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‘Onward’ for Quest Early Access Review – Lower Friction, Lower Res, Same Great Core Gameplay

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Onward has come a long way since it first launched into Early Access on Steam back in 2016. While we’re still waiting for a ‘full release’ of the game four years later, indie studio Downpour Interactive has managed to tighten up the team-based shooter to fit onto Oculus Quest, replete with PC VR cross-play. Although it notably suffers in the visual department, and could do with more polish, Onward offers the same intense gameplay, making it generally feel at home on the standalone headset.

Onward for Quest Details:

Developer: Downpour Interactive
Publisher: Coatsink
Available On: Oculus Quest
Release Date: July 30th, 2020
Price: $25

Note: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

Gameplay

Onward is the archetypal mil-sim VR shooter: no crosshairs, no mini maps—just you, your five-person fire team, and a limited amount of ammo to eliminate the opposing force, be it the NATO-style ‘MARSOC’, or the Soviet Bloc-style ‘Volk’.

In its time on PC VR headsets, Onward has attracted a hardcore player base—a noteworthy feat considering many multiplayer VR games seem to be easily abandoned by both studios and players alike. Not so with Onward. Downpour Interactive has been gradually growing the game to offer up a good array of real-world weaponry, accessories, and smartly designed maps of varying sizes, all of it framed around a game that rewards users for marksmanship, communication, and team-based tactics. It’s easy to see why this uncompromising penchant for realism has garnered it a solid userbase, as some VR users just want to play War. Now Quest users can jump in and experience it all, of course with a few caveats worth mentioning.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

Like the PC VR version, the Quest port offers both online multiplayer (co-op and team-based modes) and single-player mode play with variable AI number and difficulty. Not all maps are available on the Quest version at the time of this writing, so there seems to be some more work to be done in bringing the Quest version up to parity with the PC VR version. For example, there’s no Workshop on Quest just yet, which allows users to create their own maps.

There are a few other things to know about before jumping in, which distinctly separates it from its PC forbear.

The Quest version is notably lower res than its bigger brother on PC VR, and can leave you squinting more than if it were being driven by a full-sized gaming PC and not the Quest’s SoC.

Onward on PC, Image captured by Road to VR

Onward on Quest, Image captured by Road to VR

Although it may have more to do with the Quest’s displays, far field objects appear pixelated and are hard to distinguish without a scope attached to your rifle. Of course, this really only effects large-size maps where you’d be at a disadvantage without a scope anyway. Outside of this, it seems many of the maps currently available have a muddiness about them that makes target acquisition somewhat difficult, something that may be due to a lack of color contrast. As opposed to the PC version, playing Onward on Quest feels like the brightness has been turned down significantly. What was once a more vibrant mix of whites, yellows and blacks seem to be morphed into blues, reds, and browns. Some levels also seem to be too large to render all at once, so far field objects pop in and out depending on where you’re looking, which can be annoying.

As cross-play servers go live, it will be interesting to see what effect the Quest port’s more humble visuals will have on gameplay, and whether PC VR players will have a leg up or not as a result. Since I was only able to play against fellow Questers, I can’t say for sure for now, although the decreased visual fidelity didn’t stop the core game from truly shining in its online mode for me personally. Much of that fits into the ‘Immersion’ section below, so read on to learn more.

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All said, the single-player portion of the game has a few goodies to keep you coming back when you aren’t in the mood for people (or losing constantly). It has a dedicated shooting range, a ‘free roam’ mode so you can check out all of the available levels, and a few game modes, including PvE ‘hunts’ and an infinite wave-based ‘evac’ mode where you battle against AI of variable difficulty and number. The AI can be a overpowered at moments, and always seemed to spot me before I was even capable of seeing them coming, although that seems to be the case on the PC version as well.

Immersion

What the game lacks in environmental realism—structures have a blocky, low-poly aspect to them—it makes up for in core mechanics.

It’s worth noting that the Quest version (predictably) strips away a bunch of the visual effects that have come to the game over the years, including dynamic lighting and certain particle effects such as smoke. At the same time, it ramps up immersion by letting you go wild and free without cables, which truly feels like how the game was meant to be played in the first place. I won’t spend any more time on the visuals, as we all know visuals are only a piece of the larger Immersion Puzzle.

Onward on PC, Image captured by Road to VR

Onward on Quest, Image captured by Road to VR

Getting into a prone firing position is liberating; the level of friction inherent to the PC VR version is just enough to make me want to either stand or slightly crouch, but on Quest I’m way more apt to make full use of body to get the best, most stable shooting position for the job. If it weren’t a blazing 38 degrees outside, I would love to play in a wide, open field with grass underneath my feet.

Another liberating aspect of Onward is the ability to toss a gun or ammo to a friend. If you and a buddy choose the same gun, say an AKM rifle, you can easily just hand them a new mag if they run out and you’re in a tight spot. It’s these moments when the world acts like you think it should, that you start to lose yourself in the action. And there’s plenty of action to be had when a well-trained group of hardcore Onward players are expertly zeroing in on your hiding spot.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

Personally the inventory system isn’t my cup of tea. Things are so densely packed on your body that you need to physically look down to differentiate between a mag, rifle, pistol, or otherwise. I get it: you need to carry everything with you and have easy access to it too, but I feel like new users will have a harder time developing that specific muscle memory over a more ‘gamey’ way of holding all your necessities.

There’s some things you may gloss over too, such as the game’s sound design. It’s actually super clever, and shows a keen ear for realism. Shooting from inside a house sounds very different to shooting outside. You’ll hear flies when you walk past a dumpster. A low level din of distant gunfire and alarms pervades nearly all levels, keeping the user on their toes as you listen for enemy chatter and the origin of gunshots.

Image courtesy Downpour Interactive, Coatsink

One thing I really love is the game’s radio, which is one of the smartest things I wish more FPS developers used. As soon as you’re out of direct vocal range, the radio becomes the only way you can communicate, and it requires you to physically hold down a button on your left shoulder, adding to the game’s realism. Once you’re out of vocal range you also lose the directional information of where your buddy is, making it necessary to call in where you are and keep the information flow tight and relevant to the task at hand.

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Comfort

Onward is, for an FPS, an extremely comfortable experience. Walking and running are generally at a slow pace, and variable snap-turning is available if you prefer to stay front-facing—otherwise you’ll physically face the direction you want to head in.

The game has been a staunch supporter of hand-relative locomotion. I much rather prefer head-relative, which unfortunately isn’t an option here. Keeping your leading hand on the foregrip of your rifle mostly assures you’ll be walking in your intended direction, although I really wish head-relative was an option so I could play how I’m most comfortable.

Onward expects you to get up out of your chair, as there’s no dedicated seated mode. The more physical movement you’re able to do, the better.

Conclusion

Onward on Quest seems to keep all of the most important bits from the base game on PC VR. Gameplay is intense, and largely unaffected by the necessary cuts the studio had to make in order to shove the game onto Quest’s modest Snapdragon 835.

Once cross-play servers are open we’re guaranteed to find out whether those visual changes have helped, hurt, or kept the game neutral across all supported platforms. Whatever the case, you should always rely on your teammates, and there’s sure to be no shortage of them as Onward sallies forth with a muddy, but confident foot forward onto Quest.


Note: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

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