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Sunset Overdrive Review

Grab some Overcharge and enjoy the refreshing taste, but beware of side effects

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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

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.

Sunset Overdrive

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

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.

Then there are Character amps, upgrades to your abilities with four types - melee, hero (two slots), epic, and dive bomb. These unlock over the course of the story, and can also be crafted. You can equip an ability into one of the five slots, and these range from increasing weapon damage to hurting enemies when you dodge roll into them, to attracting collectibles and currency from further away. Others help by creating fire on objects you bounce off of, create lightning in the area, or cause earth to erupt as you walk.

But there is more! Your character’s abilities can also be customized by equipping Overdrives. Similarly to character amps, these abilities are only acquired through gameplay by earning badges. Kill a certain number of enemies, and earn a hero badge for that specific enemy. Grind and bounce a lot? You’ll earn style badges for those activities. Use the same weapon type frequently, and that gives you a combat badge. In this way, the game rewards players for whatever mechanist they use the most. Collecting enough badges lets you make purchases to equip into one of the 6 Overdrive slots. These boosts include increased health, increased damage to specific enemy types (if you killed enough of them to earn a badge), increased weapon damage (for specific type you already use most frequently), and so forth.

Sunset Overdrive

Between Overdrives, craftable and non-craftable amps, Sunset Overdrive’s perks and buffs could make Call of Duty jealous. The game can seem rather overwhelming in its passive boost systems, but once you spend some time building you hero’s abilities to suit your gameplay style, it can be rewarding. That’s not to say amps are incredibly useful, as most of them need multiple upgrades before they become notably effective, but the RPG-like mechanics will entice some players.

Having just mentioned style, we should probably touch on the Style Meter. All those amps you bought and crafted? They don’t usually take effect until you’ve performed some stunts. All of the environmental traversal you perform in the game (excluding touching the ground/walking) increases your meter. Chain moves together while taking down enemies, and the meter will fill. Hero Amps activate at level one, melee and weapon at level two, epic amp at level three, and at the max meter all amps will get an effectiveness boost. To raise the meter quicker, there’s a multiplier that increases the more multi-kills and skill chains you perform.

Sunset city has plenty of content. Campaign missions usually provide enough gameplay variety and take advantage of the game’s unique mechanics and are often action packed. The few boss battles are fun (albeit brief) and are a perfect opportunity to show off your skills, so you’ll wish there were a few more. Numerous side quests are predictable in their design, as you complete secondary storylines and earn cash or item bonuses for the trouble. Following that, you can participate in numerous challenges scattered around the city. These range from traversal, weapon, and timed objectives to destruction and item delivery. The challenges are fun and provide brief opportunities to flex your skills – but for some reason the map refuses to indicate which ones you’ve completed or attempted. Lastly, there are random open-world activities to gain a little extra cash, such as recovering loot crates, rescuing survivors, and tagging billboards.

Sunset Overdrive

Then there’s Night Defense, a special mode where players defend one or multiple Overcharge vats from incoming waves of the OD. There are a few times you must complete this mode during the campaign, which introduces you to the four available fort maps. The unique aspect of this mode is that players can place traps – such as a fling board or a rotating blade system – to help control the incoming swarm. Those two traps are automatic, while the rest must be activated manually by jumping on them each time you want them to burn/freeze enemies in the area. Players are limited by an energy level, so there are only so many traps you can place. As they get destroyed by large enemies, you can throw down more as the energy level becomes available again. Night Defence is all about action and defeating as many enemies as possible before they get to, and steal your Overcharge. Because the mode is clearly designed for multiple players, having to complete it during the campaign can be relatively more challenging than the rest of the game.

This brings us nicely to multiplayer. The main online mode is called Chaos Squad. Up to 8 players can get together and begin a series of missions. Missions include activities that are similar to the single player challenges. You’ll be competing to perform combat challenges, platforming around an area collecting points, or defending vats while they cook from all directions, and more. After completing a mission, you get a choice of two to take on next, that players vote on. Then you all make your way to the new mission start area. After completing a few such missions, and earning a Chaos rating depending on your team’s success and mission selected, you take on Night Defence. It plays the same as in single player, but with multiple people it becomes quite easily manageable. The chaos level affects the difficulty of the missions, but also improves your rewards.

The structure of Chaos Squad is meant to get players to participate in a few missions, do the Night Defence, and then restart all over again. You get rewards such as customization items and cash for each round of missions and final Night Defence, and overall the pace is quite fast. However, after a few rounds, it becomes boring. The biggest problem you’ll have in Chaos Squad is constantly running out of ammo. The missions have a few types but you will see most of them within an hour of play. The game doesn’t offer an opportunity to move to another area of the city unless you quit and join another online lobby. Depending on the part of the city you play in, the Night Defence and missions get tougher, but even with 8 average-skilled players, multiplayer is rarely challenging. It also would have been nice to see a mode that allows players to free roam, rather than herding them between mini-games and the tower-defense round. The only other online function is leaderboards for single player challenges and missions (which are all replayable), as well as general accomplishments.

Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive is a colorful game, with a vibrant palette and a grunge style. Even with a large amount of enemies on screen and explosions going off, offline or in Chaos Squad, the framerate remains perfectly smooth. A few texture streaming quality issues are notable, and draw distance isn’t always great. The voice acting is fine, though occasionally a bug will cause dialog to overlap or repeat. The soundtrack however could definitely use a few more songs. They all tend to blend together due to a very similar style, and have little bearing on what’s going on in the world. You could be platforming to a fast-paced, bass and drums driven tune, but hear a slower song just as the action ramps up.

Sunset Overdrive has a surprisingly large amount content and mechanics worth describing. Sunset city is your platforming playground as enemies swarm the streets, waiting for you to pirouette through the air and blast them with a bowling ball. Character customization is extensive, if mostly unnecessary, in both visual and gameplay terms. Mission design ranges from exciting to cliché, and cooperative multiplayer is fast paced but a bit repetitive. The bottom line, however, is that the fun combination of platforming and action gameplay trumps whatever shortcomings the game has.

Our ratings for Sunset Overdrive on Xbox One out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
A colorful Sunset City welcomes players with its unique architecture and bright sunshine, but the soundtrack gets repetitive.
Great mix of platforming and shooting, through tight controls and enjoyable environment interaction. Character customization through amps is unexpectedly deep, but mostly unnecessary.
Single Player
Predictable story and dry character stereotypes are elevated through good-natured humor. Mission design ranges from entertaining to formulaic.
Rapid pace of missions will always keep players engaged, but a few more gameplay options would have been welcome, such as free roam or moving to a new map without having to quit.
Occasional texture streaming is noticeable, sometimes audio dialog overlaps. The game performs flawlessly even in the mayhem of multiplayer Night Defence.
Sunset Overdrive delivers a fun, energetic mix of action and platforming, despite some narrative weaknesses and an overabundance of perks.
Sunset Overdrive
Sunset Overdrive box art Platform:
Xbox One
Our Review of Sunset Overdrive
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Sunset Overdrive is ranked #474 out of 1976 total reviewed games. It is ranked #32 out of 152 games reviewed in 2014.
473. Kingdom Hearts III
PlayStation 4
474. Sunset Overdrive
475. Strider
Xbox One
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Sunset Overdrive
18 images added Oct 26, 2014 21:55
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