Despite initial impressions Onrush from Codemasters is not a racing game. Well, it kinda is. But it isn't. You 'race' cars around a track against opponents, but not to come first. Okay it is to come first, but not by being first across a finish line.
What we have in Onrush is not so much a racing game but something more along the lines of vehicular team deathmatch. But, not in a cool open map environment ala Carmageddon. In Onrush, you're racing around a 'track' alongside teammates and enemy vehicles, accruing points by beating the other team in four nominally different modes that, in the end, boils down to forcing them to crash. This can be accomplished by ramming your opponents into obstacles or walls, jumping then landing on top of them, hitting them hard enough to explode, and so on.
I had some trouble coming to terms with the fact that Onrush isn't a racing game. You're certainly encouraged to race flatout around the course, but once you're out in first place you realise there are no enemy vehicles for you to mess with, therefore no points to be earned. Of course there's the Fodder constantly spawning in around you to destroy - to keep your Boost gauge full - but if you want to win, dropping back and letting some enemies come close is the only way to go. It runs counter to every racing instinct I possess but after I realised this (and it took a while) I was consistently able to not only win but place MVP for the round.
For a car-combat-fast-racing-thing Onrush is extremely polished and runs smoothly even when the screen becomes home to a number of explosions, bright lights, and vehicles flipping all over the place - so much so that you can barely see the road ahead. Which in its sheer spectacle distracts from the fact there's no visible vehicle damage, no collision deformation, scratched paint or dangling body parts. This might be due to the extreme fragility of the vehicles themselves, where a brief hit or scrape with another vehicle will render your ride vulnerable, and a solid hit will wreck it completely.
There's some strategy in the choice amongst the eight vehicles - two of them bikes - that can allow for some interesting gameplay. Each vehicle not only earns Boost in differing ways, such as racing near opponents or performing mid-air stunts, but also offers buffs to teammates and debuffs to enemies when Rush mode is activated. Thanks to rather simplistic physics, vehicle control is incredibly basic. You combine acceleration with Boost, then activate Rush mode when you've spent enough Boost. That's it. There are brakes, but as with many other pure arcade racers it’s better to just release Boost when negotiating corners. There's also a handbrake, but that will get about as much use as the regular brake.
In the end the real problem is that although Onrush is a solidly built game, it’s also light on actual gameplay. If the descriptions so far point to this working better as a simple pick-up-and-play online title than a more traditional single-player racer - then that definitely rings true too. But even on that front the choice of game modes is severely limited and lacks variety and imagination. Why not include a Destruction Derby style arena bowl? Where's the open world sandbox where you can play King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, or simply free roam about seeking and destroying enemies? The same lack of diversity can be applied to the vehicles as well, but it's more understandable when considering the balances required by the multiplayer side of things.
When set against other titles offering vehicular combat such as Carmageddon, Interstate '76, or even Twisted Metal, Onrush pales in variety, longevity, and simple car crushing fun.