When Microsoft played the Sunset Overdrive cinematic trailer at their E3 briefing last year, it blew my socks off. The trailer introduced us to a cartoony world of color, nonsensical hilarity, and high-flying action. It also looked too good to be true. Cinematic trailers sometimes represent actual gameplay, but the way players moved, how mutated enemies exploded, and just how stylish Sunset Overdrive looked was unbelievable.
Let’s cut to the chase: developer Insomniac Games absolutely delivers with Sunset Overdrive. This game is gorgeous, outlandishly funny, fast, and most importantly, fun to play.
By now, you may have already seen footage showing early portions of the game, as well as some of the multiplayer gameplay over at Twitch or YouTube. While those videos give a great indication of how the game looks, you won’t really know how great the game feels without actually spending a few hours playing it yourself.
Traverse Over All the Things
There are a number of ways to navigate through the sprawling, open world of Sunset City, in which the game takes place. Your character notably cannot sprint (can only run slowly), but can grind swiftly on rails or wires, bounce on objects, wall run, and dash in mid-air and on water. All of these moves can be done easily, but executing them over the various surfaces smoothly in succession takes some practice.
It took me at least a couple of hours to become comfortable with chaining together the traversals without losing momentum. Being able to quickly identify the various surfaces around you is a big part of being able to keep your momentum. For instance, as you grind along a telephone wire, you need to survey your surroundings; an object up ahead on a rooftop will allow you to bounce high to reach a building so that you can wall run to another bouncy surface.
And by the way, there are mutants and other enemies that you can blast into bits as you speed through the city. Shooting is actually the least complicated element in Sunset Overdrive. There is a very tolerant (and forgiving) aim assist to help you hit your mark. Not only are you trying to hit moving targets, you’re bouncing and grinding around your targets at high speed. Without the aim assist, it would be far too challenging to use all of the traversal techniques while gunning down enemies simultaneously.
As you chain together traversal moves and stack up your kill count, your Style Meter will increase. A higher Style Meter will activate various power-ups, called Amps. You acquire different Amps throughout the course of the game, and they all grant various bonuses, like increased health, damage, and special abilities.
The screen effects are dazzling, offering a spectacle for your eyes. A maxed out Style Meter will fill the screen with various on-screen effects due to activated Amps. Add to those graphical elements with rocket explosions, gooey mutants being blown up, and the world flying by as you’re traversing around, and your eyes will hardly be able to take it all in.
Sunset City is built to be your playground and amusement park, and you’ll start to see it that way in a short time. Environments are filled with vibrant colors, and thanks to a welcoming high-dynamic range lighting filter, none of the game’s goofy artistic designs will go unnoticed.
Additionally, a rock steady frame rate keeps the game’s high-speed action silky smooth, even while all hell breaks loose and swarms of mutants decide to show up.
Variety and Repetition
If there is a criticism I could make about Sunset Overdrive, I would say that the campaign’s missions are repetitive. You’ll meet a number of characters throughout the course of the single player campaign, and each of them will essentially have a set of fetch quests for you to complete. Some of the fetch quests are fairly mundane, but I actually rarely found them to be boring.
It took me about 13 hours to complete the campaign (including some optional side quests and free roaming for fun), and I never found myself bored. In fact, the overarching story, as well as the fetch quests are framed by an interesting and colorful cast of characters to keep you motivated and engaged. Not only that, but the missions are designed to train you in the traversals system and the character abilities system, particularly early in the game.
There are three main factions of enemies, and each faction has variants that are bigger and tougher than the typical enemy. The enemies mostly serve as fodder to boost your Amp Meter, so the variety of enemy types is perfectly acceptable.
Where you will find a ton of variety is in the weapons and in your character’s appearance. There are a sizeable number of traditional and unique weapons in the game (you can equip up to eight on your weapon wheel at any given time, and swap them out at any time). Some of the weapons are acquired through regular progress through the campaign, but the vast majority are purchased with in-game currency, or through completion of side missions. Many of the weapons have special properties, and vary from single shot, to automatic, to explosive weapons that cause massive splash damage (my personal favorite).
Insomniac Games took a fun approach to players’ characters with Sunset Overdrive. Not only can you change into different pieces of clothing, you can even change your physical features throughout the campaign. Simply access the NPC vendor who sells clothing, and you can alter your character’s gender, size, facial features, hair, and many other appearance aspects.
Game Modes for Days
Campaign: Playing through the campaign can take as little as 10 hours or perhaps even less, depending on whether you engage in the side missions. As I mentioned, much of the game involves fetch quests, but the gameplay never got old to me. Despite the availability of fast travel, I almost always opted to traverse to my next destination, simply because of how fun it was to work my way around the city with the traversal moves. Going from quest to quest never felt like a chore because I really did want to know what happened next with the characters in the story. There’s also the writing. Some of the dialogue and events that occur in the game are gut-bustingly funny. It is rife with internet humor and comedy that is so current, you have to wonder what it’ll be like to re-play it in 10 years.
Side missions: The game’s characters really come to life with the side missions. You get a taste of the different NPCs you come across during the campaign, but with the side missions, their personalities (and some backstory) are showcased. It’s definitely worth completing side missions to explore more of the game’s fiction, but as an added incentive, the rewards for getting through them can be rather fruitful: some weapons and clothing can only be earned by completing the side missions.
Collectibles: Like every other open world game, Sunset Overdrive is filled with collectibles for you to find. Not only does collecting them get you closer to completing the game 100%, but the collectibles are also used as a form of currency to unlock different Amps. Your use of the Traversals system will be put to good use with these collectibles.
Amps and Overdrives: When you are first introduced to the Amps system, it can be quite intimidating. There are different Amps for various levels of your Style Meter, as well as Amps for your weapons. Amps can be unlocked through the story’s progression, but like the weapons, most of them must be purchased with the game’s currency. Some Amps only have superficial effects (like making enemies explode into confetti), but others make you more effective in combat (like making enemies explode like a mini-nuclear bomb). Overdrives operate similarly to Amps, except Overdrives are passive upgrades.
Multiplayer: Don’t make the mistake of thinking Sunset Overdrive’s multiplayer mode (called, Chaos Squad) is simply “Horde Mode.” There are actually quite a few different activities you engage in online. There is of course, Night Defense, a mode where you have to defend your fort from hordes of mutants (you get to use various creative traps to defend your hold points), but there are other challenges that are quite creative. One type of multiplayer game requires players to compete with each other to get the most number of kills (while bouncing, for example) in a certain amount of time. Another multiplayer game fills the ground with lava, and requires players to retrieve objects throughout an area without touching the lava. There are a bunch of other Challenges available, and earning currency and leaderboard bragging rights make them worth playing.
Yes, Sunset Overdrive can be compared to Jet Set Radio, Crackdown, or Dead Rising (or perhaps more aptly, a combination of all three games), but this game is a hit in its own right. I had a blast playing through the campaign, and can’t wait to keep playing multiplayer when everyone else gets online.
What’s it like to play Sunset Overdrive? It’s like taking a giant can of your favorite energy drink, mixing it with a rainbow, and downing it without taking a breath.
Pre-order Sunset Overdrive at Amazon.com.
This review is based on an advance code provided by the publisher.