In keeping with the spirit of Sunset Overdrive, which doesn’t waste a beat getting going, let us toss any lengthy preambles aside. Developer Insomniac Games has been around for two decades, and therefore they too do not need any quick bios or rundown of their classic titles (of which there are quite of few). All Xbox One owners need to know at this point is that Sunset Overdrive is THE fall exclusive for Microsoft’s platform and while there are flaws in its DNA, it is well worth the price tag.
Sunset Overdrive dons the familiar hat of the post-apocalyptic open world shooter, not unlike Dead Rising. Gamers inhabit a player character that, through a wealth of customization options, becomes a zany vessel through which players experience this wildly tongue-in-cheek story. Yes, there are zombie-like creatures called OD (Overcharge drinkers) and a megalomaniacal corporation called Fizzco, but what the game “borrows” from the pop culture that preceded it, it repurposes into an exuberant, R-rated parody of the gaming medium. Disembodied voices, fast travel, respawns – the game makes light of tried and true gaming concepts in a way that is hard not to smile at.
Insomniac Games has always had way of combining sharp humor with cogent, thoughtful storytelling, and here they put those talents to great use. Sunset Overdrive is easily one of the developer’s funniest games, filled with colorful characters, a terrific setting bursting with personality, and a dry satirical undertone that will have hardcore gamers chuckling at every turn. What’s more impressive though, is that the game continues to surprise up until the end of its 12-hour main story (add a few hours for side missions and the handful of different collectible types). It grabs hold of the player with a brash style that, in an age when many games opt for dour mood-heavy tones, is a great palette cleanser.
At its core Sunset Overdrive is a third-person shooter, but underneath that veneer is so much more. Insomniac has constructed the diverse landscape of Sunset City to accommodate traversal that is part Tony Hawk and part Ratchet and Clank. Players will grind, slide, bounce, and air dash their way through the city as if it were one big playround. The traversal adds a freedom to movement that makes zipping between objectives its own unique adventure. Insomniac also smartly designed the grinding and bouncing mechanics to be as forgiving as possible, so players can constantly move from one element to the other with minimal resistance.
That traversal also factors into the gunplay, which in typical Insomniac style is highlighted by an excellent selection of diverse weaponry. From the TNTeddy, which launches dynamite-laced teddy bears, to The High Fidelity, which fires razor sharp vinyl records, each Overdrive weapon is a surprise unto itself, adding a new wrinkle to combat and giving the player specific advantages against the game’s different enemies. The OD may be the main foe in the game, but Sunset Overdrive includes more than the just mindless hordes. There are different types of OD within that one classification, and there are also human and robot enemies for players to do battle against as well.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but combining the traversal and the weaponry becomes this frenetic balancing act where players try to move from one rail/rooftop/bouncy item to the next while also dispatching enemies along the way. Add to that a style system that unlocks new abilities based on a multiplier and things get even more complex. There is a ton of customization to the combat that gives players the freedom to choose how they want to play and rewards them with new abilities for playing that way. The individual gameplay elements come together in a near perfect way in Sunset Overdrive, making the first few hours a delight. However, once the game starts to fall back on tired mission tropes, its luster begins to dull.
The set-up for each mission, which sees the player performing errands for various post-apocalyptic factions around Sunset City, keeps in line with the writing, but the actual objectives are standard fare. Some of them, especially the boss fights, show flashes of creativity, but other missions are as rote as they come. At first, the way the game pokes fun at its derivative mission structure is good for a laugh, but it gets to a point where masking it under the guise of parody doesn’t hide the lack of variety in moment-to-moment action. For example, the game pokes fun at the rule of three, but then uses it without prejudice.
Never is that more clear than in the game’s Amp brewing missions, which require the player protect a specific point from oncoming waves of enemies. The player prepares the area with different types of traps, but once the enemies start coming it becomes a generic, but thankfully short horde mode. It’s in these missions that players will realize that weapon efficiency trumps variety and that staying in motion isn’t as easy in a confined space. Instead of consistently supporting its unique mechanics, the combat occasionally calls attention to its faults.
But, when the game opens the horde mode-esque experience up to multiple players in Chaos Squad, that magic comes roaring back in. With a group, there’s a new freedom in juggling the chaos and in completing objectives, more so than flying solo. Insomniac also does well to keep the multiplayer feeling fresh with a risk/reward system wherein the team votes on whether to do easier missions for lesser rewards or tackle harder objectives for better loot (weapons, customization items, character buffs). And it all culminates in Night Defense – a bigger version of those horde missions that actually do have the right balance of traversal and weaponry. Granted, Chaos Squad isn’t going to keep the disc in the tray for months, but it’s no half-baked multiplayer variant either.
The best way to describe Sunset Overdrive is that it’s bursting with personality. From the writing to the combat to the look of Sunset City, the game strongly asserts itself as a brash open world shooter that wants to engage and entertain. When a game can regularly make players laugh it’s already on the right track, but that’s practically a given with Insomniac at this point. They play to their strengths here and even if they’ve chosen a familiar genre they still try to make it their own.
The only real drawback to the game is that its missions struggle to match the quality of the writing and the gunplay. There’s great packaging, sure, but it gets to the point where shooting enemies while grinding on rails becomes a bit tired. Even so, this is a case where all the good will a game earns outshines its shortcomings. Sunset Overdrive reminds players that games are inherently supposed to be fun, and it makes that statement with a capital F.
Are you interested in playing Sunset Overdrive? What about the game appeals most to you?
Sunset Overdrive releases October 28th exclusively for Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a digital code for this review.
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