Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Insomniac Games
Genre: Open World/Third-Person Shooter
Release Date: 10/28/2014
It took a long time to find games to justify the purchase of one of the new consoles (much less the Xbox One). Many new releases were being released for both the new systems and the old and the lack of backwards compatibility meant I wouldn’t so much as look at one unless the price was right. After an onslaught of holiday pricing and bundle deals, I finally took the plunge with Sunset Overdrive being the title I hoped would usher me into the next generation of consoles. I’m glad I took that plunge.
When you begin Sunset Overdrive, you’re asked to create your nameless (but certainly not voiceless) protagonist. There is a decent selection of options, though for all of the hairstyles and colors you can play with, there isn’t much you can do about his/her face which is arguably the part that needs to be changed the most. Later on, you get to outfit them with different clothing items with the option to buy or earn more later, so at least that aspect of it is rather extensive.
After character creation is complete, you are cast into futuristic metropolis Sunset City as its citizens are overrun by the zombie-like OD’d (Overcharge Drinkers). Your protagonist happens to be picking up garbage at a concert the night everything goes to hell, as a new energy drink is debuted by corporation Fizzco that transforms those who consume it into mutants. And now said corporation wants to bury their mistake and all evidence of it, so it’s up to you to escape the city and get the truth out to the masses so that Fizzco may pay for what they’ve done.
The game’s storytelling is as outlandish as its concept, taking a page out of the Borderlands handbook and cracking jokes at every possible opportunity. The writing isn’t quite as tight as Gearbox’s series is, but its fourth wall breaking antics are good for a few laughs, and the delivery of the lines is always excellent. By the same token, pointing out to the player that what you’re doing is cliché, while funny the first few times, only serves as a reminder that, well, what you’re doing with your story is cliché.
Fortunately, the gameplay is anything but. Sunset Overdrive can best be described as a melting pot of Ratchet & Clank, Jet Grind Radio, and any open world superhero game that has come out in the last decade (inFAMOUS, Crackdown, etc). As you navigate the city, you dispatch foes with increasingly insane weaponry, but you must keep moving while doing so. Your arsenal is arguably the most creative cobbled together in one video game, including one that fires teddy bears with dynamite in them, a record player looking device that unloads a barrage of vinyl, and a mascot launcher that emits acid upon landing. Wires and railing can be grinded upon, awnings and cars (?) can be bounced on like trampolines, and walls can be run across all Prince of Persia style. Alternating these things while killing enemies increases your style rating, which in turn improves your abilities and may trigger things to happen depending on amps you have equipped and missions you are embarked on. Plus, it’s just a good idea to do anyway since the moment you stop moving, you are as good as dead.
Clinging to a rail or wall is as easy as pressing X when you are near it, plus you can change direction or dangle from it with the same button. A is assigned to jump and you can melee anyone careless enough to get near you with B. The shooting mechanics mimic that of most third-person shooters, as using the triggers lets you aim and fire whatever outrageous weapon you might be carrying. More options open up as you go, such as the ability to get a burst of speed, bounce higher, or set traps. Since your arsenal of guns far exceeds your capacity to carry them, you can configure which guns you have equipped from the menu by slotting them on a wheel accessible with the left bumper. You can have up to eight guns at a time and there’s no need to reload or even switch them when empty. Guns fire until your ammunition is used up, then it switches to another weapon automatically upon continuous fire. It’s so convenient that even the most inexperienced player at shooters should be able to figure it out. In fact, death is a mere inconvenience that will send you several yards away to respawn with increasingly creative animations or at worst, reload your last checkpoint. There’s even fast travel that has your protagonist pass out drunk and reappear in a porta-potty in another part of the city.
If you thought your appearance was the only thing you could customize, think again. By finding odds and ends in Sunset City, such as toilet paper and old shoes, you can trade them in to Floyd for ability enhancing amps that can be equipped to both your character and your weapons. Things such as causing your enemies to fight each other or randomly spawn storms clouds that zap them with lightning are all possible. New amps are unlocked when undertaking missions where you must protect your base from marauding OD’d. That’s where the traps come in. You can place traps all around the base (the amount being limited by power) and new ones are unlocked as you go. Badges are earned from continuously killing foes with traps, guns, or even just doing such things and grinding and bouncing that will enhance THOSE abilities even further. So if you have a specific playstyle that you like to adopt, you can outfit your character to match.
Like other open world titles, exclamation marks will appear around town to indicate available missions, and taking them on will yield items for customization or currency for new weapons and clothing. Once completed, missions can be replayed as much as you want regardless if they’re tied to the story or optional. You can also find challenges that encourage you to do such things as collect so many points within the time limit or hop through rings. If that all sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is. For all the mocking it does of other games that require you to get friendly with the various factions before they help you, it doesn’t stop them from expecting you to do the same.
Another negative is that some of the quest objectives are rather vague, telling you roughly where you need to go, but not always what to do. Since many of the mission zones have multiple buildings in them, you not only have to comb the ground level to find whatever objective it is you might be looking for, but it may also be on one of the many floors contained within a building in that zone. There were occasions where I completed an objective, but the next leg of the mission glitched out and didn’t progress until I abandoned it and tried again later. I’ve also fallen through a world and gotten stuck in objects during missions too, though this is more a technical flaw than it is a mission design one.
Sunset Overdrive also contains a multiplayer mode known as Chaos Squad that bands eight players together to take on challenges around the city and earn new rewards to bring back to the single player game. These challenges usually include defending a point in the city, killing so many enemies, or just collecting things. The match then culminates in a night defense mission that tasks your team with setting traps and laying waste to hordes of enemies. The mode is good fun, though still a bit of a disappointment considering there’s no real point to it after you’ve done it a few times and earned your achievements. The effort would’ve been better spent implement some form of co-op mode where your friends can help you with single player missions and vice versa, as they seem to really lend themselves well to cooperative play.
The city is a joy to explore, with nearly everything being interactive on some level (read: you can break/grind/bounce on it). Signs advertise all of the in-game businesses such as Sexburger, and as you cruise around you notice characters interacting with each other, such as enemies discussing how cool it is that they have unlimited ammo. The draw distance is a sight to behold, since the time you spend in elevated areas grants you a great view of the city. Sunset Overdrive is a great title for showcasing the Xbox One’s power.
The hard rock soundtrack pairs well with the insane action that it accompanies. The themes change on occasion depending on the music, with the protagonist sometimes proclaiming “I need some spy music” to which the game replies in kind. The voiceover work is pretty spot on, with the protagonists and Floyd being particularly stand out in their delivery, as well as the demented Fizzco mascot. The game is loud and obnoxious in all of the right kind of ways.
Is Sunset Overdrive worth the purchase of an Xbox One? That’s hard for me to say. Certainly, if open world style games are top tier in your book it may very well be. At the very least, it’s the kind of game that you’d definitely want to pick up if you have the system already. Despite checking off the same boxes as nearly every other game in the genre out there, its gameplay style is unique enough that it eclipses every other possible drawback. I would’ve loved to see a more worthwhile cooperative mode, but even as a single player experience, Sunset Overdrive is worth getting amped up about.
Short Attention Span Summary
Sunset Overdrive takes pages out of the catalogs of Insomniac, Sega, and every other open world game developer out there as it crafts an experience that has you blowing up mutants while skating around on rails. Controls are tight, the presentation is very well done, and the game is a blast to play. It falls into the trap of turning everything into a collect-a-ton as well as mimicking the same goals as every other open world superhero game out there, but it’s at least humorous enough to keep you enthralled until the credits roll. I also would’ve loved to see a more proper co-op mode that what we were given, though perhaps DLC can address this in the future. As it stands, Sunset Overdrive is a worthwhile addition to the Xbox One library and a good sign of things to come from both the console and Insomniac.
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