Sunset Overdrive is to the Xbox One what Super Smash Bros was to the Nintendo 64.
Platforms: Xbox One
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
It’s thoroughly refreshing for one of the primary games hyped throughout the year to live up to what has been said. Sunset Overdrive breaks the trend of games that either failed to meet my expectations or just failed period.
Sunset Overdrive doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything but it’s a new take on a favourite genre that is genuinely fun to play. Basically, a malevolent soda company plies the town with a new kind of energy drink that converts them into mutants.The player, alongside several factions of survivors, has to combat the threat and escape the city.
The Titular City is Abuzz With Life Fitting of the Game’s Message
Sunset Overdrive plays very similarly to Infamous: Second Son. It’s an open-world romp through a city with strangely low gravity. Except that instead of zipping along as a neon blur, players grind along telegraph poles and bounce on pool loungers. Of course the similarities pretty much end there.
Sunset Overdrive places a huge amount of emphasis on movement. The player will be killed very quickly if he or she stands still. Even so much as grinding slowly on a fence, however, makes it almost impossible for enemies to hit you.
Running around town, players aspire to complete two primary objectives: complete quests and find certain collectibles. Many of the quests follow similar patterns. Characters expect you to either find something or go somewhere and kill a bunch of mutants. It’s easy to overlook the lack of variety. Each mission feels charged with such energy and the mandated bouncing and grinding around freshens the experiences that all share a similar core.
This is something that Sunset Overdrive has in spades: exuberance. The entire game is a celebration of gaming culture and everything related to it. Wherever possible, Insomniac Games have thrown in references to anything from Portal to Killer Instinct.
Every inch of the experience is absolutely joyous. Seeing or hearing a small nod to one of the great games gone by can put a smile on your face and endear you to Sunset Overdrive all the more.
The referencing and willingness to break the fourth wall puts the game in a curious position. In some cases, the protagonist interacts with the disembodied voice-over / narrator-type figure or your objective references “conveniently placed” objects. In others, there is a resignation to trundling along with established conventions – be they narrative or gameplay in nature.
Which is one of my primary concerns with Sunset Overdrive. It is the king of anti-climactic moments and often loses conviction in its humorous and sarcastic take on the medium which results in scenes of character growth that are exceedingly out-of-place.
Normally I am an advocate of games that tell poignant stories and lambaste games that overlook this. In the case of Sunset Overdrive, however, I feel that the only level of narrative depth required is that to advance the plot. So much of the focus is on the bad-assery and witticisms of the protagonist and celebrating games in general that there need not be any emotional growth.
I was concerned that the sarcastic nature of the comedy would result in typical American bad boy above the rules with a James Bond complex. Someone whose good guy armour would inflate his ego to unholy proportions to the point where we would spend the game spurning our helpless colleagues, mocking enemies, and saving token females.
Thankfully Sunset Overdrive navigates this minefield expertly. Our protagonist is a quick-witted hellion but one that we find ourselves drawn to with his understandable exasperation with all the follies of normal gaming conventions.
The Small Details are Fun and Reminiscent of Earthworm Jim
Sunset Overdrive offers the players the option to customise their character and purchase a slew of additional weapons. The choices range from being a laser-shooting cross-dresser to a wolf cosplayer fond of acid sprinklers.
While these weapons are slightly less ridiculous than those of Earthworm Jim 3D, they have a charm of their own. Launching explosive TNTeddies or the Kitty Cannon can be lessons in cuteness and awesomeness simultaneously.
The customisation goes a step further, allowing players to equip “amps” to each weapon and five to the character. This creates avenues for combination attacks. For example applying the electric stun ammunition amp to the Hi Fidelity gun (bouncing vinyl records) can chain stun large groups of enemies.
I really enjoyed this feature for two reasons: it incentivized the collection of the resources found around the map and it lets the game do more with the not-entirely-huge range of weapons available.
There is an online component to Sunset Overdrive that I have, unfortunately, missed out on. My refusal to engage in Xbox Live Gold or Playstation Plus really doesn’t help when things like this come along.
From what I gather, much of the core experience of the online component is very similar to the single player mode. Although I cannot fairly assess the mode, not having played it, I feel that it will expand the experience of the game. Something akin to Grand Theft Auto Online: not different enough to be meaningful but fun enough to be worthwhile.
Some small complaints aside, Sunset Overdrive is a triumphant success. It expertly mixes humour with a genuinely exciting gaming experience. Each quip of the characters is enough to keep you smiling between crushing hordes of mutant energy drinkers.
Some more casual players will need to dedicate some time to learn how to micromanage movement with fighting but once they perfect this skill they will be able to fully enjoy the boisterous celebration of our shared culture.
This is the game that Xbox One owners can finally lord over the Playstation owners.