Welcome to Sunset Overdrive: a dystopian paradise where the corporate machine has finally taken over and accidentally turned its citizens into mindless mutants; the FizzCo company begin to cover up the incident by quarantining the city and releasing killer robots to contain the mess. As a now former employee who worked in the sanitation department, your avatar teams up with those who have survived – a motley crew of assorted clichés and blatant stereotypes.
This is the latest and much hyped title from Insomniac Games, creators of Spyro the Dragon, Rachet and Clank, and Resistance series. Historically they’ve been a PlayStation developer, but in recent years they have explored multiplatform and mobile/web games with mixed success. To see a game created solely for Microsoft is a strange move, but despite initial fears the game holds up nicely but with a few caveats.
It’s wacky plot concerns conspiracy theories about conglomerates with too much power, but there’s a missed opportunity. Few of the characters are memorable by themselves, serving the basis for your customisable protagonist’s one liners, but the general plot thread is a predictable affair. Still, it’s about the journey, the jokes, and the missions; which come together to make a mostly enjoyable romp.
One key selling point of this Jet Set Radio inspired shooter is the cartoony visuals. Your eyes are bombarded with neon orange and a bold sky blue, giving it a lively, if occasionally painful, visual style. Its punk vibes are everywhere, from the colour palette to the audio tracks whenever action gets hectic. The low frame-rate hurts the pacing however, making the game feel somewhat more sluggish than it probably wants to be, but it’s a well realised and expansive open world.
I fought the Law
There’s all sorts of missions in this open world game. Some require you to defend Vats from waves of enemies within a set time limit, using your traps to assist. Others need you to kill enemies in a certain area, either escorting NPCs or wailing on them on your own. On occasion you will find that some missions feel somewhat similar, with a large emphasis on parkour in a host of side missions, though the same can’t be said for the crazy boss battles along the way.
Insomniac Games has always created some unique weapons, so the armoury in Sunset Overdrive doesn’t disappoint. As you progress you will be able to trade-in cash for new threads and Overcharge cans to a merchant for new guns – from a rapid fire record player thrower to an explosive cuddly toy launcher. Each weapon has varying degrees of effectiveness against the foes you face. More weapons than slots are available, so you’re able to equip to your liking. There are a couple of duds here, such as the wonderfully named “The Dude” – a bowling ball thrower that takes time to charge; but deployable acid fountains are a fitting inclusion.
Each weapon and indeed your protagonist can be equipped with Amps – essentially buffs that can be obtained via trading in collectables or successfully defending Vats from the mutants. They vary in effect just as much as the weapons, but it’s the personal ones that change your play style. Some give additional effects to certain tricks you perform while traversing the city. You also get awarded with badges whenever you do enough cool stuff to unlock Overdrives. This turns you from defenceless to unstoppable in a relatively quick amount of time.
Ever Fallen in Love
This leads us to the problem with Sunset Overdrive – it’s not at all challenging. Since aiming requires you to only point the cursor on the reticule rather than aim for headshots, enemies are far too easy to hit. Explosive weapons including the ‘TNTeddy’ quickly become overpowered and with frequent health and ammunition drops, it’s rare you’ll be outgunned. As long as you remember to keep moving and traverse between obstacles and railings, enemies will rarely hit you.
Where things get really crazy is the multiplayer. In a bizarrely similar way to how Forza Horizon 2 handled things, you need to traverse to each mission before it loads the objectives. Once complete, it will add a percentage to the Chaos Meter, which affects how difficult things get in the final defend the Vats stage. You are placed according to points gained, with bonus objectives adding multipliers. From a competitive standpoint, unless you’re playing with friends, the game is a bit one sided towards the players with a better arsenal; but it’s an absolute blast with evenly matched friends.
More bafflingly is the tone. While I praise the fact that it is funny in places, the humour is definitely subjective. It’s more self-aware than a spoof film, with even the whole bait-and-switch tactic being used at least once or twice. There’s even an awkward moment during the campaign that feels so off the rails you’d be surprised the protagonist doesn’t have brain damage. It’s almost as if the game was comprised of sketches linked tentatively together rather than a coherent plot.
There were times where I was vaguely worried about Sunset Overdrive, but on the whole it does what it sets out to do. Movement is as fun as one would expect and while it holds your attention it is an absolute blast to play. It’s a diamond in the roughest sense, as this neon beauty has imperfections: a dodgy narrative and no real challenge stand out the most; but it brings the over-the-top side of Insomniac that was completely lacking in Fuse. Welcome back, we saved a can of Overcharge for you.