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.

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.

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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  • Ad

    You should mention that they had to cut down the actual maps for all players to make them work on quest, not just graphical changes, and in the UploadVR review they mention that the game’s graphical changes can actually have gameplay effects like a piece of cover you run to is smaller when you’re close to it, or a car is rendered as smaller for you compared to someone farther away, allowing you to hide behind it and still see an enemy that can’t see you. That combined with some maps being disabled, custom maps being disabled, both for all players temporarily. And maps here are quite large since it’s a game of positioning on huge maps with slightly random starts so you often will get you first sight of the enemy from hundreds of yards away.

  • MeowMix

    Downpour completely downgraded and ruined the graphics on the PCVR version of Onward; it’s essentially a port of the new Quest version of the game. This freaking blows !

  • Ad

    I’m on PC playing right now, this is a disaster. The gameplay has absolutely changed, the graphics are murdered, this is a massive step down. Everything across the board has taken a giant hit, not just graphics.

    • DeenVR

      Everybody needs to #BoycottOnward until they roll back the downgrade

      Quest is trying to turn VR into a smartphone gaming sh#tshow.

  • 3872Orcs

    Old userbase of regular players is pissed about all the changes is my impression. Looks like very much a downgrade into a completely different kind of game. This should have been two separate versions really.

  • patfish

    Congratulations Downpour for the stupidest idea in VR history!
    We, your community paid for a PC game and overnight you downgrade us with our 500-1300$ graphic cards to smartphone graphics???? :D :D :D … believe me you will lose now 90% of your hole community – we all were hoping for a soon graphic upgrade of Onward to bring it in to the year 2020 – maybe with the support of Valve and their source engine 2 :D – but you brought it back into the year 2008 :-/

  • mfx

    What a bunch of jerks, ruining a pc game to make the version on the best money making platform (quest) look better in comparison…. that’s a disgusting practice.

  • Frank

    Just Horrible, I’ve been playing and supporting this game since the beginning, I’ve had friends invest into VR just to play this game and now, because of a cheap headset you go and screw your supporters, why because you want to make a cheap headset owned by Facebook happy. Good luck to you guys.way to screw up a good thing

  • DanDei

    The most outrageous thing is how they lie that only with Crossplay we can sustain a large enough player base on PC and therefore the downgrade was neccessary. That is such bullshit. Whenever I start SteamVR and look at the wall-screen in the home room, Onward is always present in the top 10 played multiplayer list, mostly in the top half even. So apparently there are enough concurrent players in the PC version. They just don’t want to support two vastly different versions of the game and switched their lead platform to Quest. Because let’s face it. They already made their money on PC. And now they want to drag all the castrated PC players into their shitty crossplay so they can advertise it on Quest as a most played VR title. It is a total dick move and the optional return to an older version via Steam does not change that one bit. Downpour just fucked an entire community in the ass and wants them to be happy about it.
    If there was ever a case where review bombing was justified, this is it.