Back in June Codemasters released the arcade-cum-competitive-multiplayer racer Onrush. It was fresh, it was original, and it was fun – so much so that it received a positive critical reception (currently sitting on an OpenCritic score of 79), with yours truly awarding it a 9/10 in our review. However, despite the game’s critical triumphs the game struggled to find commercial success, with poor sales leading to several layoffs at Codemasters, including Onrush’s director Paul Rustchynsky.
A mere six months later the game finds itself a part of December’s free game offerings for PS Plus members, as well as part of Xbox’s Game Pass roster. While it’s great that the game is available to a wider audience, it’s sad to see such a promising game decline so quickly.
So where did it all go wrong? How did a game that received some high industry praise come and go without as much as a fishtail burnout?
Perhaps the biggest issue the game has is its identity. Sure we know what kind of game it is trying to be, but who is it targeted at?
Onrush’s formula is made up of various influences from various genres. It wants to be an arcade racer, it wants to be a competitive multiplayer title, and it wants to be a fun, almost casual experience. For the most part it ticks all three boxes – it’s certainly a stellar example of a game that you can pick up and play for an hour or so without having to feel invested in every aspect of your car’s loadout. It’s essentially the video game equivalent of Neapolitan ice cream – it knows it wants to be a delicious dairy treat, but it’s unsure of which flavour it needs to focus on so it includes all three (and is awesome).
But herein lies the problem. It wants to appeal to all fans, but in doing so it becomes a jack of all trades and a master of none, for a lack of a better term.
Those that do pick up and play titles like this every now and again (like me), likely only do so when time permits. For example, I find Onrush is a great game to boot up when I don’t have the time to dedicate to a single-player game (i.e. in the hour or so before bed or heading out) because it doesn’t require me to tinker with every nut and bolt under the hood. I can simply load it up, join an event/race, take down some drivers and be on my way. Otherwise you’ll find me consumed by a single-player game, such as God of War, while others will spend the bulk of their time skipping school and playing Fortnite with their mates.
While those that are racing game aficionados prefer racing simulators such as Forza Motorsport or Project Cars because they can change what type of carbon influx capacitor (is that even a real part?) they have. They can tailor their ride to their exact specifications, as well as spend hours upon hours winning championships in campaigns instead of fanging it as hard they can trying to ram other drivers for no apparent reason than ‘because why not?’ in Onrush.
Move it or lose it mate
Then you have traditional arcade racer fans – you know the ones that boast they’re unbeatable at Daytona USA and claim that Need for Speed: Underground is the greatest racer ever (spoiler alert: they’re wrong it’s Porsche Challenge). Arcade racer fans don’t care about vehicular combat (unless it’s Twisted Metal) – they just want to compete in races with a shit-hot sports car and occasionally race their mates in split-screen. Plus as with other genres, it’s much harder for new IPs to establish themselves in a market where there are dominant series, such as Forza Horizon and Need for Speed.
That brings us to the competitive multiplayer types – you know those that play Fortnite, CS: GO and Overwatch. Or maybe they play League of Legends or DOTA, either way these people are usually too preoccupied trying to carve out an esports career or making it big on Twitch to even realise that a game like Onrush exists. Or they simply aren’t a fan of racing games and prefer other genres, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s also not uncommon to blur the lines, with many gamers dipping their toes into the waters of all or some of the above, and here the issue becomes staying power – how will Onrush keep players coming back instead of turning to other games? Being ‘free’ is a good start – perhaps it wasn’t the smartest idea to price it at $79 AUD on launch, then again it wouldn’t have survived as a free-to-play game without some form of microtransactions.
But that’s exactly where Onrush finds itself currently, a free game for PS Plus members and a game that Xbox Game Pass members can play whenever they want without having to shell out the cash for the game itself. It’s a shame that a game that had the balls to try something different has found itself in the plight it’s in. But that, sadly, is the nature of the beast these days, as it’s getting harder for new IPs to gain enough traction to satisfy shareholders.
The road ahead
Thankfully Codemasters hasn’t given up on the game, with content planned until the middle of next year at this stage (see above). I’d like to think that being a PS Plus and Game Pass title has given the game a second wind. I still occasionally boot it up and have a few matches when I can, and each time I reminded at just how much fun it is. I even awarded my ‘most surprising game of 2018’, purely because I didn’t expect the game to be as awesome and compelling as it was.
It really is a bummer that Onrush wasn’t embraced as much as it should have been, I don’t think I have had as much fun in a multiplayer title for a long time. Now that it’s ‘free’ I hope more people jump on and at least give it a chance, and if you haven’t snagged it yet I implore you to do so before the month ends (in regards to PS Plus).