It’s been an interesting year so far, but October finally delivered the Xbox One exclusive I have been daydreaming about since E3 2013. In fact, I even named it as my most anticipated game for 2014 earlier in the year! Of course, I’m talking about Sunset Overdrive, the stylised sandbox shooter set in a mutant apocalypse from Insomiac Games.
Sunset Overdrive is a super-fuelled, colour-packed, grind and shoot amusement ride developed by the visionary team at Insomniac Games. The visuals alone are awe-inspiring, with an injection of punk rock edge unlike any other games in the market today. Exaggerated jumps and acrobatic shoe-grinding traversals are your winning ticket around the bright metropolis of Sunset City, which is notably filled with outrageous characters who are larger than life. That said, it’s the super-powered parkour abilities and imaginative, off-the-wall weaponry that truly define this radical experience.
Set in the year 2027, an energy drink company called FizzCo has just debuted a new and exciting drink called “Overcharge Delerium XT” by holding a launch event in Sunset City. The character you get to customise in the beginning starts out as a cleaner; disposing of empty cans from the launch party, dealing with obnoxious people, and generally being unimpressed with life. However, while standing by a dumpster, you stumble into a man who finishes one of the drinks only to transform unexpectedly into a hideous mutant. Realising that the energy drink has caused a wide-spread mutation through everyone at the event, it’s now up to you to find safety and escape Sunset City.
As you navigate through the infested metropolis, you will enlist the help of other survivors including Walter, Floyd, Two-hat Jack and others. With their assistance, you must fight the growing threat of mutants, scabs, robots and other enemies controlled by the FizzCo Corporation. Personally, I thought this far-out story was a blast to watch unfold as it doesn’t take itself too seriously with its unique sense of humour and loud characters. It’s mostly straightforward, driving the game in a way that’s interesting enough to hold the player’s attention. However, it’s also made entertaining with lots of fast camera angles and comic book style effects that seamlessly tie into the vibrant cartoonish world.
At its core, the game has been designed with an open-world map full of missions to complete and collectables to enhance your character – much like Grand Theft Auto. The missions are the primary objective, which drives the story forward and offers great rewards; while challenges and quests provide a sizable chunk of optional content. Sunset City, in my opinion, has been very well-crafted for the grinding and jumping move-set. Almost everything in the city is accessible, which is also easy to navigate as the railing and cables are all brightly coloured for visibility. Objects such as cars and bins are always in good proximity to being bounced on once jumping off a rail. Buildings are placed close together, and trains and other horizontally flat surfaces are also accessible and work as platforms for wall-running. Even the power-lines play in your favour by giving you the option to zip-line through the lengthy streets. With all of these handy manoeuvres, it creates an all-in-one method to travel the city without ever needing to touch the ground.
All of the enemies are bizarre and grotesque, but it’s important to note that each offers its own unique and offensive style. Throughout the game, you will regularly encounter a lot of different mutants, which forces the player to create a tailored battle plan and prioritize which enemies to defeat first. For example, the Scabs (mutated humans with assault rifles) are deadly at close distances, so it’s key to keep constantly moving in order to dodge a barrage of fire. Whereas the typical mutant, the “OD,” can be taken down with your melee or roll attacks at close range. The distinctive aspects for each enemy are exceptional and can be simply identified from afar even when you are performing traversals at great speeds. If you’ve played the Ratchet and Clank series, you’ll also know the team at Insomniac Games are capable of creating inventive and explosive weapons. There is an impressive array of gun-power from the TNTeddy bazooka to the vinyl record-shooting High Fidelity gun; each weapon is ridiculous in design but destructive in nature.
Personally, I found that the gameplay in Sunset Overdrive showed clear influences from quite a few well-known titles, and in turn, incorporated many different genre conventions into one unique package. There are obvious signs of Insomniac’s roots in the third-person shooting elements of the game; which play parallel to the Ratchet & Clank series. The high-octane grinding, jumping and wall-running, on the other hand, fuse together an interesting blend of gaming styles made famous by the likes of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Jet Set Radio and Mirror’s Edge. It can be a little overwhelming at first to manage grinding and shooting enemies simultaneously, but with a little practise, players shouldn’t have any problems getting the hang of the mechanics. It’s important to remember that staying on the ground too long can be hazardous as all enemies are fast-paced and can take big chunks of your health in seconds.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the environment and to learn potential pathways as it can make a big difference when knowing the best route to take in order to continue your momentum. As a reward for chaining kills and rail-grinding, your style meter builds up; providing the player with heavier firepower and additional moves. Players can also earn “amps,” which are special abilities applied to both your character and weapons for stylish shooting and better traversal. Once you have grown accustomed to the quick, responsive style of gameplay though, you’ll be able to fly through the amazing Sunset City with elegance and ease. The flow of Sunset Overdrive is like poetry in motion.
Sunset Overdrive’s visual design is wonderfully colourful, but what’s even more impressive is a smooth-as-butter frame-rate that the current-gen hardware has been promising to deliver for almost a year now. The power of the Xbox One delivers all aspects with ease, processing the character’s radical movements, mass hordes of enemies and the explosive weapon effects, all on screen at the same time. Equally matching the vibrant presentation and rapid gameplay, there is a foot-stomping soundtrack that is a lot of fun to play to. The music is an impeccable selection of edgy and fast punk rock melodies that feels perfectly matched with the fast-paced nature of the game.
What defines the tone of Sunset Overdrive, however, is its sense of humour. Often, I found it to be brilliant; reminding me of the comedy stylising of the Deadpool video game in 2013. Interactions between characters make for comedic conversations, and it’s great to see some pop-culture references from Breaking Bad and Mission Impossible, to name a few. Respawning is also a recurring joke as your character will frequently come back to life in a number of hilarious ways. From stumbling out of coffins to being warped down by a UFO, respawning has never been this much fun!
A major highlight of the game is also going to focus around the multiplayer (Chaos Squad), where you can join with up to eight players to participate in the aforementioned challenges. Completing challenges earns you rewards, which can then be applied to your character and transfered back to your single-player game. Harder challenges also mean better rewards, providing players with great motivation to improve their skills and to team up with friends and others online.
Sunset Overdrive is a bright and punchy game that certainly stands in its own league as being inimitable and original. There is so much to enjoy and discover that it’s almost difficult to pick any faults. For people that crave fast action and thrills, it’s all here with its blistering-paced gameplay and challenging enemies. Devotees of open-world games and collectors will also be fond of the Sunset City as the vast environment is a wonder to escape to, and it’s a lot fun to hunt down items while racking up achievements too. Sunset Overdrive in just one word is “fun.” Everything about it is so energetic and exhilarating that it’s difficult not to smile while zipping across the vibrant landscapes of Sunset City.