosting and drifting. But what defines all of these games is an underlying theme of fun and excitement. What these particular arcade racers also have in common is that, for the most part, the player needs to be first past the post. The winner is crowned for finishing the race in pole position, not for what's happened on the track.
Onrush, the latest game from Codemasters, is a unique team-based racer in which speed, takedowns, and teamwork will earn you the win, not being ahead of the pack and first over the line. The studio has a good pedigree when it comes to racing games, and that's across both simulation and arcade racing. The F1 series, TOCA, Colin McRae Rally and the Dirt games, they all descend from the same stable, and Onrush is the latest addition to the roster.
Unlike more traditional arcade racers, Onrush features a unique stampede system to deliver the fun, where players are bundled together and forced battle it out while dodging, weaving, and jumping their way through the races. Drop too far behind and you'll be teleported back into the thick of it, get knocked out or taken down and, just like a first-person shooter, after a short respawn you will continue straight back into the action in just a few moments. However, players must be aware that while you're out of action you're not earning vital points for the team. It's not first across the line but the first to hit the objective.
Initially, the racing seems very reminiscent of Motorstorm, with huge sprawling off-road tracks filled with multiple routes, elevations, and jumps, however, it's the battling aspect that ensures Onrush stands alone in the genre. Complete jumps, takedowns, and dangerous driving to earn boost, then burn through your boost to fill up your rush meter and, when full, use it to unleash a furious charge of power and speed. Littered across the track are nondescript grey bikes and buggies - or fodder - and these can be taken down with ease and help to charge your boost as you race amongst the stampede of teammates and rivals.
Onrush offers an array of bikes, buggies, cars, and SUVs to race, each with its own set of abilities, some beneficial to your teammates and others more aggressive. One example is the bike that can leave a trail behind it that wrecks opponents who cross it, another is the car that can charge the boost of teammates. It's not always clear when you can activate these abilities - some are automatic, others need to be triggered at certain moments - but using these vehicles and their respective abilities cleverly is key to destroying your rivals. Having a range of tactical options on your team means that you can utilise the various abilities when you need them, and coordination is essential.
The game is split up into four main game modes. Superstar is the "story mode" as such. Here, over six chapters and playing with and against teams of AI drivers, you will learn how the Onrush tournament came about, the basics of battling, the classes of vehicles, their special abilities, the four different race modes and, of course, the tracks themselves. After you've honed your skills as an Onrush driver you can jump into the online multiplayer action. It's here that your skills will be truly tested, and more than ever working well as a team is the key to winning. Buddy up with friends online and be sure to maximise your abilities to create a competitive team. And if you don't help your comrades and fail to contribute enough then you'll soon see your team losing races.
The four race modes available in Onrush include Overdrive. Here you'll need to earn boost any way you can and burn it up to unleash your "rush". The more time you send boosting the more points you'll earn for the team. Countdown, on the other hand, sees you weave your way through time gates with your team to add seconds to the clock, however, you need to be sure to sabotage the opposing team to make them miss a few gates and they'll soon run out of time, gifting your team the win.
In Switch, every player starts with three lives and players must hustle for takedowns to make the opposition lose lives. But be warned, as every life lost results in an upgrade to the stronger classes of vehicle, so you'll need to use both your wits and teamwork to win. Finally, there's Lockdown, a race where you need to control a zone at high speed. It's here where the stampede system works best, where players jostle for position and you need to keep your teammates in the constantly moving zone to build up the score. Get taken out or be overwhelmed by the other team and you'll find the tables turn rather quickly.
While the modes define the game, they wouldn't matter if the racing wasn't up to scratch. In Onrush the action is tight enough to feel controlled, yet there is an overriding sense of complete danger while you push forward at breakneck speeds, this also due to the death-defying jumps and the resulting heavy slams. One false move and you'll smash into a rock face, building or simply hurtle off a cliff. Obviously, you're not out of the race if you do, you just spawn back in the mix, but when you're out of the game you're not contributing to your team's objective and those vital seconds can be the difference between a win and a loss.
The game is a visual and audible assault on the senses, but this is in keeping with the overall feel of Onrush. Not only are the courses huge and varied, filled as they are with trees, grass, buildings, and debris, but just about every surface is daubed in graffiti, adding colour to what could have otherwise been very drab surroundings. Each vehicle has a huge number of styles and liveries to unlock, as well and the drivers themselves. The pumping soundtrack is also suited to the game; it's an eclectic mix of songs that seem to rattle around in your head while playing but never become distracting.
One noticeable issue with the game is that ranked play is currently, at time of writing at least, locked off. We'll have to wait for this part of the package to come online, and the devs are also promising ongoing support moving forward. Another feature is the photo mode. Initially, we found its inclusion a little bizarre in a game such as this, but we'd recommend giving it a go as there are some pretty amazing shots that can be taken.
While it's certainly a missed opportunity that there's no local multiplayer included (this is the kind of game ideally suited to having such a feature, in our humble opinion at least), Onrush offers a truly unique vehicular experience. It's a racer with the spirit of an online shooter, and it offers rip-roaring, high octane thrills.