Like a number of these Xbox One titles I’ve reviewed, this one is a bit overdue. But between the time the game came out and the time I finally got an Xbox One to call my very own, there was no way it could be anything but.
Nonetheless, I wanted to shine a bit of spotlight on what feels like a well-reviewed yet oft-overlooked gem. From the moment I first laid eyes on Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive, I believed it was going to be something special — and not just because it was developed by the studio behind my favorite PlayStation-exclusive series, Ratchet & Clank (though that did give me confidence). The following year’s teaser is what really sold me, though, and when I finally got to play it at an Xbox preview event? That’s when I knew for sure.
Sunset Overdrive is basically what you get when you mix Night of the Comet with Resident Evil, throw in some gameplay mechanics reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank in an open world, and double-dip the whole thing in a glorious coat of attitude that basically says “eff it; society as we know it is over, but at least I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.”
The premise is that Sunset City has been infested by ODs, or OverCharge Drinkers, so named due to the mutations the former citizens suffered after drinking the new OverCharge Delirium XT energy drink that FizzCo rushed to market without properly testing. You the player were spared this gruesome fate on account of your job as janitorial staff at the big OverCharge Delirium XT launch party, and as a result, the city is now your overrun oyster in what has been dubbed the “Awesomepocalypse.”
You’re not the only one to survive, however. In addition the the ODs, you’ve got the less savory dregs of humanity wandering around who are quite happy enough to cap you and call it a day. Fortunately, you’ve got allies as well, other survivors who will give you different quests to embark upon to help ensure your collective survival and escape from FizzCo’s now-quarantined quagmire.
The game itself takes place in an open-world environment that is the bright and sunny/neon-lit Sunset City. Your first order of business is creating your character as you see fit: Short or tall, masculine or feminine, it’s all up to you. Your clothing options are limited at the outset, but you can upgrade and change pretty much anything you like — even body type — as the game progresses, adding to the purveying theme of freedom spread across the game.
Once you’ve cut loose, expect to do a lot of grinding. Not level-grinding, though there is a bit of that sort of character and weapon development in play as well, such as the Amps which further augment your abilities. Rather, Sunset Overdrive is sort of like the ultimate game of “The Floor is Lava,” and while not literal in that you can touch the ground, the fact is that the higher you are, the better your chances of survival as you bounce off of umbrellas and car hoods and using parkour skills to take to the rooftops. But your main means of traversal is grinding along the many rails and power lines connecting one area of Sunset City to another.
If you’re familiar with grinding in Sonic or Ratchet & Clank titles, then you’ve got a good idea of the basics. You can also use your trusty crowbar to swing down and travel along some cables like a zipline, shooting at ODs and gang members all the while. It’s a fun way to get around, enough to make you second-guess the idea of using fast travel to reach your destination instead of taking a more scenic route.
Sunset Overdrive‘s parentage becomes especially apparent when it comes to your arsenal. You have your more “basic” weapons, such as the satirically-named AK-FU assault rifle or the Dirty Harry, which is an oversized magnum revolver. But then there are the more unorthodox weapons which combine all sorts of crazy components, including (but not limited to) the Flaming Compensator, a blunderbuss which has the added benefit of setting those it shoots on fire. Then you have The Dude, which fires bouncing bowling balls, the TNTeddy, which lets loose with dynamite-stuffed plush ursine, and one of my personal favorites, the High Fidelity, which launches vinyl records at lethal velocity.
What makes things more interesting all around is the combination of having to shoot while always moving along the rails and wires of the city, as you gain bonuses for not only doing what needs to be done, but doing it with style. In addition, there’s the matter of having to shoot things while always being on the move — some weapons make it easy, while others require more precision aiming. Fortunately, there’s a mechanic in place which allows you to slow time down a bit as you take aim and pop a few caps. You don’t have to use it, mind, but it does make things a lot easier to manage overall.
One element which helps you to advance is the aforementioned Amps, and getting them is a process in itself. Besides earning them through story missions, a former FizzCo employee/current mad scientist by the name of Floyd will provide them for you, but needs your help — help him help you, basically, by defending the Vats he sets up to process OverCharge into something more useful and less mutant-y. When ODs get a whiff of what you’re cooking, they come running, and you’ll have to defend the Vat long enough for Floyd to work his magic.
This also ties into the game’s online multiplayer Chaos Squad mode, where you and up to seven other pals get together to defend a Vat from the oncoming onslaught of OD, all while competing to see who can pull it off with the most style. Successful missions will yield more challenging final round, aka Night Defense, and the better you perform, the better the rewards.
What makes Chaos Squad even better is that the way your character is set up in single-player carries over to multiplayer, and what you earn in multiplayer can be brought back to single. It’s a very mutually beneficial agreement.
While the gameplay is good, solid fun, what attracted me most to Sunset Overdrive is the overall atmosphere. The graphics feature a slightly cartoony style which compares favorably to those seen in the likes of Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch, with colorful backdrops and characters which (to me) feels like a strange sort of mixture of 90’s and modern vibes.
The sound is pretty spot-on, with good voice acting and sound effects, accompanied by an score of original and licensed songs in the punk, garage rock, and electronic dance genres. It’s fun and upbeat stuff which meshes perfectly with the atmosphere.
Then there’s the irreverent humor. Sunset Overdrive is a video game and is in no way ashamed of that fact, and is willing to play it up for all it’s worth while not quite overdoing it. In fact, some of the best moments come from when you die, as there are numerous different zany ways for your character to respawn worth checking out.
Sunset Overdrive is, plainly speaking, a fun game and a good time. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to get an Xbox One, and while it alone may not be the sort of game that you would buy the system for, it’s a must-own — or at the very least, must-look-into — for anyone who has the console or is interested in getting one.
As I write this, the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo is on the horizon, and while Sunset Overdrive has something of a reputation as an unsung gem or a sleeper hit, I know I’ll be quite ecstatic if Microsoft Studios and Insomniac announce a sequel.
Sunset Overdrive was released for the Xbox One on Tuesday, October 24th, 2014 at a price of $64.00 (best as I can find; it’s available for much less now).
A review code was provided by Xbox Canada.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.