Sunset Overdrive Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One
Getting Insomniac Games onboard was seen as a minor coup for the Microsoft team way back when the Xbox One was still being mocked for the ridiculous TV focused reveal. The usually PlayStation exclusive studio famous for the Ratchet and Clank and Resistance franchises signed up, not only to produce a brand new IP, but to making it a potential system-selling Xbox One exclusive, surely must have had some people at Microsoft HQ high fiving and back patting all the way to the nearest pub (bar). So, with the long old wait now just about behind us all, does this new IP along with special white console (random as that’s not a theme of the game), and reasonably heavy PR budget in tow, actually live up to expectations?
You play as a normal everyday guy, working a concert gig for the launch of the latest sports drink, Overcharge. Going about your business at the launch party, you are witness to the very first people in the world taking a sip of this unusual looking, bright orange, Lucozade equivalent. Unfortunately there is one minor side effect with this new drink: it’s so chock full of energy “stuff” that it messes with the human body to the point of changing people into crazed mutants, also known as OD. FizzCo, the makers of this toxic beverage, seal Sunset City with invisible walls and contain both the OD and the survivors. Your goal is to escape the city alive, and you will meet many others along the way, each with a quirky personality and gimmick to boot. Whether that's a group of trust fund brats hanging out in an arcade, or an adult Boy Scout troop found seeking refuge in a Japanese temple. Each of these camps you visit will bring more missions that get you closer to your end goal. Cue a colourful, extremely bonkers, open world shooter with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
First off, the tone is divisive, particularly the humour. There is clearly a love of gaming and up to date pop culture, with references oozing from every frame of the game. We are treated to all sorts from the Breaking Bad references to the Peggle esque mission victory screens, the Scott Pilgrim onscreen kapow writing, all the way to the frequent nods to Bill and Ted, Portal and many more. It’s a game made for geeks and you absolutely feel that from the off.
It’s a funny one though (pardon the pun), as is any game attempting to use humour as one of its main appeals - there is a clear type of person that will find Sunset Overdrive hilarious but sadly for every one of those people there will be an equal amount, possibly more, who will see it as crass and at times too low brow; at worst just plain obvious. On occasion the humour really does work, and to laugh out loud levels - particularly when the game is mocking its own use of traditional video game mechanics: “how can we hear him when he’s miles away and we don’t have any tools to communicate?” “Don’t focus on that” - now if you play lots of games and don’t find that at least mildly amusing then there is little hope for you but as a whole it misses more than it hits. Essentially the script lacks consistency, much like any reasonably funny comedy movie - It is far too easy to not engage with the characters as they send you off on stupid fetch quests and the larger, overarching aim of escaping the city is quite easily lost five hours in. It’s amusing in parts for sure and some of characters will raise a smile but ultimately it just feels like it’s trying too hard and is clearly aiming at the lowest common denominator.
In true open world, third person shooter, fashion Sunset Overdrive sticks rigidly to the formula, for the most part at least. Main missions, side quests, challenges, tons of collectibles, a horde like mode and an easily accessed online element are all present - if you white- boarded it, all boxes are ticked where it is something we know and sometimes love in an open world game. The key however to any open world romp is variety and balls-out fun. In this respect it is easy to draw comparisons from the Saints Row and Infamous franchises, both open world third person action games, all with the aforementioned elements but both approaching the genre from very different angles. Sunset Overdrive comes at it from a Saints Row angle with the silly story, outrageous characters, ridiculous missions, over the top enemies and the ever popular frequent F bomb but sadly one thing that it does draw from the Infamous side of the fence is an ever encroaching feeling of dullness in the gameplay. Now some people loved the latest Infamous and yes it did look gorgeous, although sadly the the minute to minute gameplay was really dull and quite the chore to finish. This problem is evident here and no amount of Saints Row like over the top F bombing silliness can save Sunset Overdrive from it...minute to minute it can be a bit of a chore and vere into dullness.
The variety given in the quests is solid enough but as with almost every game in this genre they are heavily padded with repetitive monster-slaying and fetch quests. The dullness of these isn’t helped by the traversal mechanics afforded the player. Bouncing on cars, railing Tony Hawk style, hook railing and wall running make up your arsenal (your character does not have super powers) and it is very clear that running on the ground is absolutely not recommended and the game is consistently, actively encouraging you to get mobile - to get off the ground. No more so is this evident than in the style system which is a constant reminder that you need to be killing things in “style”. Style points are Accumulated with every cool action and provide the player with more weapon perks which definitely come in handy for the more intense swarm type battles. It’s here where things get a little bit tricky.
As the game keeps pushing you to be creative and turn on the style, for want of a better phrase, it diminishes the combat somewhat. In fact not only does the game encourage you, it downright makes you and when faced with swarms of enemies which have really, really great aim - even from distance, running along the ground for five seconds will see your health bar wiped. The respawn animations are arguably the funniest part of the entire game. Your player’s own auto aim is insanely generous to compensate but even then you will find yourself shooting enemies from high up on a rail at speed, or while looking downwards after bouncing on several cars - now and again it would actually be just lovely to shoot something in the face...face to face...but that’s not Sunset Overdrive. At times it feels like it’s a bouncing simulator and the fun come in the form of causing as much carnage as possible from a height where you cannot really see what’s going on. What is most disappointing of all here is that it often just lacks any sense of over the top fun moments. The controls and way in which you are made to play force your hand here - which may sound really odd when you see someone playing it on Youtube, sure it looks OTT and it certainly looks fun, but actually holding the pad and being the person in control, it isn’t as much as you’d hope - it’s decent for sure but you never get that buzz.
As this is an open world adventure we are naturally greeted with some light RPG elements, as seen in countless games before. Badges are acquired through your style actions and provide passive upgrade bonuses, the good thing here being that there are a lot and your most frequent actions are rewarded. In this respect the game doesn’t force you to play a certain way, outside of the regular confines of the game. Weapons also level the more you use them and upgrades can be applied. As this is Insomniac Games the weapons themselves are just outright bonkers for the most part - often clever, often a laugh to use and always bringing something different to the fight, the weaponry is inventive in a way both Ratchet and Clank would be proud of.
Online is an odd beast providing teams of two to eight with a series of challenge modes which range from racing, babysitting something and a horde mode. Moving from mode to mode with voting inbetween you are treated to some of the dullest challenge modes presented to you in the single player campaign. Lacking any real sense of enjoyment, the online component of Sunset Overdrive isn’t something which people will be playing for months, more like a week or two.
Sunset Overdrive is solid if underwhelming romp in parts which admirably sets out to poke fun at itself, along with the genre, and inject some joy into proceedings. At times it does, too often it doesn’t and it ultimately comes off as a mix of Ratchet and Clank along with Tony Hawk minus a lot of the tight gameplay that made those successful. It’s really not a system seller, making the Sunset console an oddity but it is a solid open world franchise template which will hopefully improve if we see a sequel in time. Decent but not quite as much fun as it should be.