I’ll admit that when I first saw Sunset Overdrive unveiled at E3 2013 I had my doubts. An open world like experience that combined energy drinks, mutants, and over-the-top weapons was a formula I’d yet to see in a game. Since that time we’ve seen trailers and early gameplay showing a game that seems to be original, crazy, and pretty much everything that developer Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank) is known for. Over the past week or so we here at COG have been bouncing, traversing and running amok in the world of Sunset Overdrive and we think that most who take on this adventure, a description which doesn’t do this game justice, will be happy that they did.
Sunset City has been overrun with mutants (called OD in the game). How so you ask? Well, a company called Fizzco wants to release a new energy drink, Overcharge Delerium XT. Prior to the worldwide launch they hold a big party in Sunset City, Fizzco’s hometown, and those who drink the energy drink become ODs. You take on the role of a janitor from Fizzco who happens to be working on the night of the big party. You find yourself chased by a horde of OD and you barely make your escape. Thus your adventure begins. During your time in Sunset City you’ll come across different types of OD, scabs, various factions of survivors, security robots and a group of rag-tag individuals who become your friends as you try to escape from the city. That is as much as I will tell you, as there are some great twists and turns during the story, and I am not one to spoil anything for you, besides, I am not allowed to either.
Sunset Overdrive is a HUGE game (note the caps for emphasis people!!!). There is so much to do that you can spend hours just exploring your surroundings. There are a set of story missions to complete during the game, which introduces you to all the characters and enemies, but these just scratch the surface of the whole game. There are side missions, faction quests, challenges, collectibles (a boat load of them), and secrets galore for you to complete or find. As I played I found myself strangely addicted. From wanting to see where the story went next to completing a quest to get that one special reward. I guess if a game’s narrative is based on an addicting energy drink it makes sense that the gameplay itself is just the same.
You’ll need to master the game’s control scheme and this requires some practice to get the hang of things. You can pretty much go anywhere; if it looks like there is a way to reach it, you probably can. From bouncing on cars or patio umbrellas, launching off exhaust fans, grinding on rails or telephone wire, to running along walls, anything is possible. The game eases you into things, unveiling more advanced moves as you move deeper into the story, which in itself a good thing, but don’t expect mastery right away. That being said, once you get a grip on the controls you are in for one hell of a ride so-to-speak.
Weapons are one of the main features of Sunset Overdrive. From the well-known “TNTeddy,” with explosive teddy bears to other weapons such as High Fidelity, a gun that launches records or the Hover Turret, a weapon that launches miniature helicopters with pistols that fire at enemies. Of course we can’t forget the Flaming Compensator either, a high-powered shotgun that is shaped like something a man values very much, if you know what I mean ;). There are a lot of weapons to choose from and you’ll find that certain weapons are more effective on one type of enemy then another, so pay attention to it’s information tab. There are more than enough too and you’ll more then likely favour a few specific weapons.
One of the key components of the game is to power your weapons as well as your ability to traverse with style. These come in the form of Amps and Overdrives. Amps are abilities that you can apply specifically to your character or your weapons. These come in varying forms and they can level up. You’ll earn amps from missions and side quests, as well as having them made by one of your new friends. The fun in having amps made is that you play a game that is best called Night Defense. It is basically a single-player “horde-like” mode where you have to protect a vat that cooks the amps. You can use specially designed traps of all shapes, sizes, and effectiveness. It can get pretty crazy as wave upon wave of ODs of all shapes and sizes attempt to destroy the vat. Once the time it takes to cook the amp hits zero you are successful. Amps can be equipped in the character menu and you can swap them in and out at any time. For example, one of my first amps was a shock amp on my High Fidelity weapon and then I got an amp that allowed some shots to become a TNTeddy shot, I could swap this when I wanted too. There is a bit of strategy to the amps and the more you get, the more you can change up the effects of your weapons or how your character ground pounds, melees and traverses through an area.
Overdrives are similar to amps but they are passive upgrades that can be considered “spiffs” for your character. Such things as taking less damage from certain enemies to increasing the damage a weapon has are simple examples. To get these you must earn badges from doing actions when exploring your surroundings and using in-game items. You can get badges for killing ODs while bouncing in the air or grinding around and taking out some baddies. As with the amps, combining the right ones is the trick and can be tuned to the style of play you are efficient at. Who knew that this game would have so much strategy involved?
The single player portion of the game is quite fun. When enemies attack you’ll find yourself in quite a battle for your virtual life should you stay on the ground too long. Earning style and combos is important, as you have a style meter and combo counter in your HUD. These start to climb when chaining actions such as bouncing off cars, grinding, wall jumping and killing enemies with flair. Keeping your meter and counter growing is what allows your amps to activate and allows you to earn some money or Overdrive. Eventually you can become an acrobatic killing machine that is not only effective, but also one that looks damn good while doing it.
Sunset Overdrive offers up a cooperative multiplayer experience in the form of Chaos Squad. You must find a photo-booth on the map, and once you do you can access this mode. Here you and up to 7 other players vote on the first mission. This mission can be hard or easy depending on what you all vote for. After you complete the first mission you are then given another couple of missions to play, which again you vote on. But wait, it’s not over there, as once you complete these missions you have the end mission, Night Defense, where you take on an onslaught of ODs, and depending on how everyone voted prior to this occurring, your previous decisions dictate how strong your enemies will be. Given that Sunset Overdrive was not released at the time of playing I found only a few people online. The games that I managed to play were fun, crazy, and pretty intense. It will be interesting to see how the network holds up when this game hits the masses. For those wondering why bother, well, let me answer that. The progress you make with your character online, such as weapon levels, amps, and cash, are carried over to your single player experience. Enough incentive for you?
The customization of your character, or as the fine folks at Insomniac call it, vanity, is huge to say the least. You have what is almost an endless amount of ways to make your character yours, from gender, size, hair and general features, to shirts, shoes, pants, hats and accessories (e.g. glasses, melee weapons) for what ever suits your fancy. Trust me, as you make your way through the game, which already has a huge amount of stuff to choose from, you’ll add even more stuff to your customization menu.
Presentation wise, Sunset Overdrive hits the ball WAY out of the park. With a comic book infused design, this game looks fabulous. Much has been made of the whole 900p resolution, but it doesn’t matter, this game is a looker plain and simple. If you could take a bunch of skittles and mush them together, then think of a way to apply the resulting colour into a game, the result would be Sunset Overdrive. It shines with colour and style like nothing I have ever seen for this genre. The first time you kill a really big OD and you see those big liquid letters that spell “POP,” you know that this is not your average mutant killing game. From weapon design to enemy design, things are original. With ODs that have excavator buckets as an arm to a weapon that is made of Roman candle fireworks, there is originality throughout. The area of Sunset City is also quite a marvel to view too, day or night. As you explore its’ scope it really hits as you look out into the distance or down below from the top of any of the high structures that you can climb.
Technically the game’s graphic engine runs without a hitch, and this is something that is pretty amazing given that you are in charge of the free roaming camera. I can’t remember seeing any noticeable clipping or slowdown even when things got extremely busy with hordes of ODs on screen and liquidy explosions occurring by the masses as they meet an untimely end. I was amazed more then a few times as the amount of action on screen was very crowded and yet things kept going without a hiccup. Well done Insomniac, well done.
As much as the visuals are a treat, the sound is pretty darn good too. The humour found in the mature audience voice acting is quite a delight. Although corny at times, the dialogue is enjoyable and had me laughing more then a few times. From the characters you meet and the in-game announcers (e.g. tutorial) to such things as computer voices that make up some of the levels, you’ll never know what to expect. As for the rest of the game, the sounds of ODs exploding are “squishy” and the weapons all have their own specific sounds, which would be expected given their design. The music fits the theme of the game, but it can get repetitive now and then, but still, it suits the on-screen action.
Sunset Overdrive is a game that attacks so many senses, in a good way, that you may just find yourself not wanting to stop playing. From the visual art style, the amount of things to do on your own, to the multiplayer experience that carries over your progress into your single player story, this game just seems to get a lot of things right. Although some may not think that this game is worthy of picking up an Xbox One for, I would say that these people would be missing out on a great gaming experience, and that would be a shame. As for those who already own an Xbox One, go out and get Sunset Overdrive and have fun.
***This game was reviewed on the Xbox One via a code provided by the publisher***