Sunset Overdrive has a lot riding on its shoulders. It stands as the Xbox One’s first major holiday exclusive – a deciding factor between picking up the console this holiday season or not. It also comes from a team of seasoned action game veterans, who are eager to show off a game they’ve always dreamed of making. Sunset Overdrive definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but it’s certainly one action junkies should play.
Sunset City – a near-future island with culture and diversity bursting from the seams. FizzCo, the most powerful company in Sunset Overdrive’s take on out own world, has chosen this perfect isolated getaway as the venue for their OverCharge launch. It’s a a new energy drink that promises to become the most consumed beverage ever created, but one that quickly turns its unknowing gulpers into monstrous, orange spewing creatures that aren’t too different from over-caffeinated zombies. Sunset City is quickly overrun, but now it’s an apocalyptic playground.
There’s nothing taken too seriously here. Sure, your created character – a Frankenstein of weird skirts, shirts and luchador masks – ultimately wants to escape the city and the terrors it contains. FizzCo has Sunset on lockdown, and it’s up to you and a healthy handful of friends to find a way out. That’s what drives Sunset Overdrive forward, but it’s a goal that’s trampled over by the game’s own self-awareness.
Sunset Overdrive knows what it is, down to the core. It’s not uncommon to hear your character break the fourth wall, questioning tutorial messages, or the ominous voice advising him on what to do. A character that knows they’ll respawn if they happen to die, which makes the whole of idea of wanting to escape a dangerous city pretty…pointless. Sunset Overdrive is rife with tonal inconsistencies, but at the same time understands it thoroughly. It embraces its own confusion and uses it to charge its ridiculous premise. There’s always something there to drive you forward – just don’t expect it any sort of emotional gravitas.
You can, however, expect to more than a few laughs throughout. Sunset Overdrive is a hilariously written, vulgarity-filled adventure, and I often found myself laughing aloud after a few witty one-liners. This is bolstered by a cast of familiar yet colourful characters, who all belong to one faction or another. They populate the distinctly different areas of Sunset City, as your quest to escape starts turning into a lengthy run of errands for a select few who are just as crazy as your character probably is; characters such as the kickass-scout 4Kim and consistently confused scientist Floyd. They, and various others, are peppered throughout the campaign, acting as quest givers and comic relief.
From the onset, Sunset Overdrive feels unfamiliar. This is one of those games where listening to the tutorial is important. Walking and sprinting is replaced with grinding and boosting. Gravity is almost a non-existent rule of physics, as you bounce off cars, umbrellas and nearly anything that looks like it could be used as life-sized jelly. Wallruns can be chained together endlessly, as you twist and turn in and around the crevices and open skylines of Sunset City.
It’s different, and it takes a whole to get used to. I noticed this after a relatively slow first two or so hours in the game. Everything felt sluggish, until I realised that was more my fault than the game’s. Once you start chaining together under grinds with boost jumps, air dashing into a wall run and vaulting off into a bouncy taxi, Sunset Overdrive just clicks. Insomniac has put an incredible amount of work into designing the city as a chaotic highway. There’re always multiple ways to get around town, and it’s so damned enjoyable that I completely ignored the fast travel system for the entire game. Movement is the heart of Sunset Overdrive, and it’s near perfect.
That’s only one side of the coin though. Sunset Overdrive is, first and foremost, a third person shooter. Unlike every other one you’ve probably ever played though, you’re penalized for sticking to the ground. If you don’t move around and keep the momentum going, Sunset Overdrive is going to punish you. You’ll quickly become overrun and find yourself starting at a respawn point should you try play this like any other shooter, although the extremely forgiving nature of dying doesn’t exactly scream for urgency in most situations.
In order to stay alive, you’re going to have to stay high. Sunset Overdrive’s combat is a finely tuned beast, working best when you’re changing up from bounces to grinds. The control scheme is the star here, allowing you to keep your aim steady while hopping around the environment like a parkour master. Weapons will automatically seek out enemies most of the time (especially the automatic ones) but this isn’t a one-button-to-win type of game. You’ll have to take aim with the more powerful, one-shot weapons which deal most of the damage, slowing you down and making you more vulnerable to attack. It’s a fine balance that is adhered to more often than not.
At the start, it’s also relatively easy to stick to a circuit of rails and out of reach of danger. That changes extremely quickly when enemy variety kicks in, with more interesting and tougher OD (the game’s mutated enemies) entering the fray. Massive, hulking Hurkers can throw you off your parkour path with debris, while Muggers are quick moving targets that can take you out in mid-air. Human Scab members also require a different approach, soaking up more damage from most weapons, while FizzCo robots will force you to channel your inner electrician in order to stay alive.
Enemy variety plays nicely with the game’s surprisingly deep weapons system. As is customary with Insomniac’s design, Sunset Overdrives’s weapons are extremely over-the-top. You’ll fire off vinyls, bowling balls and explosive hair spray cans from a broad range of weapons, with each having it’s own set of pros and cons. Some will be better against the growing hordes of OD and useless at dispatching normal human Scabs, while a traditional Dirty Harry revolver is great against Hurkers but too slow for waves of cannon fodder. The type of damage your weapons deal also becomes important, as does swapping between weapons radially to get the best out of them.
These effects are amplified by, well, Amps. These upgrades are either unlocked are purchased, linking up with either your characters or weapons. These bring Sunset Overdrive’s gameplay mechanics full circle, linking to how stylish you choose to play. As your style meter fills, your amps activate, adding nuke damage to an already explosive TNTeddy blast, or stun rounds to your Ak-Fu. There’re also Badges and Overdrives, which just enhance your preferred style of play. They affect gameplay more passively than Amps, but also confuse things a bit. Sunset Overdrive has a lot going on most of the time, so trimming a little unnecessary fat wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
All of these elements come together in the various missions Sunset Overdrive will set you on. Things are a little sluggish at the start, but it doesn’t take too long for the game to find itself. Missions don’t stray far from traditional fetch and kill quests, but it’s the circumstances that they’re set in that make them thrilling to undertake. A few standout campaign missions really put a grin on my face, hand-in-hand with some fantastic boss fights. There’s a healthy dose of side stuff to do as well, including smaller missions and skill challenges, which act as decent distractions and time sinks. The game devolves into a bit of tower defense when it comes to cooking up new Amps, allowing you to place traps and defend vats during a nightmarish night-time assault. This doesn’t give you as much freedom to move around, but they’re a good slice of challenging fun.
This carries over to Chaos Squad, Sunset Overdrive’s own co-operative multiplayer mode. You’re able to share Sunset City with up to eight other players, although it’s not as open as single-player. Here players vote on missions to take, which feel like side-missions from the campaign. These build up combat buffs and chaos levels, which eventually culminate in a massive night defense missions filled with a ton of chaos. You’re playing co-operatively, but also competitively as points are tallied individually, with players ranked at the end of each session. This converts into wardrobe rewards, as well as currency prizes and even unique Amps. It’s a ton of fun that I lost hours to, and the promise of frequent, new content from Insomniac could keep players hooked for months.
Having this entire package wrapped up in an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic is a real treat though. Sunset Overdrive has a unique style, setting it apart from the photo-realistic peers it goes toe-to-toe with. It’s obscenely colorful, with eye-popping detail and distinct variation throughout the city. Weapons explode with onomatopoeic expression, giving the entire game a sense of flair that is both unusual and fitting at the same time. If you can see it, you can get there, with massive draw distances and a persistently gorgeous landscape to look at from the heights of the city. The frame rate also always holds up, with no amount of chaos on-screen causing even a slight dip – the advantage of locking a game at 30FPS and not constantly trying to reach 60. Sunset Overdrive drips with the visual representation of a punk attitude, and the game is better because of it.
But is it the game that will force you to by an Xbox One? I asked myself this throughout my review, and I still don’t have a certain answer. Sunset Overdrive is not a game for everyone. It breaks the rules of conventional shooters and exudes an attitude that may not resonate with everyone. Aside from that though, it’s plays spectacularly. Sunset Overdrive wants you to just have fun, and it does its job. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with an open-world game, and I overstayed my welcome well after my 12-hour campaign playthrough. So do you need an Xbox One? Well, if I played this at a friend and didn’t have my own Xbox One waiting at home, I’d be pretty damn disappointed.
Last Updated: October 27, 2014