This game has a goat-head codpiece in it, 'nuff said
After booting the game up, it's apparent that Sunset Overdrive is the result of Insomniac Games going back to its roots. Before the developer was called upon to release the shades-of-brown-tinted Resistance and Fuse, it was known for the bright and exciting Spyro and Ratchet & Clank franchises, which were among the PlayStation's finest offerings for gamers of all ages.
Not only is Sunset bright and exciting, it's actually a good game too.
Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One)
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: October 28, 2014
Sunset Overdrive is in your face from the get-go with a punk theme that permeates through its sound and visual style. It's immediately obvious from the character creation screen (which offers male and female options) that this is a wacky affair, with comic book style "POPs" and "BAMs" flying through the air as you attempt to make sense of an impending zombie outbreak. No time is wasted as it throws you into the action with a quick and dirty tutorial of its jumping, bouncing, grinding, and shooting basics. The gist is that if you see a rail or siding, you can grind it, and if something looks like you can bounce off of it, you can do that too.
The free-flying movement system is just one facet of this over-the-top experience, as the first gun you get is essentially a cock-and-balls blunderbuss. Although it tends to have that "trying too hard" feel at times (some jokes fall flat, namely one mission that's a big Breaking Bad joke), I genuinely loved the atmosphere from the start. It nails that comic book veneer, but it also manages to deliver a ton of its own signature charm Insomniac is known for.
It's present in just about every area of the game, from a gun that shoots records called High Fidelity, to a flaming bowling ball gun called The Dude, and a kangaroo-head codpiece. Weapons even have mini tutorials that explain how they work with full voiceovers, and there's tons of personality present throughout. I particularly love one mission hub that's full of quest givers that communicate entirely through texting (shown on-screen in a style similar to Sherlock).
When you die in Sunset Overdrive, you'll respawn in a number of different ways, like rising from the grave or getting beamed down from an alien ship. Fast travel is usually represented by drinking a beer, blacking out, and "appearing" at the desired location -- seriously. At no point is this a boring game.
The main drawback to this style though is that it can become a bit much, particularly when it comes to the main story. In fact it's not really so much a story as it is a constant string of jokes and references, which hit more than they miss, but leave you with a feeling that something is missing. Before you know it you're back to grinding and blasting like there was no tomorrow, but sometimes it feels like there's no real point to it.
The free movement system definitely takes some getting used to, but once it becomes second nature it's a blast. As I mentioned, you can bounce and grind on just about anything. But beyond that you can actually "hang" on grind rails from below, run on water, air dash, and much more. It's awkward at first because you have to hit X to grind every time you want to plant on a rail, similar to the Tony Hawk series, and some rails are so short that it's barely worth the effort. The first few hours will feel odd, which is unfortunate, but once you start getting more movement options Sunset opens up.
Eventually, you start to piece together the world like a puzzle, and integrate every trick in the book until you're flying around like a pro. Again, there's also fast travel, but I almost never used it because roaming around was too much fun. The "Overdrive" system allows you to pump up a special meter (that decays) for killing enemies while grinding or bouncing. It's both intuitive and fun, as it constantly goads you into actively playing.
The amount of customization is insane, and there are a large number of "Amps" to attach to weapons to change their properties, as well as a ton of perks, some of which are really out there -- like the "Screw the Fourth Wall" perk that does nothing more than initiate an announcer who talks about how awesome you are. I've played for nearly 20 hours and haven't scratched the surface of the game's Amp and perk system.
Speaking of Sunset's world, the game is broken into three distinct districts, all of which look similar in nature with a slight variation in themes (factory, residential, and a mix with some Tokyo flavor). It's large but not overly so. You'll come to recognize landmarks and know your way around without a map, but it doesn't feel like you're going to the same few areas over and over.
Sunset plays out like a typical open-world action game, offering a main story that eventually brings the narrative full circle, as well as over 100 sidequests ranging from races, to score-attack modes, to tower defense scenarios. The latter is probably the standout bit, as you have the option to set up traps (which are also customizable) while you defend the objective.
Even the fetch quests try to play it cool with self-referential jokes on the genre, and wacky concepts like luring a robot dog across a map with an exploding kitten gun. You can also star in a makeshift episode of "Redneck Running Man." Almost everything gives you some form of reward, and during one mission I even "leveled up" by way of perk system tokens 10 times (since you get separate rewards for just about every action you do).
The amount of collectibles will also frustrate or excite you to no end, with everything from neon signs to lenses, cameras, and sneakers strewn about the sprawling map. If you're completionist, you can buy maps from vendors that show the location of everything on-screen.
While I enjoyed Sunset's single-player experience, online play, titled "Chaos Squad," really surprised me. If you've ever played a game like Need for Speed: Most Wanted you'll have some idea of what to expect. Basically, up to eight players are brought into a single instance of the game, which takes place on the exact same map as the campaign. A mission will randomly pop up at a location, which players will race to, earning bonuses if they're among the first to arrive.
I love this system because it feels organic and seamlessly integrated into the game without seeming tacked-on or like an afterthought. The racing system will earn you points but it's completely optional, and you can take your time to see the sights and do your own thing as well as join the group. Once you get to the objective, the game will allow you to vote on one of two missions, which are similar to the campaign but balanced with more enemies for more players.
It's amazing to see the sheer variety of Sunset online right in front of you, as no two players I ever saw looked or controlled alike. While there were definitely a few shared gun loadouts in games, everyone had their own personal style on display, and seeing the synergy between people using frost and flame guns to change the state of enemies and others working in tandem to destroy or slow them down is a sight to behold.
I played for hours with no signs of repeating the same pattern or seeing similar co-op partners. The end of the session culminates in a tower defense blowout, which is often the most fun, and allows you to rejoin another match with the same people. The best part of Chaos Squad for me is that you can bring back rewards into your core game -- there's no separate solo or multiplayer layouts, and the better you do, the more rewards you get. Sunset also has a set of weekly challenges, as well as Sunset TV, an ongoing video series that highlights new aspects of the game at different intervals.
Sunset Overdrive may have a few flaws inherent to many open-world games and lacks an engaging narrative, but it's an incredibly fun, vibrant game that's a nice break from the overly gritty tone we see far too often in today's market. After Fuse, this is exactly what Insomniac Games needed.
Sunset Overdrive reviewed by Chris Carter
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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