Sunset Overdrive is insane. It’s colourful, ridiculous, irreverent, and every iota of it represents the very finest of Insomniac Games’ strengths as a developer, namely over-the-top and ingeniously crafted weapons, exceptionally nimble traversal mechanics, and a wonderfully cartoonish, highly irreverent sense of humour throughout all of the mayhem unfolding on the screen.
All in all, it’s exactly the kind of new IP that the Xbox One needs.
As initially shocking as it was to hear the announcement that Insomniac Games would be exclusively teaming with Microsoft for their newest game project, an Xbox One exclusive, it turns out that it was a match made in heaven. Insomniac has exclusively shacked up with PlayStation since it was founded in the 90’s (if you don’t count the EA-published co-operative game, Fuse or social RPG, Outernauts), with their famed creations including Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank and Resistance (the latter two franchises are even owned by Sony!), to the point where most gamers previously mistook them for a PlayStation subsidiary.
As it happens though, Insomniac is just as capable when developing for an Xbox platform, especially since Sunset Overdrive allows them to go back to what they do best, starting fresh with an in-house idea that is free of the expectations that come with larger, publisher-owned brands.
The result is an enormously entertaining Xbox One exclusive that stands as one of the console’s best offerings yet, and one that’s an easy contender for the top Holiday game release on Microsoft’s new console this year, and perhaps even overall! Sunset Overdrive breaks the mould of melodramatic shooters, glossy car sims and vain sports offerings that are normally most associated with Xbox, delivering a vibrant, crass and wonderfully creative adventure that’s as satisfying as it is hilarious.
Sunset Overdrive is splashed with a vivid, very colourful art style, making the visuals leap off of the screen with a rich and highly saturated colour palette that gives everything an incredible sense of energy and charm. It’s one of the most visually impressive Xbox One games to date, and its incredible character designs and rich, detailed open-world city playground are an incredible sight to behold!
Even more impressive is how well Sunset Overdrive maintains a consistent and steady framerate, even amidst all of the perpetual chaos that is often unfolding on the screen. Towards the end of the game, players will have a huge arsenal of explosive, volatile and flashy weaponry, and hordes of enemies will often be crowding around the scenery to try and strike back, making everything often very busy and incredibly stimulating. Despite all of this carnage however, Sunset Overdrive never even slightly slows down. The framerate consistently remains at a brisk 30fps, and for a game this visually ambitious and chaotic, that’s an incredible feat!
It’s still a bit disappointing that Sunset Overdrive doesn’t achieve native 1080p resolution, but even at a slight compromise of 900p, everything looks gorgeous and very sharp. The highly exaggerated physics contribute to making navigation such fun, and it’s awesome to see so many cool visual touches sprinkled throughout gameplay, namely having onomatopoeia’s like “Krak!”, “Boom!” and “Splat!” form from the environmental physics as you play. contributing to the surreal charm of the action.
The wealth of character customization options is also very cool, particularly since you can gradually earn new outfits and accessories by accumulating cash from Sunset City’s abandoned ATM’s, as well as certain fallen enemies. Naturally, almost every design option in the game is brash and full of attitude, in a good way, though if you’re ever bored or dissatisfied with your character’s looks, you can change his/her appearance, gender and clothes whenever you wish.
Sunset Overdrive may place the quality of the fast-paced action over raw visual horsepower, but because its unique artistic design is creative and engaging, and its slight visual compromises are done in the service of steadier performance, it still stands out as a visual highlight for the Xbox One catalogue at this point. The game achieves a loud, boisterous style that’s entirely its own, and continues to prove that inspired art direction makes for better and more appealing graphics than raw specs and horsepower, every time!
Right from the start, Sunset Overdrive wastes no time assaulting your ears with hard rockin’ beats and a smashmouth soundtrack. This is a game that markets itself entirely to people who aren’t afraid to just let loose and have some fun, and the rock-heavy soundtrack helps to give a sense of comically violent mischief to your adventures across Sunset City.
As with any Insomniac game, the sound effects pack plenty of punch as well! Weapons sound with deafening fury and mighty presence, whether you’re launching explosive teddy bears, blasting a flaming shotgun, or cutting through your foes with a mighty electric beam. Likewise, the delightfully gruesome sound of your enemies being blasted apart, burned, zapped, melted, or whatever else your arsenal of insanity can do to them, is just as awesome to continually listen to, and never gets old. Not only is every weapon in the game fun to wield due to good gameplay design, but also because they make you feel like a powerful badass. Even when you’re overwhelmed, the squishes and bursts of your enemies will keep you fighting on.
Helpful sound cues also help you keep track of the pandemonium that unfolds at any given moment. As you traverse the environment and build up Style, a unique surging sound will help you know that your actions are pleasing the game’s Style Meter. Likewise, the satisfying dinging of collection items and clicking of ammo boxes will help you stay aware of which consumables or collectibles you’re scooping up, even when you have to swing the camera around and can’t pay attention to every tiny detail as you’re madly leaping and dashing through an area.
Despite Sunset Overdrive’s absurd, rude and fourth-wall-breaking sense of humour, the voice actors also do a remarkable job voicing their respective characters. Some players may be bothered at some of the denizens of Sunset City being played as obnoxious stereotypes, but at least the game achieves a good balance between playful jabbing at modern geeky types and gamers, and cleverly attacking said stereotypes with some great tongue-in-cheek lines, so as to minimize the risk of offending players. Even when jokes are made at the expense of LARP’ers, scout troopers and one-percenters, it’s all done in good fun, and the actors aren’t afraid to be a little over-the-top, wisely not taking their roles too seriously.
As superb as the individual audio elements are though, they naturally feel most impressive when they’re organically strung together, and that’s especially true of the combat effects. Listening to your character make sarcastic quips as you clean house against an army of mutants with an absurdly powerful teddy bear grenade launcher, as you bounce on cars and grind on power lines all the while, is one of those things that will remind you of why you love gaming in the first place.
Sunset Overdrive gives you an entire open-world playground to enjoy in Sunset City, circa 2027, which has just suffered quite an unusual corporate disaster! After an ill-prepared energy drink called Overcharge turns most of the city’s population into violent, addicted mutant freaks, your character, a nameless former trash collector for Overcharge distributor, Fizzco, teams up with various survivors that he/she encounters to try and find a way out of the city.
That said though, even if your character wants to escape, it’s highly doubtful that the player will! Sunset City is not only packed with plenty of potential for quick, stylish traversal, as well as hordes of enemies to blast apart as you make your way between destinations, but also a slew of addictive, rewarding distractions, from side missions to cheeky collectibles to more than a few cool secrets.
Like any good open-world game, Sunset Overdrive never bars you from moving forward with the main story at your leisure, but it also effectively tempts you with various other tasks that you’ll encounter along the way. Since everything in the game is so fun and tightly designed, you’ll genuinely want to take on optional favours and well-placed opportunities to upgrade your arsenal, not because the game demands you do so, but because you’ll actually want to.
There is a bit of a learning curve with Sunset Overdrive, granted, since its fast-paced control scheme demands quite a bit of dexterity, and it takes a few hours to have the best avenues of the city open up to you, even if that also means that the game does a good job of gradually preparing you for the trials ahead. Once you start getting used to everything though, you’ll easily get sucked into the experience for many hours at a time, regardless of whether you’re taking on missions, challenges, or simply desiring to better outfit your character with the many means of customization that Sunset Overdrive offers.
Even early on though, you’ll need to get used to constantly keeping on the move, and almost always in the air. Staying on the ground and shooting away not only leaves you incredibly vulnerable, but also fails to generate Style, which is important to maintain your character’s edge in combat. Not only does your character walk slowly and have no sprint function, but the enemies are designed to overwhelm and/or easily pick off stationary targets, killing you in a hurry. Thankfully, quick respawns and generous checkpoints prevent any deaths from being frustrating, especially in the early game, but there will be a bit of resisting your natural gamer instincts, since you’ll want to stand and fight when you’ll have a much better chance of surviving if you run and attack from a distance.
Fortunately, just about anything with a tangible surface is a means to get around Sunset City. Your character can bounce on cars, awnings and trampolines, grind on rails and power lines, run along walls, and later in the game, you’ll even get the ability to lunge through the air and dash on water. Staying mobile with these methods is how you build up your Style Meter, which activates special enhancements called Amps that your character can equip at one of four Style Levels, and gives you enhanced combat capabilities, such as generating shockwaves when you bounce on something, or summoning lightning bolts when you fire a weapon, among many other things.
Navigation takes some practice, but thankfully, Insomniac mapped the controls very well to the Xbox One controller. Any functions that involve jumping or bouncing use the A Button, just as any functions that involve locomotive movement like wall-running or grinding use the X Button, leaving B as your melee attack, and Y as your action button. This also leaves the right trigger for firing your weapons, the left bumper for summoning Insomniac’s trademark Weapon Wheel, and the right bumper for dashing in the air, once you unlock that ability.
The controls themselves feel intuitive, though the challenge comes from keeping all of the button inputs straight as you’re frantically moving about and attacking foes, while balancing any number of other tasks. It’s tough in the early game, but once you get a handle on the controls, you’ll be surprised at the kind of fancy combat and movement maneuvers that you can pull off with just a few well-timed button presses.
It must be emphasized as well that the responsiveness and fluidity of the controls is excellent to boot, never failing the oft-demanded quick reflexes of players during tense situations. It’s also great that the quick, reliable navigation is done in such a simple way, in turn allowing a sizeable margin of forgiveness with your button timing so as to avoid continually interrupting players’ rhythm when moving about Sunset City, even if your brain must always be as quick, if not quicker than your fingers!
Don’t be intimidated however, as Sunset Overdrive does a great job of acclimating itself to your play style, giving you an enormous wealth of potential options with which to develop your character. Any weapons you frequently use will level up and become stronger, a la Ratchet & Clank, and players will be absolutely spoiled for choice, since the game is packed with many different kinds of offbeat and highly destructive weaponry to enjoy, with almost no weapons that feel superfluous or disappointing to wield. Likewise, as you perform different feats of navigation and combat, you’ll earn Badges, which can be spent to unlock Overdrives, which can be equipped on your character to do things like beef up ammo capacity, reduce damage from certain enemies, and increase your maximum health, among other things.
Another hallmark of a great open-world game that’s well accounted for in Sunset Overdrive then is the fact that there is no “wrong” way to play Sunset Overdrive, unless it’s standing around like an idiot. If you’re willing to learn the handful of basic fundamentals, the game works with you to enhance and encourage your own play style. Whether you want to emphasize mobility, firepower, durability, or any combination of these, the game gives you the means to enjoy an experience that is comfortable and rewarding, while still leaving you plenty of options to push the envelope with, should you want something different.
The mission variety across both the mandatory and optional missions is also quite well done. Even the optional challenges, which task you with slaughtering enemies, navigating obstacle courses and doing other such time-sensitive tasks for points, feel very rewarding and addictive to master, particularly with online leaderboards that show you how you stack up against other players across the world. Right when you might think that the game is settling into a repetitive groove, things are effectively shaken up with an extra ludicrous event, or a well-designed boss battle that will present you with a foe that’s equally deadly and humourous. Everything is very finely crafted, and done in such a way so as to maximize the fun and entertainment value.
Players are encouraged to master a variety of weapons and play styles thanks to a sizeable variety of enemies as well. Not only will you have to regularly deal with the mutant OD (Overcharge Drinkers), but also human foes known as ‘Scabs’, and eventually, robotic agents of Fizzco, all of whom are vulnerable to different kinds of weaponry, and easiest to avoid with different styles of movement. Though the enemies only come in three strains, each has a nicely detailed set of potential baddies to square off against, with some of the larger OD being particularly enjoyable to fight, thanks to their imposing scale, and how effectively they can take out smaller mutants when you finally make them explode in defeat.
The greatest test of your combat capabilities comes from tower defense-style ‘Night Defense’ missions, which is the only way for players to get new Amps that they can equip to capitalize on filling their Style Meter. As legions of OD swarm your barricades, players have to set up traps and continually shoot away at the OD, protecting a series of Overcharge Vats until time runs out. If even one of the Overcharge Vats is destroyed, the player loses, forcing them to move quickly and place their defenses smartly.
This is also the basis for the game’s online multiplayer suite, Chaos Squad for the most part, which mainly tasks players with protecting a series of Overcharge Vats from the same hordes of OD. The online play runs smoothly and is quite easy to set up and enjoy, though one potential issue with it is that it tends to assume that you’re bringing a full party of eight Xbox Live players, and doesn’t seem to scale to lesser groups. You have some ability to dictate the ‘Chaos’ level of multiplayer challenges, which can potentially have you attempt riskier challenges for better rewards, but even on lowered Chaos, the multiplayer is rather unfriendly to smaller parties. As a result, some of the online challenges are excessively punishing, since it’s almost impossible for less than at least six players to cover all of the necessary ground to win a challenge.
Fortunately, your co-op and single-player stats and rewards are freely transferable, so spoils you earn in multiplayer can be taken back into the main adventure, and vice-versa. That said though, the online component feels a little unnecessary, and it’s doubtful that it will keep the attention of most players for long, even if it can be somewhat entertaining to have a bunch of highly skilled players massacring OD together with equal parts finesse and firepower.
That doesn’t matter much in the end though, since the superb main adventure will consistently give players a means to keep coming back and enjoying the game. Between perfecting your arsenal, scooping up scads of goofy collectibles, and taking on all sorts of fast-paced challenges, Sunset City already has more than enough means to keep players busy for tens of hours even beyond the main story, and smiling all the while!
Sunset Overdrive has a very simple, albeit ludicrous premise, and mainly exists as one giant parody of both modern nerd convention, and the runaway popularity of survival/apocalypse scenarios in said nerd circles. Thankfully, the game enjoys an excellently written script full of high-quality, biting comedy, and each character feels memorable and loveable in their own right, even if many may hit close to home for some sensitive players.
Obviously though, Sunset Overdrive isn’t for the faint of heart, even if it does undeniably appeal to the open-minded and the easily amused. As your character makes his/her way across heaps of increasingly insane ordeals in the, “Awesomepocalypse”, Sunset Overdrive effectively displays an apt adult edge with its snarky humour and potent satire, though one that never overrides the charm of the cartoony atmosphere. By the end of the story, the game officially flies off the rails, but by that point, the fourth wall-breaking gags and raucous celebration of gamer convention still helps to keep everything fitting nicely in Sunset Overdrive’s own bizarre universe.
Most importantly though is that the game is a very welcome reprieve, and even a very effective parody of, games that just take themselves way too seriously in this day and age. Instead, Sunset Overdrive is simply happy to give players a funny and mischievous means to raise a lot of hell, even if its creative and inspired take on the apocalypse is bound to lend itself very nicely to a prospective new Xbox franchise.
Sunset Overdrive is one of those games that effectively taps into what so many players love about video games, though still adding in its own clever spin on score-based thrill-seeking and unchecked destructive mayhem. It’s more than just Xbox’s answer to the super-successful Ratchet & Clank series that Insomniac has already pioneered for PlayStation. It’s a superb collection of ideas that makes for an excellent new IP, and one that is very welcome to branch out the mostly overlapping ranks of exclusive Xbox franchises.
As silly and off-the-wall as the game is, Sunset Overdrive also succeeds remarkably thanks to how well-designed and confident its final product has turned out. Its agile controls, chaotic combat and extensive, yet accessible means of developing your own unique player personality makes for what is simultaneously one of the deepest and most rewarding Xbox One exclusives yet, and one that any devout gamer with an Xbox One should certainly add to their collection, especially considering the outstanding replay value on offer.
When it comes down to it, Sunset Overdrive is just the purest, most comically visceral definition of fun that a gamer could probably imagine. If there’s any Xbox One game that deserves to be a Holiday treat for yourself or someone else this year, it’s this game!
- Vibrant visuals
- Outrageously fun weapons
- Deep, flexible customization
- Multiplayer is merely so-so