Multiplayer shooter Onward released this week for Oculus Quest. If you’re curious what we think so far, here is our Onward Oculus Quest review!
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; this means you don’t find out it’s Early Access until after buying it. With that in mind, we’re treating this like a full launch.
[This was originally an unscored review-in-progress but now that we’ve tested the full game, including online and cross-play, we’re ready to issue a score. Several areas of the text have been updated as well.]
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 got 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 5v5 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. Although, in busy matches with lots going on I noticed some stuttering here and there — but it’s worth noting I was capturing footage during these moments and that could have contributed to performance issues.
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 still.
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. It’s distracting at first, but I can see what the intent was behind the design choice.
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 specifically 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 (especially now following the dramatic 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 pre-release review week 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 pretty 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. ALthough it needs to be said that the AI is pretty atrocious. Regardless of difficulty level they basically just flood towards you. It’s certainly tough on hard settings, but that’s more a result of the fact it’s impossible to gun down a dozen laser-sighted soldiers than it is good programming or smart design.
Animations are quite poor for the AI enemies as well. They tend to walk far too stiffly to pass for anything close to realistic, the character models somehow seem lower resolution than human players, and the canned death animations feel ripped right out of GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64.
For competitive PvP game modes there are three to pick from in the Core playlist: 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 — plus it has respawns.
The main issue with playing these modes is the fact that unless someone squints and reads the blurry text before loading into a lobby, it’s not very clear what the objective is for each mode. The loading screen has information but is very quick and once again has blurry text. Large text instructions plus a voiceover clearly stating the goal, such as, “Escort the VIP to safety!” or “Protect the Uplink satellite at all costs!” would help a ton.
These three Core game modes are the bread and butter of Onward. Even though Assault isn’t technically team deathmatch it’s the closest thing available since it has respawns. There’s a Social playlist for game modes like Gun Game, which cycles your weapons every time you get a kill and Spec Ops, which pits a team of fast running knife wielders against pistol wielders. There’s also One in the Chamber which gives you a knife and pistol with a single bullet. You earn extra bullets by getting kills.
However, those three “Social” modes are not available for public matchmaking. Downpour picks a mode and features it for a week once per month. Right now nothing is featured. In between featured weeks you can still play those modes, but they’re private lobbies only without the option to open them up. It’s an extremely annoying dichotomy. Generally, it could use some more game modes that offer more traditional FPS gameplay, even if they were just added into existing playlists. Something like the War mode from Call of Duty, or Battlefield-style objective-based modes.
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. No timeframe is given.
Overall Onward has an excellent amount of co-op and competitive 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 wish the solo options were better. A few training courses with target dummies for time trials and a leaderboard would be good, I’d love to see more structured wave-based survival maps too, Horde style with a sense of progression. It also really needs a good party system so you can bring your friends with you into lobbies or at least invite them to lobbies. Right now the only workaround is making a private lobby, giving them the password, and then making the lobby public and waiting for people to funnel in by chance.
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.
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 looked so very excellent on PC before the 1.8 update 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. The range on the LOD is just bonkers.
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 are 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: Final Verdict
Onward on Oculus Quest is definitely going to make a lot of Quest users happy. While it lacks the visual fidelity of the pre-1.8 PC version, which is a major hindrance, and is missing community content and Social playlists as of now, 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. No matter how you look at it this is still an immensely entertaining, challenging, and downright exciting VR shooter packed with content and is easily my new favorite multiplayer VR game for Quest. This should be in every Quest user’s library that enjoys shooters — hands down.
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 was originally published as a review-in-progress on July 30th but was updated to a full and finalized scored review on July 31st. Text has changed throughout, but the core opinion is still the same. We’ve also expanded some areas of the review and added a score.]