Sunset Overdrive is a mutant-pummelling, railtrack-grinding, beer-swilling hilarity infused assault on the senses that is weighted so fantastically that it’s actually difficult to know where to begin. Insomniac Games, formerly a stalwart PlayStation developer and creators of the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series, have jumped ship to the greener side of the console war and taken all of their toys with them. Sunset Overdrive is their first Xbox One title, and if Insomniac had a point to make, they’ve certainly made it.
This is a game about games, knowingly self referential of its own format and of pop culture in general, and of what drives players as they journey through a world. It has an utterly joyous outlook on life, and following the Awesomepocalypse (which is certainly better than your run of the mill apocalypse), your character sets out to escape the city, meeting a characterful cast of protagonists who you’ll genuinely want to spend time with along the way.
At the outset you’re found doing your dead-end job working for Fizzco, the soft drinks giant, but it’s isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. The residents of Sunset City are all turned into mutants, known as O.D.’s, after Fizzco release their new energy drink ‘Overcharge XT’ without first checking to see if there were any side effects. Aided by an excessively grumpy man called Walter, you find yourself in the relative safety of The Brewery, your first base of operations, and from here you set out on your journey.
Your first step is to create your character, with a nice touch being that you’re only able to customise your outfit following the mutant outbreak as you don’t have a job anymore. Character customisation is pretty wild and the game gives you every opportunity to dress in the most inappropriate manner possible. If you fancy wearing a unicorn hat with a giant horn sticking out of it, alongside a mini-skirt and leg-warmers combo then you can. There’s all sorts of looks that can be created and Sunset Overdrive really just wants you to look patently ridiculous. You can naturally dress like you would during your daily life, but that would be missing the point.
The game’s design and attitude embody the ostentatious title, with its wild spirit channelling the manic rush of Crazy Taxi, mixed with the traversal of Jet Set Radio, the weaponry of Ratchet & Clank and the combo building of Tony Hawks. Visually, Sunset Overdrive could well be the closest we’ll ever get to the return of Sega’s golden age, with the bright blue skies and colourful visuals reminiscent of that company’s most iconic output. The game runs very smoothly too, even with hordes of O.D. and multiple players on screen, and the city itself is expansive whilst managing to retain plenty of character.
The gameplay largely centres around exploring the open world location of Sunset City and performing tasks whilst eradicating the O.D., doing battle with mercenary survivors known as ‘Scabs’ and fighting the Fizzco security robot team who are sent in to eradicate the evidence. The key to the game is movement and luckily traversing the landscape is immediate, fun and rewarding. You’re able to bounce from cars to rooftops, grind along sidewalks and telephone wires, all whilst shooting an array of enemies with your zany arsenal.
How about a gun that fires stuffed bears loaded with TNT? Or perhaps you’d prefer to revel in the beauty of the fireworks fired by the One Handed Dragon gun. The game limits the ammo for your weapons, prompting you to regularly swap from one to the other, but this prevents you from relying too heavily on one particular weapon and is a good way of pushing you to experiment with different loadouts across the eight available slots. Every single weapon, of which there are many, has its uses against different enemy types, so you’re never left feeling hopelessly outmatched.
To be honest, one of the key things Sunset Overdrive gets utterly right is its sense of empowerment. All of the crazy things you’re capable of, even at the outset, have no real explanation beyond that this is all possible within the world of the game. Your character’s abilities are all upgradable thanks to Ffloyd the absent-minded scientist who cooks up ‘amps’ which you equip for different effects to both your character and your weaponry. Some are relatively benign though useful, like a powered dodge manoeuvre, whilst more powerful ones see things like lightning attacking your enemies from the sky as you pass by.
Alongside the amps, you also have character overdrives which you equip to increased health or deal extra damage against a specific enemy type. You earn badges for these purely by playing the game in your own way, meaning that you only level up the abilities you actually use. It’s a smart piece of design, and one that works extremely well.
Sunset Overdrive is genuinely funny and a pastiche of gaming and popular culture in general, and this is clear to see in practically every aspect of the game. When I dispatched a scab and they cried out “Please, won’t someone respawn me?” I couldn’t help but laugh. Details like the mutant ‘poppers’ who when shot explode with a huge fluid-filled ‘POP’ look fantastic and add to a comic book feel that pervades the proceedings. The fast travel option sees you down a bottle of beer, pass out, and then wobble out of a porta-loo in your desired location and when your character dies, the respawn animations are wonderful and varied, with my absolute favourite being the Bill & Ted phone booth coming out of the floor with the sound of electric guitar widdling.
There are moments and small details like these absolutely everywhere and far too many moments in the game to explain them all, especially without wanting to ruin their discovery, but their implementation is fantastic. The constant breaking of the fourth wall just brings the player right into the game, and overall Sunset nails its outlook perfectly.
The extensive open world campaign is joined by Chaos Squad, the game’s multiplayer mode, which brings you together with seven other players in competitive and co-operative tasks, all of which culminate in a group defence of your team’s base. You race to objectives, fighting for position along the way, before finally collaborating to destroy a base or hack a transmitter.
The name ‘Chaos Squad’ couldn’t be any more accurate because unleashing eight super-charged, and often insanely-dressed players into an area sees the screen explode with colour. It’s wonderfully hyperactive stuff, with each section’s leaderboard showcasing who’s doing well, causing rivalries to blossom before eradicating them just as quickly in the heat of co-operation. All of the experience you earn whilst in the multiplayer mode also carries over to the single player, and vice versa, meaning it’s not a walled off distraction or separate time sink, it’s all just part of Sunset City.
One of the comparisons I kept finding myself making was with inFamous Second Son, and it’s a comparison from which I feel the Sony exclusive comes out quite poorly. Traversing the city with spectacular powers, completing quests, picking up various collectibles, are all things that they both share, but Second Son feels devoid of life in comparison to Sunset. Whilst tonally inFamous took a more serious route, I couldn’t help but think that from a pure entertainment point of view the two titles are worlds apart.
Sunset Overdrive has so many amazing moments that I could just fill this entire review with them. It is hilarious, chaotic, stupid, brash, intelligent, explosive, and empowering, and revels in it at every opportunity. If everyone thought Master Chief would carry the Xbox One’s fortunes, then they’ve got another thing coming.