The studio wanted to do something new, though. So it looked at co-operative shooters such as Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, which offer different character classes with unique strengths and weaknesses. "We knew we wanted team-based racing," Rustchynsky said, "that's something we wanted to bring into the action straight away." That sort of teamplay, however, was more complicated and ambitious than the simple head-to-head racing of Driveclub. It would require complementary abilities and careful balancing like a roster of Street Fighter characters. Still, the team took to the challenge and began prototyping a six-versus-six arcade racer.
The idea of a swarm or "stampede" that you constantly spawn into came later. One employee was talking about "drop-in, drop-out co-op" as a way of pairing friends up in between races. But then the rest of the team suddenly realized: What if you could literally drop into a game while the action was still underway? The feature is common in first-person shooters such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, but rare in conventional racers. That's because it wouldn't be fair to join a Nascar championship on the final turn, after players had spent hours jostling for position.
It required a major rethink. The team's solution was a gameplay net, nicknamed the stampede, that contains 12 human and 12 computer-controlled drivers. If you crash or fall too far behind, you're instantly thrown back into the fray with everyone else. It meant changing the nature of the game, however. Instead of a chequered flag, Onrush has a bevy of unusual gameplay modes. One of these, Overdrive, tasks two teams with collecting a set amount of boost. While it's tempting to race near the front of the pack, the smarter bet is to hang back and look for weaker vehicles that are easier to take down.
"That's what brings it to life. That multiplayer principle of just launching people right back into the action."
Countdown, a time attack mode inspired by Out Run and other arcade racers, requires a similar mindset. Each team has a timer that can only be replenished by passing through neon gates. Your first instinct is to hammer the boost button, but it's better to focus on takedowns and blocking other players. And if you crash into a tree or get taken out by another driver, it doesn't matter because the respawns are so darn fast. "That's what brings it to life," Jamie Brayshaw, assistant game director explained. "That multiplayer principle of just launching people right back into the action when they get taken down. That unlocks ways to embrace the crash, to celebrate the crash and the takedown."
Onrush has a heavy emphasis on team play, too. There are eight vehicles to choose from, each with unique abilities that can affect the flow of a match. Outlaw, for instance, is a boost-stealing motorcycle vulnerable to larger vehicles. Interceptor has an extended Rush -- a second-level boost that builds over the course of each game -- while the bulky Titan can shield other racers. Understanding the classes and how they should be used in different modes will be pivotal online. While it's possible to compete solo, high-ranking matches will be won by teams with smart compositions.
Onrush will have a Superstar campaign for players who want to learn the different classes or avoid the hyper-competitive nature of the internet. At a preview event in London, I was able to try out the first 10 or so events. These had a mixture of Overdrive and Countdown objectives, coupled with optional challenges that included barrel roll and takedown quotas. At first I was utterly flummoxed as trucks smashed into my car and nimbly dodged my takedown attempts. But slowly I learned the course and the best spots to attack enemy drivers. Successful shunts gave me a full tank of boost and the speed required to be more offensive and influential in each match.
Much of the game's strategy revolves around the fodder system. If you fall toward the back of the stampede, the AI drivers will spawn in easy to reach locations. They can't earn boost or takedowns, making them easy targets for motorcycles and other lightweight vehicles. "The fodder were initially going to be competitor-like, so they could drive and take you out and get involved in the action," Rustchynsky said. "But we found that this didn't make the game any more fun. Instead, it was more enjoyable to serve up those regular takedown moments for players of different skill levels."