A quick Sunset Overdrive review shows several elements pointing in the Xbox One’s political favor. For instance, Sunset Overdrive was developed by Insomniac Games, whose history of first-party exclusives falls in Sony’s camp and makes this Xbox One-exclusive shooter a shot across the PS4 maker’s bow. Insomniac’s game is also hitting around the Xbox One’s first anniversary, making it a high-profile release for a console that needs some positive attention right about now.
But is that attention warranted? We’re gamers, and we don’t care about politics. Is Sunset Overdrive worthy of the special edition bundle and the big ad campaign? Oh hell yes.
I was addicted to both Jet Set Radio Future and Crackdown when those Xbox-exclusive games released years ago. Sunset Overdrive is like the next-gen love child of those two, with a heavy dose of Insomniac’s flair for above-the-top gunplay. It’s impossible to really classify the game, because Sunset Overdrive is a genre-buster. It’s one of those games that can’t be classified because its gameplay is so different and yet awesome in so many ways.
Sunset Overdrive take an hour to really get into, if only because it throws so much at you at once. The tutorial is the worst part of the game, as it dumps about two-thirds of the gameplay mechanics into your brain in a three-minute span. However it does set the stage for the game’s irreverent tongue-in-cheek humor, which get even better as the Campaign goes on.
The Campaign uses just about every known gameplay mechanic, though it makes fun of every one along the way. Crate busting, lever pulling, escort missions and boss battles are all here, with the game’s anti-hero poking fun at each task along the way. Even the narrator chimes-in with snarky commentary. Had the game been afraid to poke fun at its genre-busting ways, Sunset Overdrive would’ve felt like a convoluted mash-up. Instead, the humor shows Insomniac was acutely aware of what it was doing while adding a polish to each stereotypical task that most “focused” games don’t seem to have.
The Campaign tracks the anti-hero’s attempt to escape Sunset City, a town in which most of the residents have been turned into zombie-like mutants (called OD) after consuming a pre-release beverage. Along the way the main character encounters a slew of unaffected humans who will help him in his task — once he completes a few Quests for them. In doing so, you’ll encounter all manner of OD classes, plus some rival human gangs and high-powered robotic foes.
Though the plot sounds tired and forgettable, the humor and sheer entertainment of the gameplay drives you forward. Insomniac calls Sunset Overdrive a “traversal shooter,” which really is the best way to describe the game. Like Jet Set Radio Future, Sunset Overdrive relies heavily on jumping and grinding through the world, which is both massive and designed for acrobatic movement. Train tracks, metro tracks, power lines, building ledges, curbs … just about everything is grindable, while vehicles and awnings provide trampoline-like bouncing platforms.
Jumping and grinding builds up your Style Meter, which lets you pull off some insane attacks. The Style Meter can also be augmented by stringing together attack combos, which ultimately activates Amps that provide special bonuses that make your Hero, Weapon attacks or Melee attacks exponentially more powerful. The resulting experience can best be described as making you feel like a “chaotic explosion maker.”
Considering how crazy things can get, I would’ve liked to see a Campaign co-op mode, or even something that just lets you dink around in Sunset City sans-objective with a friend. Maybe we’ll get that in the sequel or as a game update. With all the randomly spawning enemies to kill and the race-like Challenges to undertake, Sunset Overdrive seems primed for a casual co-op mode.
Insomniac is known for its gunplay, and Sunset Overdrive is the capstone of that expertise. Your Hero can equip up to eight weapons at a time, each of which can be upgraded up to Level 5 (each one earns XP as you use it more). Different enemies are more vulnerable to different weapons, so that diversity is important. However, ammo can also be pretty sparse in places, so you’ll need to get comfortable with different weapons just to keep dishing out the pain. Some weapons are earned through the normal course of play, while others can be purchased using Overcharge (a type of in-game currency).
All the Overcharge, XP, weapons and Traps you earn/unlock in the Campaign are usable in the game’s Chaos Squad multiplayer mode. Chaos Squad lets you team up with up to seven other players to participate cooperatively in three objective-based missions. Likewise, everything you earn in Chaos Squad goes back with you to the Campaign, which can have very tangible benefits over time.
Chaos Squad missions are very different from the Campaign missions, though they take place in the same environments. Mission choices are randomized, with players able to vote on two options between each round. Once you complete three missions you move on to a Night Defense round, where the waves of enemies get increasingly difficult and can prove overwhelming if you don’t work as a team.
But even if you don’t work well together as a team, one thing you’re guaranteed to do is laugh together. Sunset Overdrive pokes fun at itself in hilarious ways, but more often than not I heard laughs along the lines of “OMG, did you see that?!” Even in the single-player Campaign I found myself laughing out loud, and for much the the same reason.
Between its over-the-top enemies, weapons and traversal mechanics, Sunset Overdrive is 100% entertaining. I haven’t had this much pure fun in a video game in months, if not years. A big part of the fun isn’t the Campaign itself or even the Chaos Squad, but in just seeing what you can do with the massive open-world playground Insomniac has created. The fact that I’m disappointed that writing this Sunset Overdrive review has taken me away from the game itself is telling. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some sh*t to blow up in Sunset City.