Sunset Overdrive Review
Grab some Overcharge and enjoy the refreshing taste, but beware of side effects
Insomniac Games have deep roots with PlayStation consoles. They’ve been making games for Sony’s platforms since 1996, and only a few years ago made the decision to expand and offer their games elsewhere. Unfortunately, their first cross-platform game was the disappointing Fuse. Now, the development team that created the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance franchises is set to release their first Xbox exclusive, Sunset Overdrive. Packed with action, platfroming, and whacky humor, the title exposes Xbox One players to the style of gameplay that Insomniac Games are most famous for.
Sunset Overdrive starts with you, the player character without a name, collecting garbage in Sunset City as a soft drink company FizzCo is hosting a launch party for their latest product OverCharge Delirium XT. Unfortunately, not long after consuming the new soda, everyone in the city turns into the OD, a grotesque sort of monster. You manage to escape the outbreak and hide in your apartment, where players are given a chance to customize their character for the first time. There are plenty of options to make the character feel unique, much in the same way as Dead Rising 3, from silly hats and pants down to tattoos and underwear. If you enjoy creating a wild look for yourself, Sunset Overdrive has you covered.
The game’s relatively short 10 hour main campaign is spent in predictable fashion for an open world title. The main goal is to escape the city, lest you meet your end at the hand of the many OD or other enemies roaming the open world. You’ll meet a few factions of survivors with their own amusing antics, such as the lazy, self-indulgent college students or the delusional Live Action Role Players. Players will need to befriend these factions and bring the leaders together in order to stand a chance against FizzCo. The main villain isn't really defined with Fizzie, a sort of whacky AI system reminiscent of a foul mouthed Claptrap from Borderlands, being as close as the game gets to offering an antagonist. The plot is predictable and very by-the-numbers. The game doesn’t bother to explain why you or other survivors aren’t affected, despite often coming in contact with the soft drink. Nor is there any explanation about your crazy traversal abilities, as we’ll discuss later.
Sunset Overdrive stands out in its dialogue not because of the often dry writing, but rather thanks to the focus on humor and satire. The fourth wall is often broken, with the main character speaking directly to the player, or stating that this is obviously a video game. Other examples may include direct references to popular websites or other video game franchises. The dialogue is often amusing, if not out-loud funny, and is more welcoming than the vulgarity of something like Saints Row. Nor does it attempt to be serious like Dead Rising while the main character is running around half-naked. Your personal taste in humor will dictate how much you’ll enjoy Sunset Overdrive’s shtick, but for most players it will be at least slightly amusing and certainly unique.
Venturing out for the first time, this is a title that’s primarily focused on shooting and environment traversal, and both of these gameplay elements are well executed. To eliminate the numerous OD now roaming the city, players are given a few starter weapons, with more unlocked through the story or purchased. These guns are unconventional, such as one that shoots vinyl records, or explosive teddy bears, or even uses robotics technology to produce beams of electricity. Each gun has its own ammo and an effectiveness rating for the four enemy classes, so the game is actually much more strategic than it may seem. Using the right weapons against the right enemy and some ammo management are crucial to success. Blasting your explosive, area of effect damage weapons into a crowd of OD is always satisfying, but this approach won’t work against FizzCo robots, for example. The abovementioned four enemy classes are somewhat varied in their behavior, and we won’t spoil all the foes. Each class also has its own mini-bosses and a mix of melee and ranged combatants. The only drawback is the absence of a lock-on function so you always have to manually control the camera. But thankfully that’s easy, and during moments of intense action you’ll at least appreciate the reticule automatically snapping to enemies.
But you won’t be doing the shooting from behind the cover of chest-high walls. In the spirit of R&C, Sunset Overdrive is a platforming game as much as it is a shooter. You’ll be getting around the open world of Sunset City using wall running, grinding on almost every edge, and jump boosting from cars and various surfaces. Using the requirement is key because that's what the game is centered around, unlike Crackdown or Saints Row IV where superhuman powers made the game world a mere annoying obstacle. While it can be a bit awkward at first, as you unlock two more abilities later in the campaign and get used to the mechanics, the gameplay really shines. The controls are perfectly responsive (simply hold or tap X to perform moves), and the game doesn’t suffer from any glitches when interacting with your surroundings. You won’t be safe above ground, however, as all enemies in the game can either climb or jump up to wherever you are. As such, the combat in Sunset Overdrive is an enjoyable, unique mix of shooting while constantly being on the move, supplemented by an open world that’s covered with platforming possibilities.
The game has a fast travel system, but you won’t often need to use it because the traversal can be so much fun. Your health can be reduced to zero quickly if you stay on foot for too long, and is only restored by HP pickups. Should you die, you’ll respawn in a way that references popular culture, such as rising from a literal grave or arriving via a TARDIS from Doctor Who. During combat you will be picking up two forms of currency from fallen enemies – cans of OverCharge and cash. The latter drops from human enemies as well as random vending machines and stashes, and is used to buy new visual customization items. The former only drops from ODs and is used to purchase more weapons that offer new shooting mechanics, such as a bowling bowl gun that tosses foes to the ground in its path, or the handgun that deploys small autonomous floating weapons that add firepower. You will definitely want to improve your arsenal, particularly for the late-game mission content, but it’s entirely possible to complete the game by purchasing only two or three additional guns. The only complaint here is that when shopping for weapons, you cannot see their effectiveness stat against the different enemy classes.
Sunset Overdrive also features a surprisingly deep gameplay customization system in the form of amps. You can unlock and craft four different types – weapon amps, hero amps, epic amps, and melee amps. Weapon amps can be applied to any weapon that you’ve leveled-up at least once (by using it frequently), and they provide additional bonuses, such as giving you a chance to make enemies explode, set them on fire, freeze them, and so forth. Hero amps are special boosts that grant abilities such as an announcer for your awesomeness, or dealing more damage at lower health. Epic amps are few in number, and offer passive abilities like making flames shoot out of any rail you grind. Finally, the melee amps improve your ability to damage nearby enemies with melee hits by adding fireballs, or creating shockwaves.
Amps are earned via missions and quests, or they can be crafted by collecting ingredients around the city. These items include Fizzie balloons, security cameras, toilet paper, stinky sneakers, and neon signs. Similarly to weapons, you can probably easily get through the game without needing to craft anything, and simply use the amps provided by the missions and side quests as rewards. That’s a good thing too, because the collectibles are often very difficult to spot in the already colorful city, and as you progress through the game and get skilled at moving through the world quickly, you’ll simply miss all of them. But if you do choose to spend time searching for crafting materials, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to craft amps as well as upgrade them to new levels. The crafting system is a nice addition, but not a requirement for enjoying or completing the game.