In 2016 Onward started on PC as the work of a single developer called Dante Buckley who wanted to create something along the lines of Arma and Counter-Strike but in virtual reality. Buckley hit the nail on the head and over the years he set up a whole studio around the title. Two weeks ago, the team released the game for Oculus Quest and offered cross-play between this system and the PC community. However, to make this work, some changes on the original version were made and those weren't what the community expected.
In short, the pre-existing version has been downgraded in order to enable participants playing against each other on all platforms while having a comparable experience. Since many users on the Oculus Quest version will play this game without knowing the PC version, this article will consider the Quest version as a single product.
Shortly after starting the game, a tutorial introduces you to the battlefield. As with many VR games, your equipment is attached to your body and therefore you physically grab the assault rifle hanging in front of your chest. Straight away you learn that you should grab the weapon with both hands in order to increase its accuracy. After you've emptied a few rounds into target dummies, you eject the magazine with the push of a button, grab a new one from your pocket, carefully slide it into the weapon, and then pull back the firing pin with your free hand, ready to await further orders.
It becomes immediately clear that these motions and movements make simple actions feel more realistic. This feeling is even increased when using grenades, where you first pull out the ring and then throw the explosive charge - it all feels a bit too hectic because the fear of blowing yourself up seems somehow more real. The handling of the handgun, which is equipped either on your hips or on the chest, gives a similar feeling to that of the rifle.
Another thing to note is how you use your radio transmitter. You can communicate with your comrades by moving your hand to your ear and pressing the corresponding trigger. Of course, it is accompanied by the appropriate sound effects, too. However, if your teammates are close by, you can hear them talking without the radio activated - just like in real life.
Another important tactical feature is tied to your tablet. You can pull this gadget out to see a live map of the operational area on which, for example, your goals are marked. This also feels much more realistic than having everything displayed via a HUD and it underlines the tactical component of the game - because while you are using a tablet, you can hardly defend yourself. Incidentally, it is similar when using medical equipment.
To stop yourself bleeding out when badly wounded, you'll need proper treatment. Therefore, you can heal yourself and any injured comrades via an injection. While doing this, of course, you're an ideal target for any opponents lurking nearby. That's why it's great if you have smoke grenades available to generate temporary cover or if your colleagues have got your back with crossfire. In general, the game inspires a cautious approach in which strategy and consultation with the rest of the squad are the keys to success.
In a single match the participants can choose between four classes; the Rifleman, the Specialist, the Marksman, and Support. All soldiers have access to a wide range of weapons and attachments, which are awarded based on a point system. Usually, the slots for certain classes are limited so that not everyone on a team can choose the same setup. The next step is to choose the game mode, and in PvP, which lets two teams of five compete against each other, there are three more options to choose from:
The classic Assault mode is all about eliminating the opposing team. In Escort, one of the defenders plays a VIP who is only armed with a pistol and must be protected at all costs. In Uplink, the attackers have to reach a satellite station and send a code. This is particularly funny because you can only access the code via your tablet at the destination. You have to manually enter it into a number field there but you can't see the code while you are typing, so it's all the more important to briefly memorise this sequence of numbers (although enemy fire can make this simple task extremely difficult).
In general, that is the particular strength of Onward: the permanent feeling of being in danger during firefights. Since the Oculus Quest has no cables, you can take cover or peek out from behind walls more freely than ever before. Changing a magazine in the middle of a fight can also make you sweat, as you have to perform complex movements instead of just pushing a single button like you do in a "normal" video game.
The Oculus Quest can get pretty warm at times, but that's no wonder because realising a fully fleshed-out tactical shooter with ten participants on a processor of the size of a cell phone is a real achievement. Of course, this comes at a price, because the graphics are sometimes really crude with textures, foliage, or even walls that clearly pop into the picture, disturbing the overall picture. Until the technology becomes better (and perhaps also more expensive), these are limitations that we'll probably have to accept when playing on such a relatively cheap standalone system without cables.
Another technical negative point is, unfortunately, the AI, which isn't the smartest. The few single-player and co-op modes are therefore not really worth mentioning. After all, you can test weapons and attachments at the shooting range and explore the varied maps without an opponent. However, the game is clearly a PvP shooter without compromise, solely designed for multiplayer.
The bottom line of my verdict is very clear: Onward is a must-buy for Quest owners who have a taste for tactical shooters. If you play regularly, preferably with a reasonably steady group of friends, you can have a lot of fun here and let off steam with the tactical options and equipment (which also includes drones, by the way). Ambitious players can even work their way up to the Virtual Reality Master League, where real cash prizes await the best.
However, we have to keep in mind that Onward is not just a Quest game since it was originally released on the PC. These two worlds have now been merged into one product that supports cross-play, and that may prove to be a mistake. The PC version has been slimmed down graphically, its AI has been adapted to match the Quest version, too. On top of that, two maps, as well as the option to use maps that were designed by the community, have been completely removed. The developer is trying to talk themselves out of the situation with the excuse that Onward (version 1.81) is still in Early Access - although EA doesn't officially exist on the Oculus platform. All we can do is hope that the missing features will come back in the future but, until then, PC players have every right to be angry.