To say that Sunset Overdrive has a lot riding on it is a bit of an understatement. While some may argue this point, I don’t think there’s been any other Xbox One exclusive that has carried this much hype and anticipation with it. And it’s not hard to see why that is. Not only has Microsoft’s flagship console been lacking slightly in the exclusive department, with the only real standout being Dead Rising 3, but there’s also a considerable pedigree behind Sunset Overdrive.
Insomniac Games, the studio behind iconic franchises like Resistance and Ratchet & Clank, are at the helm for this outing, which is significant because up until this point, the vast majority of their work has been for Sony. So, now that they’ve jumped ship so to speak, for this title at least, all eyes are on the developers and the question on everyone’s mind is: Have Insomniac Games knocked it out of the park with their first Microsoft exclusive?
Well, I’m happy to say that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Though not without some nagging issues, Sunset Overdrive is the most fun I’ve had on the Xbox One in a long time and is, ultimately, a very refreshing and rewarding experience, as Insomniac offers up a game world that is full to the brim with creativity and is just begging to be explored.
Sunset Overdrive takes place in the year 2027, in the fictional Sunset City. You play as a fully customizable main character who works at a company called FizzCo. Things kick off as the unnamed protagonist is attending the launch party for FizzCo’s new energy drink, OverCharge Delirium XT. What should be a night for celebration and festivities soon turns into a nightmare, though, as the drink causes people to mutate into horrific-looking mutants who are later referred to as ODs. Lucky for you, you haven’t had a sip of the drink yet and are able to get out of there in one piece.
The only problem is, almost the entire population has turned into OD and the city has been quarantined and locked off from the rest of the world in hopes of containing the disaster. Teaming up with a whole cast of colourful characters (my favorite being a group of LARP’ers who believe they are living in the 12th Century), you fight against the OD and FizzCo’s security forces as you attempt to escape the city and expose the horrible mess that your employer has caused.
Admittedly, the story isn’t particularly noteworthy, as the plot itself is thinly-written. Thankfully, the game’s fantastic sense of self-awareness, numerous pop culture references and more often than not laugh out loud humor more than make up for its story’s shortcomings. Not only that, but the characters are all great as well, with each one bringing a ton of personality, charm and wit to the table. It’s a pleasure to interact with them and a couple of the more colorful supporting players are sure to become fan favorites.
If you couldn’t already tell, Sunset Overdrive is an apocalyptic game. Thanks to the mutation, Sunset City is without law and order, and pretty much anything goes. OD roam the streets freely, always looking for more OverCharge, and various factions of non-mutated humans have formed, taking over areas of the city and calling them their own. However, unlike the studio’s previous stab at the apocalypse (Resistance), Sunset Overdrive is far from grim, bleak or dark. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.
The beautiful, sprawling piece of land that is Sunset City literally pops off your screen, with vibrant colours and a cartoon-y art style bringing the massive environment to life. From almost the minute the game starts, the city becomes your playground, and with an open world at your fingertips and literally tons of things to do, you instantly become immersed.
Of course, the meat of the game is the single player campaign, and at 12-15 hours long (without doing side missions), it’s probably where you’ll spend most of your time. However, for those who wish to have a bit more flexibility, rest assured that Sunset Overdrive offers a lot more than just story missions (there are challenges, side quests, collectibles to find and much more).
Let’s start off with gameplay, though, because that is most definitely the bread and butter here. Taking its cues from titles like Crackdown, Sunset City is completely open to you. And I do mean completely. Insomniac has said in the past that they built the game world as if it were a playground, and mere hours into the it you can tell what they mean by that.
Traversal is a key aspect of Sunset Overdrive and movement is essential to your success. Whether it be running along walls, bouncing off the tops of cars or trees, grinding along power lines or dashing through the air, the key to success here is to always be moving. Of course, at the start of the game your movement “abilities” are slightly limited, but along the way you’ll pick up more and more skills to the point where you’ll basically be able to fly from location to location.
I don’t mean that literally, of course, but as you become more familiar with the various forms of movement, you’ll be able to chain everything together in a fashion where you almost never have to touch the ground. Whether you bounce, dash, wall run or grind your way around the city, the traversal is extremely satisfying and is so much fun that you’ll find yourself doing everything you can not to touch the ground, because after zipping around the city with your abilities, walking and running will just seem so boring.
The game rewards your movement as well. For one, a surefire way to die is to fight on the ground. When engaged in combat, you’ll want to be moving around as quickly and as much as possible, for even a few seconds of standing still will mean a restart screen.
Not only that, but there’s also a style meter linked with your traversal, so the more you keep moving and chaining together traversal moves, the more style points you’ll get. It’s essential to keep moving, because your style meter fills up by racking up a high combo count. But, like with any combo counter, once you stop moving and killing, it resets.
The point of the style meter is to fill it up enough so that you can use your amps, which are essentially special abilities for you or your weapons. They all have different effects and there are a ton of them to unlock (leading to some awesome customization options). You have three different types of amps, too, and you’ll need to fill up all four style levels to activate them all. For example, level one of said style meter will only give you access to your Hero amps while level two brings your Melee and Weapon amps online.
One thing I should mention is that there is a bit of a learning curve here. Training your brain to keep track of movement while trying to fight off enemies isn’t something we’re used to. You will get the hang of it, though, and once you do, it flows beautifully and becomes second nature. In no time you’ll be chaining together combos while absolutely destroying anything that stands in your path. It’s incredibly satisfying and, without a doubt, traversal is one of the game’s highlights.
Obviously, you’re not going to be able to take on your enemies with movement alone. For that you’ll need combat, and thankfully, Sunset Overdrive offers you a whole host of options when it comes to deciding how to take down hordes of OD. Weapons play a huge part in the game and they boast just as much creativity and insanity as every other aspect of this world does. Whether you go with the TNTeddy or the Shocker (a personal favorite), you’re going to have a ton of fun while engaged in combat.
You can carry up to 8 guns at a time (all of which can be levelled up by using them enough) and are also able to dish out melee attacks (though I definitely suggest sticking with the guns). You’ll start off with a few basic weapons, but as you progress, you’ll unlock and be able to purchase more and more, leading to some completely over-the-top and outlandish guns that are a hell of a lot of fun to use. Each weapon has its own personality and unique function and no two weapons are alike. You’ll of course have a standard pistol and assault rifle at your disposal, but why use those when you can use a Freeze Bomb, an Acid Sprinkler or The Dude (a charge weapon that fires bowling balls. Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up).
As mentioned before, each weapon can also be equipped with an amp as well, giving it a special ability on top of whatever it already does (for instance, one of my favorite amps gives the chosen weapon a chance of enraging enemies after you shoot them, meaning they’ll fight for you rather than against). Amps are acquired in several ways, but come most commonly through doing missions.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Aside from the huge arsenal of weapons available to you, you’ll also be able to use traps. Just like the weapons, there’s a huge variety of very creative and often humorous traps that you can use to defend yourself against enemies. While these traps usually only come into play in certain missions (namely, “tower defense” type missions where you’ll have to prevent the OD from destroying a base of sorts), they’re extremely helpful when you get overwhelmed with enemies and they all offer up very creative ways to defend yourself. For instance, I often found myself using the Tesla, a giant pad that when jumped on, sends out electric shockwaves to fry your enemies.
Finally, there’s Overdrives. You can equip six of these at any given time, and they’re essentially “passive upgrades” for your character, giving you the ability to dish out more damage, increase your health/style generation, etc. There are a ton to choose from and you’re able to unlock them by collecting badges, which are rewarded for completing various tasks throughout the game.
If it all sounds like a bit much, it is. You will feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of combat and character customization that’s on offer here. You can completely customize your appearance from head to toe (with some very amusing costumes unlocked along the way) and once you throw in amps, overdrives and the vast array of traps and weapons, the options become almost endless. You can fine tune your character to fit your play style perfectly, and it’s not likely that you’ll ever grow bored of the combat.
As incredibly enjoyable as it is to explore this massive city alone, Sunset Overdrive also offers up a fairly entertaining multiplayer mode. Accessed from the in-game world, Chaos Squad allows you to hop online with up to 7 other players and engage in a whole variety of activities. The way it works is that there are 4 maps to choose from, with each one representing a different area of Sunset City. Once you’ve chosen your map, your team will need to complete 5 sub-missions before finally arriving at Night Defense.
Allow me to explain.
The 5 sub-missions last 3-5 minutes each and will task you with objectives like defending an area from enemies, destroying various objects in the environment, collecting a certain amount of points (which are represented by physical numbers floating around the map) and more. Everything from the single player campaign carries over, too, so you’ll have all your weapons, amps and overdrives at your disposal.
Now, before each sub-mission, the game will present you with two options for the mission, with one having a higher chaos level and one having a lower chaos level. You’ll have to vote as a team for which one you want, and here’s the difference: the chaos level from each of the sub-missions will add up at the end, and the higher it is, the more difficult your Night Defense will be. The chaos level has no influence on the actual sub-missions themselves, though.
So, why would you want to make Night Defense more difficult? Well, because the higher the chaos level is, the better the rewards are. Have a higher chaos level and you’ll get things like high level amps, rare customizations, exclusive weapons and more. That is, if you can survive Night Defense.
Of course, the flipside is also true. If you choose the lower chaos level sub-missions, then your Night Defense will be easier. The rewards won’t be as great, but you’ll have a better chance of completing it.
So, what exactly is Night Defense? Well, it’s basically the tower defense style missions that you’ll find in the single player campaign. You’ll be tasked with defending an area and must prevent waves of OD from destroying your base. You’ll have to work as a team in setting up the right traps and putting together the perfect strategy. It’s not always that easy, either. The waves of enemies come fast and furious, and it can get pretty overwhelming and chaotic. Seriously, on some of the higher level Night Defense missions it becomes complete pandemonium. It’s always a ton of fun, though, and I had a blast playing through it.
Visually and aurally, Sunset Overdrive is close to perfect. The punk rock soundtrack suits the anarchic world perfectly and the voice acting is solid all around. When it comes to visuals, in spite of the fact that the game only runs at 900p and just hits 30 fps, it ends up being a very visually stimulating experience. Sunset Overdrive might just be the console’s most visually appealing game to date and it’s absolutely beautiful to look at, which makes traversing its world all the more enjoyable. The art style and design choices made here infuse the game with a real sense of personality and uniqueness, and even when the screen gets busy (and it gets very, very busy at times), the framerate never drops.
Before I wrap up, I should probably make note of the game’s shortcomings. There aren’t many, but there are certainly a few things holding back Insomniac’s latest effort from greatness. For one, I did find the camera to be a hindrance at times, particularly when it came to traversing some of the larger buildings. I would sometimes find myself missing a jump or a grind and falling off a building thanks to a poorly placed camera angle. It didn’t happen often enough to become too problematic, but it did happen on more than a few occasions and led to some minor frustration.
The other thing to note here is that the game almost becomes too easy. You’re able to power-up your character so much that he’s almost invincible at times. The fact that he can basically jump and zoom around like Superman only makes things easier, as it’s very easy to escape death. Granted, your health bar won’t recharge (you’ll need to pick up health packs spread around the area or gain them from killing enemies), but I still found the game to be fairly unchallenging. I’m not a glutton for punishment or anything, but at times it felt like too much of a cake walk, especially when you really get the hang of the movement and learn which weapons work against which enemies.
Sunset Overdrive is, in my opinion, one of the Xbox One’s best games to date. It’s simply too much fun to put down and has that same addictive quality to it that Crackdown had. Traversal and combat is so incredibly satisfying that even just running around the city aimlessly, blasting away OD, is enough to keep you entertained for hours. There’s a huge playground here just begging to be explored, and the apocalypse has never been so much fun. So, make sure you book your trip to Sunset City as soon as possible and strap in, because it’s going to be one hell of a wild ride.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Vibrant, exhilarating and absolutely bonkers, Sunset Overdrive provides a refreshing and wildly imaginative take on the apocalypse and is hands-down some of the most fun you'll have with your console all year.