Mix Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, parkour, some third-person shooter elements, an open-world, and some wacky art direction and you get Sunset Overdrive.
Sunset Overdrive is an amazingly colourful, incredibly sweary, technically well-executed whole load of fun. So, what is it all about then? Well, the game is set in the fictional Sunset City, a rather colourful place full of brightly painted buildings, that tend to resemble jenga blocks thrown together in some areas. Fizzco, the drinks manufacturer, has just created a new beverage called 'Overcharge XT'. But there's a catch, Fizzco haven't been to diligent with their testing of the new product, and it turns out the drink transforms people into crazed mutants. The city quickly decends into chaos, with most citizens now turned into the mutant 'OD'. Fizzco contains the mutant outbreak by walling off Sunset City from the outside world, trapping you, along with other survivors, mutants, bandits, and Fizzco robot cleanup crews inside.
This isn't your regular, dark, brooding, miserable apocalypse however. Insomniac Games have spun that common trope on its head and delivered the most fun you could possibly ever imagine in a time of world-ending mutant outbreaks.
Sunset Overdrive knows it's a video game, a video game with plot holes such as how your character can actually do the insane wall-running, grinding and bouncing? It was never explained, unless I missed something? You soon forget about any of that though, as you'll be so engrossed in the gameplay. Sunset addresses the fact it's a video game constantly with 4th-wall-breaking acknowledgements of 'side quests', the 'rule of three' for bosses, and 'respawning'. But that's all good. As I first started playing the game my pre-programmed mind was looking for some kind of coherence to the story, dialogue or visual aids to help me make sense of what was going on. Where other games will lay it all out for you, Sunset Overdrive just throws you in, head first, into a bubbling vat of Overcharge XT and let's you just roll with it all. And it's absolutely some of the most fun I've had playing a game this year.
Once you start to actually play the game you'll find that you're not as agile and accurate as you've seen on the trailers, it's going to take some time before you have the moves and arsenal to really take on the mutants. I wasn't overly impressed with the gameplay at first, I found it quite a steep learning curve to combine shooting with the movement-based aspects of the game. And combining both of those elements is key to progressing, however you will eventually get it, it just takes a little time. The game does well to gradually build up your confidence with both shooting and manoeuvring however, and your skill as a gamer will determine how quickly you catch on. I had a sudden realisation I'd grasped it all when found myself effortlessly bouncing, grinding, wall-running and shooting all at the same time whilst taking on one of the mid-game missions. I didn't touch the ground once, and it felt great!
If you want to just run about and shoot at your enemies, think again. It's like when you were a kid and you pretended the ground was lava, you'll soon want to get back up to loftier heights in Sunset Overdrive if you find yourself on solid ground. It's a much more sluggish place to be in comparison to the acrobatic moves you can pull off using the environment, and you'll likely find yourself overwhelmed. Get back on that rail!
There's plenty to do in Sunset City, from the main story missions, side missions, random survivors to rescue, and also items to collect that'll net you better 'Amps'.
Amps are Sunset's add-ons for weapons and abilities. You create Amps in vats which you need to defend during a horde type mode whilst the creation processing is cooking. Amps contain buffs such as increased damage for whatever weapon you link them to, or various added abilities, like a stun effect. In order to create the amps you need to collect junk around the city, which is justified as having some inherent material needed to create the amps... toilet paper, old smelly trainers, security cameras etc. Whilst defending the vats you can set up traps. These traps include flippers that propel OD stepping on them into whatever trap you’ve put in the line of fire, like some spinning blades for instance. Once you've survived the waves of OD your amp/s will be ready to use.
As you progress through the main story you’ll encounter many different factions throughout the city, completing missions to help them and win their favour. Such factions include The Oxfords, a band of Uni students, who’re over-privileged and lazy, and then there’s Troop Bushido who’re made up of a scout troop that’s holed up in Little Tokyo amongst the dojos. Missions can feel a little repetitive, but it’s the game’s sense of humour, which is mostly on the more childish side, that brings it back from just being a grind.
Customisation in Sunset Overdrive is extensive, allowing you to mix and match a number of different styles of clothing from medieval LARPer gear, or Samurai garb, to regular clothing. But it all has an Insomniac punk twist here and there. You will gain various clothing items by completing missions, but you can also purchase them from Callista, the clothing vendor. For most clothing there's four variations of each, giving you different colours or designs. Throughout my playthrough of the game I must have changed my character's overall style about ten times, which is a heck of a lot for me. Each style set you create can be saved, so you can quickly switch back to that Steampunk Samurai you created whenever you like.
Customisation is one of the great things about the game, but another has to be its array of different weapons - they’re almost a joke in themselves. There’s the standard handgun, machine gun, and shotgun type weapons, but then you throw in a launcher that fires teddy bears with TNT strapped to them and you’re onto a different kind of shooter. You also have access to ‘The Dude’ which, once charged up, fires bowling balls in a straight line that plough through enemies.
Different areas of the city offer up a good variation of different skills you'll need to use in order to get around. Such as one area being made up of Venice-like blocks of buildings surrounded by water, with the odd boat floating about to bounce off. Other areas offer plenty of grinding routes, but the one great thing about Sunset City is that you can get across it without ever touching the ground, which is both fun and satisfying to pull off.
Sunset Overdrive’s multiplayer, ‘Chaos Squad’, is just as fun, if not more so than its single player. You take your character into rounds of different game types with up to 7 other players, which all vote on the next game type you’ll face. The different modes can range from defending hospital supplies from bandits, to killing a bunch of OD in specific ways. Your character will progress as you play, levelling up your weapons etc, so multiplayer is going to help your single player experience too.
Once the series of smaller missions have been completed, you and your team will enter Night Defense, which is a co-op horde mode where you need to defend vats against waves of OD by setting up traps as you would in the similar single player version of the mode. Once it’s all over everyone’s scores across the smaller missions at the Night Defense are tallied up, and depending how well you did you may get some rewards.
I hadn't died in the single player up until I tried multiplayer, but I died there, a lot. This was partly a good thing, because it let me get my first glimpse at the many respawn animations. There are references to all kinds of movies with the respawns – there’s a zombie grave you emerge from, and even a Bill and Ted style telephone booth with sounds of riffing guitars, and many more. They're a nice added touch for something that's usually not even a ‘feature’ often thought about.
Mentioning guitar riffs above, Sunset's soundtrack is an ode to the Punk genre in particular. I'm not particularly a Punk fan, but it definitely lends itself well to the overall feeling and theme of the game. Who knows, you could even become a born-again Punk enthusiast by the end of the game?
Sunset Overdrive is an absolute blast. It may take you a little time to catch on to the ebb and flow of combining the environment traversal and the third person combat, but once you do it’ll feel as natural as breathing. This is a game that knows it’s a game, and it uses it to full effect – it’s pop culture references and super-sweary dialogue should pull some laughs out of you, and it’s multiplayer mode will keep you playing long after you finished the main story. Xbox One owners have another great exclusive title to call their own.
Score - 8.5/10