Sunset Overdrive Preview - E3 2014
We shoot our way through a monster infested city
Perhaps the most colourful and energetic new Microsoft exclusive IP on display at E3, Sunset Overdrive is the brainchild of Insomniac Games, makers of Ratchet and Clank and Resistance, as well as classic platformer Spyro. Sunset Overdrive sees a departure from the more monochrome world of Resistance, brought about by Drew Murray and Marcus Smith's arrival into fatherhood. Though we're still entrenched in a dystopian world, it's arrived in a tickertape parade dubbed the "Awesomepocalypse."
The game takes place in 2027, in the heady metropolis of Sunset City. A mega-corporation, Fizzco, hosts a release party for its new energy drink: Overcharge Delirium XT. However, in the rush to bring the product to market, Fizzco didn't want to bother with product testing and FDA approval, and when the residents begin to gleefully imbibe Overcharge, it does more than deliver a rushing caffeinated buzz: it turns them into an array of grizzly mutants called the "OD'd". As a result, Sunset City is quarantined, leaving you (who was assigned as mundane cleaner of said monster party) to pull on your knowledge of comics, action movies, and videogames to become the hero that Sunset City needs. Now it's up to you to unite a diverse group of surviving factions to save the city and uncover Fizzco's sinister plot.
Sunet Overdrive's gameplay may, for some, hark back to rollerblade enthusiast Jet Set Radio in its ability to grind on pretty much everything, while unleashing hell onto enemies below. This grinding, vaulting, zip-lining, and wall-running is the heart of the game, and integral to survival. Spending too much time on the ground will pull hordes of enemies around you and death is a certainty. This fluidity of play also builds up your style metre, which allows you to utilise "Amps" (special attacks) such as having lightning bolts frazzle enemies as you skirt around the world. There are other Amps like the Twist of Fate, which can set off a nuclear explosion, or you can summon tornadoes. Alternatively, players can craft new Amps by using recipes and ingredients that can be found across the city.
During our hands-on preview, we participated in a multiplayer King of the Hill/Tower defence game "Night Defence," where we had to protect two containers of Overdrive that the masses of encroaching OD wanted. We also had the chance to see a playthrough of an amusement park level that was part of the game's open world.
In the single-player game, we saw our character (who is totally customisable) skating around an amusement park, with the end-goal to reach a rollercoaster where a boss awaited. This play-through demonstrated the myriad ways in which a player can traverse an area and how shooting functions in the frenetic level. Auto-aim does most of the work for you, whether you've got a standard assault rifle, a vinyl record launcher, a firework-style rocket that sends swooping dragons at multiple enemies - or even luring enemy hordes toward you with an Overdrive goo trap. All these quirky, unique weapons have the fingerprint of Insomniac all over them and what we saw was said to be just a small glimpse of what would be available on release.
Players can also make use of environmental weaponry, such as a frazzling "Test of Strength" machine that, when struck, sends out arcing lightning bolts. You're also able to jump on a trampoline that spits flames around you if you get surrounded, as well as small army of violent gnomes with pickaxes that will hack away at intruding enemies.
With all these methods at your disposal, there's no excuse not to be building up your style metre and racking up the kill count, which comes into play when facing off against a mini-boss: a larger, tougher form of enemy that's smarter than the others. You have to be a bit more skilful with your dodging and attacks with these enemies, ensuring you're always skirting and hopping around buildings and making use of your environment.
Combat in single-player was fun and energetic, and we were always kept moving and utilising the environment as we sped around the level to the ultimate destination, which was a rollercoaster. Here, the player had to destroy several of the carriages to anger one of the villainous thugs who'd taken over the tower, but after that'd happened, that was the end of our tour of Sunset City.
As mentioned before, the multiplayer mode was tower defence-cum-king of the hill, "Night Defence." There were seven other players and before the hordes bore down on us, we had the opportunity to lay several traps down. These traps included spinning blades and springboards that jettisoned creatures backwards. Utilising these traps was an integral part of gameplay, and greatly relieved the pressure when things started to get overwhelming.
Cruising around the level while monsters attacked allowed us to gather chests that held ammo for our weapons and build up our style metre. However, what we found in this mode was that it was not always beneficial to stay up high. Due to the monsters' target being the containers, they very rarely swamped the players, so it was easier to aim from a stationary position on the ground. We'll have to wait and see if this just for this particular multiplayer mode, or if it's an issue throughout them all.
Aside from this multiplayer mode, we're also promised several others upon release. Players are able to vote on which chaotic missions they take, each with a risk-reward mechanic. You can boost the Chaos level of the city, which increases the difficulty and the potential rewards. There's also the option to take a team power-up, sacrificing some rewards to make things easier.
All these modes culminate in the aforementioned Night Defence, allowing successful players to unlock big rewards including in-game cash, Overcharge, crafting recipes, new weapons, and vanity items. These transitions between the campaign and Chaos Squad lets you keep your newfound winnings across all game modes.
Sunset Overdrive appears to be a brighter, more energetic entry for the Xbox One, and one that combines a healthy dose of old-school play that's been updated for a generation that demands frenetic, constantly engaging gameplay. We're still unsure how well the multiplayer may work with the game's ethos, but with the myriad modes available at release, and an interesting multiplayer system, Sunset City seems like a place well worth a visit. The game is scheduled for release this October, exclusively on Xbox One.