Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: October 28th, 2014
Available On: Xbox One
Insomniac Games was most well known for their three PlayStation exclusive series: Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance. So it seems weird that I am now writing a review for an Insomniac game that is being published by Microsoft, and is exclusive to the Xbox One. Sunset Overdrive is an interesting combination of mechanics that I’d expect to see in Tony Hawk and third person shooting with weird and crazy weapons. The end result? A lot of fun.
Sunset Overdrive likes to call its version of the apocalypse the “Awesomepocalypse” and that’s a pretty fitting title for it. Fizzco’s new energy drink product, called Overcharge, has a launch party in Sunset City. Things go wrong when the energy drink ends up turning people into mutants known as the OD. Things explode colorfully, people go crazy, and overnight the city becomes a haven for monsters, bandits, and all other sorts of things. Sunset Overdrive is all about the comedy: nothing it does is done very seriously. Every character makes jokes, has weird personality quirks, and is generally fun to be around. The game tends to break the fourth wall a lot and make pop culture references when it can, but I actually found the writing to be fun and clever. Sunset Overdrive is one of the few games that I managed to actually laugh out loud at.
Sunset Overdrive isn’t quite your typical third person shooter. You can bounce on cars and other objects, grind on rails, run on walls, and other sorts of parkorish and acrobatic feats. Doing this while killing enemies will build up a combo meter that lets you do more crazy things. Assisting you with this will be various crazy weapons, something that’s true to Insominac’s style. Over the course of the game I found some guns that you’d expect, like an assault rifle (lovingly named the AK-FU) and a revolver. The real fun, though, lies in the weird guns. One gun I had shot a steady stream of fireworks at enemies, another launched records that bounced from target to target, a third shot a sprinkler that sprayed acid everywhere, and yet another launched bowling balls that just ran everyone ever.
Yet even the mundane revolvers and assault rifles can be made weird thanks to the game’s mod system. You can build mods by collecting six different ingredients around Sunset City. Combine them in the right way and you can mod your weapons, your melee attacks, and even yourself. The mods only activate if you build up the combo meter though, so it’s always encouraging you to keep moving and keeping your kills creative. By the end of the game my firework gun wasn’t just launching fireworks, but would also sometimes launch frozen explosives that froze enemies. My record gun had a chance to stun enemies with chain lighting. A boomerang launching gun would sometimes convert enemies to my side. That boring revolver? Every couple of shots it had a chance to summon the Grim Reaper (who dressed in a punk rocker outfit and had on a mining helmet for… reasons) that would proceed to wreak havoc upon nearby enemies. Just because a gun starts boring doesn’t mean it will remain that way.
Sadly there are things that do remain boring. While the game likes to joke about it a lot, a good chunk of the main quest’s missions are some form of “Go to point A, collect thing, go to point B, collect thing, come back home.” A chunk of the side quests actually also fall into this problem. Some of the end game side quests really dragged on as I would find myself repeating the same tasks over and over and over and over and just because the game was making jokes about it doesn’t mean it was fun. They’re not all this way, of course, and it isn’t much of a problem at the start of the game. It’s just that when I’m in the last third I’d have expected the game to make some new material.
Like I said though, it’s not all this bad. Occasionally you get to defend a vat of Overcharge that is brewing new mods for you, and I always found these missions to be a blast. Combining some light tower defense elements into the game as well, these missions see you holding off swarms of OD for a few minutes. You’ll have barricades where they’ll attack and you’ll have the ability to set up some creative traps to hold them back. From spinning blades, to springs that launch them backwards, to just the good old fashioned turret, you’ll have plenty of options at your disposal to rid the OD that is coming for you. Working with the traps is important, they’re not invincible after all, but you’re free to set up more in the middle of battles. I honestly felt that these missions were the best as they saw the biggest swarms of enemies and the most creative use of both your skills and your guns.
The times the game does change it up are also pretty fun. One level saw me in control of a glider armed with missiles. It was fun being able to fly around and shoot down anything that looked at me funny. Another level gave me a sword that was made to shoot lighting, fire, and restore health every time I killed enemies with it. One drug-trip level in particular was rather entertaining. The game could use more of these moments, but as it stands it’s a bit light on them. Occasionally it brings in a boss fight (There’s about 5 in the 15 – 20 hour campaign) but these suffer from being way too easy, with several of these bosses falling in less than a couple of minutes, if the game allows it and doesn’t drag the fight out by making you wait to attack it again.
Sunset Overdrive’s lone online mode is an 8 player co-op mode called Chaos Squad. The name is fitting as the mode is pretty much complete chaos. It’s divided into two parts: first you’ll complete a series of challenges that will raise your chaos meter and give you buffs for the second part. Some of the challenges you can get include things like getting kills while doing a specific trick, killing all enemies in specific areas, defending NPCs, or trying to take down a super powered OD. The second part of Chaos Squad has your group defending one of the bases. The amount of OD that attack raises with how high your chaos meter is, and your buffs will really come in handy here. I was constantly impressed at how well the game ran even when everyone was using explosive firework guns on swarms of 50+ OD. The mode is messy and unbalanced (if you have the hairspray rocket launcher you’re pretty much first place on every board) but is a ton of fun for just messing around with a few friends.
Despite some repetitive objectives, especially near the end game, I found Sunset Overdrive’s minute to minute gameplay to be a blast. Some genuinely funny writing, great ideas with the style and mod systems, and a crazy (if unbalanced) co-op mode made for an altogether great package. It’s a good thing Insomniac Games didn’t lose any of their skill when switching consoles as Sunset Overdrive is the kind of exclusive that the Xbox One needed right now.