Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Released: October 2014
Download Size: 26 GB
Sunset Overdrive. “The Chosen One”. This, is what we Xbox “fanboys” held as our pinnacle of exclusivity in some trying times.
“Dude, Xbox One sucks!”
“No matter, Sunset Overdrive will deliver us to a new Golden Age. Behold, the Messiah!”
Of course, talking like that is what gets you sectioned under the Mental Health Act, though at least you’d fit into Sunset Overdrive’s world. But is worth escaping the Asylum to try and nab a copy? Whilst the gameplay is fun, you can’t help but feel that Sunset Overdrive is trying its darnedest just to be “cool”.
The story is suitably maniacal for a game which, like someone’s embarrassing dad, is attempting to make themselves look “down with the kids” and whatnot. Basically, it’s the “not too distant future”, and you, YES YOU, are a down-on-your-luck slacker with a crappy job and even crappier prospects. Just when things can’t get any worse, a new energy drink turns everyone into gross mutants with a tendency towards violence. Though, when has a abhorrent mutant horde been of a pacifistic nature? Never, I tells ya!
After blundering your way back to your apartment where you hope to have a cup of tea and wait for the whole thing to blow over, the horde manage to break in and put a bit of a crimp on your day. Just when the sweet release of death seems imminent, you’re rescued by Walter, one part old-man, one part badass who acts like your father figure, who tells you to get off your arse and do something with your life… I can’t tell. Is life imitating art, or is art imitating life?
Together with your new best mate/dad, you encounter a veritable identity parade of characters, stereotypes and hit and miss comments on social norms. These include some over privileged arsewipes who only seem to communicate via text, a Bushido Scout Troop helmed by a… well, let’s just say he uses disabled parking… and a group of LARPers, because LARPing is just an easy target I guess. I get the feeling that Insomniac thought that LARPers would be a good joke on it’s own. Like people would say: “Ha, LARPers. NERDS!”
Of course, this is all tied together with gameplay that resembles a cross between Ratchet and Clank and Jet Set Radio. If R and C focused on their rail grinding sections, you’d basically have Sunset Overdrive. In fact, the rail grinding is the main crutch of the gameplay, almost to the point of forcing you to engage with the system if you hope to conquer the flesh eating hordes. You do more damage and unlock more buffs and abilities if you’re doing combos and being all acrobatic and stuff. This can be difficult to get to grips with initially, I found the movement to feel clunky at first, but you are aided by a generous autoaim and the ability to slow your movement whilst you’re grinding. By the time you meet the Bushido Troops at the start of the second island, the movement comes together beautifully with the unlocking of the Air Dash which really opens up your capabilities in the air. I do believe the game was initially designed with the air dash, but the developers decided to make it unlockable for some reason. After a couple of hours of practice, traversal is an absolute joy. Don’t be surprised to find yourself travelling manually to objectives instead fast travelling.
The weapons in this game, admittedly, are a tad disappointing. They seem to either be references to some other medium (I’ll get to those), or are basically reskinned versions of really conventional weaponry. An explosive teddy bear launcher is really just a grenade launcher, don’t try to pretend otherwise. There is a system in place that sees each enemy faction (human, mutant or robot) have specific strengths and weaknesses to different types of guns, which theoretically means you should be switching weapons constantly to deal with new threats. In reality, I spent most of the game using the Dirty Harry, one of the greatest gaming revolvers ever. You need this weapon in your life.
Sunset Overdrive has bags of personality, and has created its own identity for itself as being “alternative”, but as much as it sounds cliched, I get the feeling that Sunset Overdrive is simply trying too hard, and this is, personally, my core problem with the game. Just because you have personality, it doesn’t mean it’s the kind of personality people gravitate towards. Katie Hopkins has personality, it doesn’t make her likeable, and when it’s so in-your-face like it is here, it rapidly becomes tedious. References induce eye rolls, “jokes” (I use the term in its loosest possible form) create groans and for a game that seemingly promotes individuality and self identity, I literally couldn’t tell one song on the soundtrack from another. Heard one wailing pop-punk song, you’ve heard them all I suppose.
When compared to outlandish games with bags of personality, Sunset will naturally be measured against Saints Row, the standard bearer for big dumb fun. However, the key difference between them is that Saints Row clearly seems like a passion project for Volition. They make games because they’re fun, and extended references like the They Live level in Saints Row 4 show that they’re capable of at least semi-intelligent and obscure humour. Sunset Overdrive, however, is a “profit project”: company mandated and focus tested “fun”, designed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist, verified by the fact they made an extremely heavy handed Breaking Bad reference. How very alternative of you, Mr Sunset Overdrive. How long did it take for you to craft a joke that compares someone to Heisenberg? But underneath the personality problems lies a fantastic game that I genuinely hope we’ll see more of. It’s just a shame that the coating left a horrible aftertaste in my mouth.