Admittedly this review is a couple of months late but having had one of my most enjoyable gaming experiences of the current-gen playing the open-world madness of Sunset Overdrive I felt the need to share that joy.
This is new territory for developer Insomniac Games, not only as a less than family friendly addition to their portfolio (sorry Ratchet & Clank and Spyro fans) but this is also their first time creating a Microsoft exclusive after nearly two decades of almost solely supporting Sony consoles.
Set in the fictional Sunset City, the year is 2027 and FizzCo have released their brand new energy drink, OverCharge, at an exclusive event in the city. Unfortunately for FizzCo, their avoidance of certain health regulations has led to certain unexpected side effects; The beverage causes everyone who drinks it to turn into hungry, violent mutants.
In order to cover up their mistake, they claim a virus has broken out in Sunset City and the entire city is placed under quarantine to prevent the virus spreading.
17 days after the beginning of the ‘awesomepocalypse’ our nameless protagonist, a former employee of FizzCo, now jobless, hopeless and fighting to stay alive is rescued and taken in by a group of survivors.
Cue a cunning plan to escape the isolated city through a number of missions that take our hero across the city to meet groups of oddballs with the skills needed to pull it off, once their own needs are met of course.
Let’s face it, Sunset Overdrive isn’t a serious game and it never tries to be, if anything this game represents the polar opposite of serious. The game oozes silliness, sometimes literally, in a plethora of comic-book style bright colours and molds over-the-top action with the kind of fourth wall breaking wit that would make Deadpool proud to create an intelligent and funny narrative which never slows in pace from the moment you start the game to the closing credits.
On the surface this game looks and feels like a hodgepodge of titles, a mash-up of influences from Infamous to Dead Rising and it’s true, the developer really has looked at what sells and brought it to Sunset City. The movement of the player, the grinding and super-human traversal screams Infamous while it’s visual style says Crackdown meets turn of the century Sega. Throw in the insane tone of the Saints Row franchise and just a hint of zombie gore from Dead Rising and you’ve got yourself Sunset Overdrive.
This hybrid of tried and tested styles works surprisingly well, the movement of the character through grinding, wall-running and air-dashing can be fast but surprisingly fluid once you get the hang of it. Sunset City has been designed and built in such a successful way that there is no planned route, no easy straight grind and yet trying to get from one place to another seems so simple as you chain your skills over buildings and under bridges, you can even grind on water (not sure on the physics behind that one).
But this isn’t just a copy and paste affair, Insomniac Games have really brought their own flair to this game as well. Bringing to the table what they’ve learned from their most successful franchise Ratchet and Clank, the developers have done what they do best when it comes to the armaments on offer in Sunset City. Progression through the game sees the weapons get bigger, better and slightly more insane. A personal favourite of mine is the robot dog and dog toy launcher combo, you shoot the dog toy, robo-pup heads to its location and vaporizes all enemies in the immediate vicinity, that’s one mission I could do again and again.
This enjoyable and yet easy to navigate environment is all made possible by the intuitive control layout, it’s so simplistic and yet allows so much. One button allows the player to grid a rail, wall-run or grab a horizontal pipe to swing from. Left bumper brings up the weapons wheel, right bumper brings up a trap tech wheel, the triggers do what they were built for; aiming and firing. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff but so many games try to complicate things with menus and tabs, this game utilizes every function but with a back to basics layout.
The real gem in Sunset Overdrives arsenal though is customization. There is a smorgasbord of customization options in this game for the player to enjoy, from the look of the character, the clothes he/she wears to the powers unleashed through fighting with style, there’s any number of combinations available to personalize the game to your preferred tastes.
This also adds a lot of replayability as you unlock more skills and abilities throughout the games ample supply of side missions and collectibles. When I say ample I mean ample, the completionists out there will definitely get their money’s worth here with literally hundreds of collectibles scattered about the open-world.
No modern game would be complete without an online multiplayer and Sunset Overdrive is no exception. Using phone boxes scattered around the city as portals, the player can seamlessly enter Chaos Squad. This is an open 8-player co-op mode that allows you to take on a variety of missions and earn a number of rewards in the process. It can be a fun experience but with so much to do offline and no real deviation from the main game-play I found myself asking, “Is it really needed?”. That said, having seven good friends on call while blowing the collective ass out of hordes of mutants can’t be all bad can it?
The soundtrack fits the rest of the game, it’s fast, loud and a little bit crazy at times, expect lots of electric guitar and you’ll be fine. The voice-over work is up there with the best, the quality of the acting is superb, accentuated by the superb script.
My one and only gripe with this game is that, like every other game in it’s genre, it tends to get a little bit repetitive at times, the mission perimeters never deviate much from the template of get from A to B and kill everything in your way. That said Sunset Overdrive attempts to overcomes this in a number of ways. Whether it’s the diverse settings for the different missions or the unique to mission weapons, it does try to make things more interesting. The use of self-depreciating humour goes a long way to making the tedium more enjoyable, if there’s a joke to be made at the open-world game genre then Sunset Overdrive will find a way to make it, the previously mentioned fourth wall breaking is a big help.
Overall Sunset Overdrive is a fantastically enjoyable experience, it’s never going to be ground-breaking or the game-changing event of the year but is never tries to be. This game sets out to be clever, funny and entertaining and it succeeds brilliantly. A couple of hours of game-play and you will be left with a smile on your face, that’s the point of this game, silly, explosive, joyful insanity.