Multiplayer shooter Onward releases today for Oculus Quest. Technically, this is an Early Access release, as you’ll be informed when you first boot the game up. However, Facebook doesn’t officially allow Early Access content on Quest and the game’s store page doesn’t designate it as an early version. With that in mind, we’re treating this like a full launch. If you’re curious what we think so far, here is our Onward Oculus Quest review-in-progress!
[This is an unscored review-in-progress. Crossplay was not available to test pre-launch, nor was there a player population to accurately test matches. This review will be updated and scored very soon.]
Onward: The Definitive Military Sim FPS
Anyone that’s ever had a passing interest in VR shooters has probably heard of or seen videos of Onward. Nearly four years since it originally released on Steam for HTC Vive, then getting ported to every other PC VR headset, it’s still often regarded as the gold standard for VR shooters. It was originally created by a solo developer, Dante Buckley, who dropped out of college to make his dream game a reality. Since then he’s built a studio around the game and hired a team of developers.
With its realistic setting, intricate gun mechanics, and focus on hardcore tactical teamplay rather than quick respawn-based game modes, Onward has made a strong name for itself.
With the release of Onward on Oculus Quest, it marks a big moment for Downpour Interactive. Not only is the Quest a fully wireless, roomscale headset that offers immense freedom in terms of positioning your body while playing and freely moving around your environment, but it’s a standalone mobile-powered device. It’s essentially smartphone hardware powering a VR shooter that allows up to 10v10 battles. That’s pretty impressive, no matter how you look at it. Getting Onward on the Quest at all is a huge technical achievement.
But overall, the end result is a bit mixed. On the one hand it absolutely feels like Onward on PC. Even with just four front-facing cameras, the tracking is impressive here and does a very good job of keeping up with your hands and letting you handle your equipment however you’d like. I was surprised by how good it feels after putting most of my hours into the game on Vive and Rift CV1 in years’ past.
The tutorial does a great job of demonstrating how to handle weapons and locate items on your body as well as getting your feet wet with a short match against some AI enemies. The amount of anxiety found in Onward when you’re pinned down behind cover, fumbling to reload your weapon, is honestly extraordinary. Even after you get your bearings it’s extremely intense.
When you’re being shot at your vision forms a cone with the outer edges of your field of view darkening to simulate the feeling of suppressing fire. This vision tunneling lets you know you’re under attack and puts a slight artificial limit on your vision to help fuel the adrenaline.
Kneeling behind cover or to prop up a bipod on a window frame feels fantastic. At one point when I was practicing my sniping at the shooting range, I leaned over the edge of my real life couch since it was the same height as the in-game sand bags and got an extremely immersive sensation.
I’d also like to call out the Spectator Cam because it’s the best viewing mode in any multiplayer VR game I’ve seen yet. Back in the bunker you can either watch through the eyes of whoever is left alive on your team, view a third person version of the camera to see their character, or take control of a remote drone flying around the map to see aerial views of everyone left alive. It’s such a clever system that works super well, even if you never intend to play competitively.
Two other small things that Onward has that I don’t think get enough attention are the walkie talkie and tablet. On your left shoulder you can squeeze the walkie talkie to talk to your teammates across the map, complete with the appropriate audio filter and sound effects. Reaching up to click the button and saying things like, “Over and out,” never stops feeling authentic.
I also really love how the game uses your tablet. Behind your back you can grab it to pull it out and see a real-time overhead map of the level, objective locations, and during some game modes key information that you’ll need to upload data during matches. Rather than showing this stuff in a HUD, forcing you to grab the tablet as a physical object is just excellent.
Content Is King
All the content is the same (other than the map changes that are being pushed to PC as well for parity) including weapons, game modes, and mechanics during games. If you’re playing solo you can visit the shooting range to take shots at an assortment of stationary and moving targets, you can explore maps without enemies to learn the layouts, and you can queue up for solo game modes like Hunt and Evac. In Hunt games you pick a map, set a difficulty, and choose a number of enemies with the objective to track down and eliminate them all.
The same two game modes are also available in co-op, so you can bring friends along for either of those mission styles. During the review week pre-release I spent most of my time in solo and a bit in co-op, getting a feel for things again. Other than some wonky animations when my buddy would do things like go prone on the ground or move their arms rapidly, it was great. Communicating and coordinating the best line of sight and good sniping positions while trying to defend a destroyed hotel room was a blast and the mad dash to the chopper at the end of an Evac game was exhilarating.
For competitive PvP game modes there are three to pick from: Uplink, Escort, or Assault. In Uplink one team is trying to reach a satellite dish where they must input a code and transmit data, the defending team tries to stop them; escort tasks one team with getting a VIP safely to an evac point while the other tries to prevent it; and Assault is all about holding an area while trying to upload a code from the tablet.
There’s also a wide assortment of maps available created by Downpour that can be used in solo, co-op, or PvP games, including day/night variations for a handful of them. In total, if you count the day/night versions as their own maps, there are 11. My personal favorite is probably the Subway station because it reminds me of the Battlefield 3 Metro map. They’re all great though with a good mixture of large, open areas and more confined maps to encourage frequent firefights.
Custom workshop content like custom maps were not available at the time of this writing on Quest, but will be added in a future update.
There are also special Social game modes that cycle on an ongoing basis, but those won’t be live for another week. Some examples include Spec Ops, which pits a team of fast running knife wielders against pistol wielders or the Call of Duty classic, Gun Game, in which each kill cycles through new weapons. Some of the Social modes include respawns.
Overall Onward has an excellent amount of content and with the new influx of Quest players that can all connect and play with PC players there should be a large and active community. Lots of people still play Onward on PC so it bodes well. It’s missing a dedicated story campaign or mission-based levels like Zero Caliber, but it’s got more than enough going on to tide you over if you’re comfortable diving into online matches.
That being said, I honestly really do wish it had a basic, dedicated Team Deathmatch mode. Onward is incredibly immersive and realistic, but sometimes I want to just run around, battle it out, and be able to quickly respawn back into the fight. The Social playlist offers stuff along these lines, but it’s not always an option for what you want and isn’t there at launch.
The selections of guns feels like an embarrassment of riches. Before rounds you can choose either Rifleman, Specialist, Support, and Marksman and they’ve all got their own set of primary weapons to pick from like the AUG, M16, M1014 P90, M249 light machine gun, AK274U, Makarov, and RPG launchers, to name a few. I’m not a gun expert, but Onward still has, to this day, the best weapon handling of any VR shooter I think. It feels incredibly realistic, but isn’t unforgivably rigid with hand placement and movements.
Left: Onward on Oculus Quest | Right: Onward on PC VR
Not The Onward You Recognize
So in terms of listing everything the Quest and PC VR versions include, they’re virtually identical versions. But that isn’t the case visually.
I’m not the kind of person that usually cares too much about graphics in games. I still regularly play retro games, I’m a Google Stadia apologist despite occasional streaming hiccups, and I’ve been known to lower resolution in games often to preserve framerate and performance. It takes a lot to put me off of your game visually.
With all that being said, it pains me to say that Onward on Quest just doesn’t look very good.
Perhaps the feeling is amplified by the fact that it looks so very excellent on PC and the bar was set astronomically high. After playing other Quest ports like Robo Recall, Espire.1, and Phantom: Covert Ops, I fully expected major visual differences. I was ready for that. But Onward still hit me by surprise.
I expected textures to be lower resolution, foliage to be less dense, and plenty of effects to be altered. Quest is just not very powerful compared to the likes of a top-tier gaming rig, I get that. But the texture pop-in here is just ridiculous. While walking down streets and alleyways suddenly walls, floors, buildings, vehicles, and everything else will morph and shift their designs to a slightly higher quality version the closer you got.
It’s common in video games to use a lower-quality texture at a distance, but the designs are fundamentally different in some cases. Like the waist high cover I was running to might suddenly morph so that the top row of bricks is destroyed, making it less useful as an example, or the car in the street will change shape once I approach it, revealing that I can just barely spot an enemy from a distance that maybe can’t see me because of which texture they might be seeing.
In a game like Onward, visuals matter a lot in terms of not only map awareness and line of sight, but also in terms of locating cover, spotting enemies, and more. The less detail on the environment, the harder it is to spot enemies that are literally wearing camouflaged clothing 100-yards away.
We’re told the developers will continue working on the visuals to make them better, but the fact that the maps are literally getting patched on PC to alter their layouts and resemble the Quest versions more closely tells me more corners are needing to be cut than the team probably expected a year ago when this port was first announced.
Onward On Oculus Quest: Review-In-Progress Verdict
This is still a review-in-progress because as of the time of this writing we have not tested cross-play and have not seen how the servers function once live. With that being said, Onward on Oculus Quest is definitely going to make a lot of Quest gamers happy. It lacks the visual fidelity of the PC version, which is a major hindrance, and is missing community content and Social playlists as of now. In summary, it feels like just a ‘decent’ port of an otherwise ‘great’ VR game. That being said, the core of what makes Onward, well, Onward, is still here. Gun handling feels great, tracking seems solid, and there’s a wide assortment of maps and several game modes to pick from.
Assuming the multiplayer side of things holds up with cross-play, we’ll update and finalize this review with a score very soon.
Final Score and Pro/Con List TBD
For more on how we arrived at our scores, read our review guidelines. Agree or disagree with our Onward for Oculus Quest review? Let us know in the comments below!
This is our scale, once we do arrive at a score: