Published on November 18th, 2014 | by Chris Scott0
Sunset Overdrive Review
Summary: Sunset Overdrive is something special.
For years, Insomniac Games has been known for making colorful, fun, personality-driven games. So its last retail game, Fuse, came as something of a shock to longtime fans like myself. It lacked color. It lacked fun. And it lacked personality. It was by nearly all accounts about as generic as they come. And generic was not an adjective I ever thought I’d use to describe an Insomniac game.
I mean, these were the guys behind Spyro and Ratchet & Clank. Insomniac re-imagined the World War II shooter to include aliens and guns that shot around corners. These weren’t the guys that made throwaway Gears of War clones. But that was Fuse and, Fuse’s development made me skeptical of their latest title, Sunset Overdrive. Because, while Sunset Overdrive certainly looked the part, Fuse did at one point as well. I didn’t want to be burned twice.
Turns out that fear of being burned was unwarranted. And I am happy to state that Sunset Overdrive is an Insomniac Games joint through and through, although it takes a little while for everything to click in to place.
The game begins by having you craft your hero from head to toe. The options aren’t super robust at the outset, but cosmetic unlocks occur as the game progresses to give you the feel of complete customization. Once your hero is ready, Sunset Overdrive tosses you directly into the fray. You’ll run, jump, and grind your way to safety, learning about the weird world you’ve been dropped into. And by weird world, I mean a nightmare filled with roid-raging mutants chasing you are every turn.
The mutant outbreak in Sunset City has been caused by the hot new energy drink Overcharge Delirium XT from FizzCo. Drinking said energy drink causes you to grossly mutate, glow orange, and want to violently attack anyone that isn’t overcharged. This of course makes escaping the city priority number one. But leaving isn’t as easy as walking west to the city line because FizzCo, in an effort to manage this public relations nightmare, has sealed off the city and all traditional escape routes.
It turns out though that you aren’t the only one left in Sunset City with the mutations. Groups of survivors and gangs of scavengers populate different parts of the city, with survivors potentially helping your escape plans and scavengers hindering them. Everything seems normal, right up until you get handed a gun that shoots vinyl records and are told to bounce on cars while killing mutants for a quadriplegic scout leader. With Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac has taken the standard open world format, and turned the absurdity up to 11.
But with that absurdity dial turned beyond max level, there is a bit of a learning curve to the various mechanics that the game entails. Borrowing heavily from games like Tony Hawk and its own Ratchet & Clank series, Sunset Overdrive presents a very different approach to terrain traversal and combat. While you could sit on the ground and kill things like a normal shooter, you won’t last very long. Everything in Sunset Overdrive revolves around mobility, so staying in one place or on the ground for too long will result in a fairly quick death. The game encourages you to be in constant motion.. Nearly every surface can be run or grinded on, and the more you do those things, the quicker your style meter fills up. Filling your style meter up is essential to survival in Sunset Overdrive because filling it up activates your amps (perks that are assigned to both your hero and your weapons), and the higher the style meter, the more deadly you are.
There are a lot of mechanics to soak in during the first few hours of the game and Insomniac seems to know this, as those first few hours seem like an extended tutorial for how to utilize all your abilities. For my money, the tutorial section of the game seems to stretch on for a bit too long and, until the air-dash is unlocked, the game doesn’t really open up to its fullest potential. That isn’t to say it isn’t fun prior to everything opening up, but it definitely feels very measured compared to later in the game. And I’ll fully admit it, Sunset Overdrive didn’t click with me until I reached the first real boss battle, against FizzCo mascot, Fizzie.
Fizzie brought everything together. The level design of the battle forced me to utilize what I had learned about the game mechanics up to that point. But, most importantly, it was fun. So many games recently are saddled with tedious boss battles, where the enemy is just a damage sponge. Fizzie never felt like that. Each attack seemed to carry weight and I always seemed to be making progress towards bringing him down and Sunset Overdrive’s generous checkpointing system made it so that even if I died, I wasn’t thrown too far back in the battle. Bringing down Fizzie felt like an epic accomplishment and as a player that is a great feeling. And that feeling doesn’t cease because the game continues to get more and more absurd as it progresses and each time you do something awesome in the game, that feeling of accomplishment grows.
I want to criticize Sunset Overdrive for how it handles its progression, leading to potentially slow start, but I can’t. While early missions are fun (as I previously mentioned they feel measured) and Insomniac gradually ramps up everything as it moves towards its grand finale. And because of this, the finale is actually grand. This is in direct contrast to so many other games where they deliver all the best stuff early on and by the time you reach the end, if you do at all, you feel underwhelmed. I only ever felt underwhelmed by Sunset Overdrive in the beginning and during that time I was learning how to play with the game’s rules, once I understood everything, the game set me loose and I never looked back, not even when I boarded a giant energy drink and rode it like a pony. It is this philosophy, mixed with some great encounter and level design, a healthy dose of self-awareness, and a heaping dose of absurdity that make Sunset Overdrive something special.