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Sunset Overdrive review

AT A GLANCE
  • Traversing through Sunset City is a blast
  • Vibrant graphics and clever overall style
  • A fantastic player character
  • Gunplay is inconsistent and sometimes clunky
  • Trap-based defense missions feel entirely needless
  • Some hit-or-miss moments of sophomoric humor

When Sunset Overdrive asks you to go across town, you don't start running on foot or carjack some poor chump. You vault onto the top of a storefront awning, bounce two stories up into the sky, dash through the air, then stick the landing on some telephone wires and grind across them like your sneakers are rocket-propelled skates. In this open world, it's all about the journey.

It's almost too fun--because once you've reached your destination, you just want to keep going. Instead, your momentum slows to a crawl, because now it's time to jump around in a circle and shoot dim-witted enemies until everything's dead. Even with your outlandish arsenal, Sunset Overdrive's combat just can't keep pace with its loud sense of style, blissful mobility, gorgeous visuals, and playful punk rock attitude. But hey--four out of five ain't bad!

Insomniac Games' foray into the realm of Xbox One exclusives is a zero-to-hero story, putting you in control of a typical dude or dudette who's smack-dab in the middle of a mutant apocalypse. OverCharge, a neon-orange energy drink made the domineering mega-corporation Fizzco, is transforming the denizens of Sunset City into hideous monsters. Because this is a video game, you and your unflappable sense of happy-go-lucky optimism are the only force that can save the day.

"This is a video game" gets thrown around a lot, actually; the people of Sunset City tend to break the fourth wall more often than Deadpool during a home renovation. This brand of referential humor is a mixed bag, and it sometimes feels like the writing's trying way too hard to be hip and/or edgy. Breaking Bad jokes, NeoGAF name-dropping, and a character inexplicably named 4Kim rank just below the use of memes on the "lame things to encounter while playing a video game" scale. It also skews toward an older audience: nearly everyone curses like an overzealous sailor, and the first weapon you earn, the Flaming Compensator, is a shotgun shaped like a dick and balls. Hmm.

But all that sophomoric inanity is made up for by your nameless, custom-made protagonist, who treats the end of the world like one big party. The hero's voice acting, be they male or female, is phenomenal, really making you believe that someone could be having tons of fun amidst all this chaos. I adore my character--she's a wacky anarchist with a heart of gold, gleefully blasting mutants, bandits, and Fizzco's killer robots in style.

And when I say style, I'm talking aesthetics (with a fabulous outfit assembled from a massive number of clothing options) and technique (bouncing off cars like they're made of rubber, wall-running, then slamming down onto an enemy's head with her baseball bat and sending giant shards of glass every which way). Of everyone in the game, you are by far the most interesting. Some of the factions you encounter during the apocalypse are cool concepts (particularly the skull-face-painted Las Catrinas cheerleaders), but the majority of the supporting cast feels half-baked, if occasionally funny.

Your hero's sense of boisterous enthusiasm permeates the whole game, particularly in the gorgeous graphics. Sunset City is straight-up beautiful, full of bold, vibrant colors and attention-grabbing street art on nearly every building. At any given time, you can probably spot all the colors of the rainbow in your surroundings, woven into the environment in a way that feels totally organic. Everything's been crafted with a nice touch: pus-filled mutants burst into splashy onomatopoeias when killed, atomic explosions leave behind a plume of "BOOM"-shaped smoke, and a plethora of goofy little respawn animations take the edge off your deaths.

Chaos Squad, assemble

Strewn throughout Sunset City are a bunch of photo booths, which let you jump into the Chaos Squad 8-player co-op mode. Here, you'll tackle a series of bite-sized challenges that culminate in a Night Defense mission, with the difficulty depending on which challenges your group chooses. Sadly, the multiplayer doesn't really offer anything you can't experience by yourself in single-player. The most fun part about Chaos Squad isn't the series of missions--it's racing to see who can reach them first, with eight players all frantically leaping and grinding towards a singular point like a pack of Spider-People without the webbing.

The only thing better than looking at Sunset City is exploring it. All the aforementioned movement abilities--bouncing, grinding, swinging, vaulting, wall-running, air-dashing, surfing on water with your bare feet--are incredibly well-tuned, conveying a smooth, exhilarating sense of speed and dexterity without feeling too overwhelming (since your acrobatics are all relegated to a handful of context-smart buttons). If you're a fan of the Tony Hawk or Jet Set Radio games, zipping around your environment will come naturally. But even if you're more accustomed to standard modes of open-world transportation, you'll pick up on the mechanics pretty quickly. The controls and level layouts are very forgiving if you make a mistake, and additional mobility powers are doled out at just the right pace so as not to overwhelm you.

Once you get the hang of Sunset Overdrive's traversal, it's absurdly fun just moving through the world. You have the option to fast-travel around Sunset City's four gigantic areas, but I usually opt to take the long way while trying to find the perfect line. I've cavorted around the city for hours at a time, seeking out the myriad collectibles, side quests, and challenge missions simply for the sheer fun of it. You can basically traverse the entire city without ever setting foot on a flat surface, and the excitement of nailing a particularly long combo of locomotive tricks is its own reward.

More Info

Release date: Oct 28 2014 - Xbox One (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox One
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence

Then gunplay gets stacked on top of all that, and the wheels come dangerously close to falling off. To incentivize players to keep moving while they kill instead of just standing there, you'll die almost instantly if you stay still during a shootout. Adjusting your aim whilst grinding a rail above your target's head is doable, but feels frustrating at first and fussy at best. Scoring kills while maintaining your mobility is also encouraged by the Style meter, which unlocks increasingly powerful buffs called Amps as you build it up. While adding elemental effects to yourself and your arsenal using Amps is pretty cool, you'll run out of available upgrades just as things are starting to really get good (like a chance to shoot miniature nukes or summon a leather-clad Grim Reaper to slice up your enemies).

You might know Insomniac's penchant for awesome weaponry from the Ratchet & Clank series, and Sunset Overdrive continues that tradition of over-the-top inventiveness, with guns like the TNTeddy launcher, a fireworks machine gun, acid sprinklers, and a bowling ball launcher. But because all the shooting tries to meld with hectic movement, explosive weapons are superior in almost every situation, making your arsenal feel unbalanced and underutilized. There are 20 weapons in total, but I only felt the need to use four or five particularly strong sidearms and all but ignored the rest.

But the biggest misstep is the template for base defense missions that are interspersed throughout the main campaign. These introduce yet another complication: traps, which must be placed around the area you're trying to protect. Like the guns, many of the trap designs are quite cool in theory but feel unimpressive in practice, and you only get to utilize them during specific missions. The whole system feels superfluous, and counteracts Sunset Overdrive's primary strength. Instead of zooming around a massive, colorful city, why don't you just sit in this one small area, fending off waves of braindead monsters for a few minutes?

Other than those stinkers, the majority of the missions are pretty fun; the tasks you're given are endearingly bizarre, and even fetch quests are a blast when traversal is this enjoyable. Optional, point-tallying challenges--like lengthy trick lines and property-smashing sprees--are also great fun, especially when jockeying for leaderboard positions with your buddies. It'll take about 12 to 15 hours to save Sunset City, with many more for completionists looking to snag every last collectible and level up all their weapons (though I doubt combat will have much appeal once you no longer need it to progress).

Sunset Overdrive is an exciting, self-confident thrill ride with strengths that easily make up for its weaknesses. Insomniac has proven that it can craft some of the most thrilling open-world acrobatics in gaming, and the upbeat, punk rock attitude dulls the pain of the so-so gunplay and dopey real-world references. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to grinding on street lights and wall-running around skyscrapers.

You've never explored an open world quite like this. Sunset Overdrive's iffy gunplay and inconsistent missions are redeemed by absolutely amazing mobility and an infectious enthusiasm for mayhem.

17 comments

  • talleyXIV - October 29, 2014 5:07 p.m.

    "Trap-based defense missions feel entirely needless." Ehh, I liked them. They weren't really trap missions, I thought the defense was different and threw some variety in.
  • shawksta - October 29, 2014 9:36 a.m.

    Nice! Ill definitely play it when me and my bro decide were done with the 360 and switch it back to the One.
  • Canned - October 27, 2014 7:17 p.m.

    I really love the look and style they created for this game. Sure, I could do without having a gun with balls, but I can overlook those things. I'm used to it; if I didn't overlook childish or immature things that I have long outgrown there would be hardly no games for me to play.
  • winner2 - October 27, 2014 2:30 p.m.

    Well they'v been advertising it at least so maybe it'll do ok, but it looks stupid as shit to me. Will be savin' my monies for smash bros or something.
  • WrathLord03 - October 27, 2014 2:04 p.m.

    Never thought I'd see a game where the fetch quests are actually fun.
  • Psylockerules - October 27, 2014 1:57 p.m.

    i tried his at EGX and i was a bit bored after the 3rd round, just mindless shooting, looks beutiful, just gameplay wise not my thing
  • _--_ - October 27, 2014 12:05 p.m.

    --this game looks stupid to me --it looks like the demographic was 12 year olds --i mean i know --there are younger gamers --but most gamers are older than 8 --i mean --if it was 'just a game' --id have no qualms with it --but --now all of a sudden --its like XB1's MAIN GAME(like its supposed to be the xb1's gears of war~or something) --i really hate this game's 'look and feel' --and i really hate xb1 --and i want to fist fight the guy who runs xbox --bareknuckle~fist only~till someone hits the floor(THEN maybe I could save gaming~i feel so helpless~and now EVERYTIME i turn the tv on~ALL i see is COD25~FUCK COD!!!--the gotdamn industry has gone to shit)
  • grimmreapo - October 27, 2014 2 p.m.

    although your delivery is lacking, i couldn't agree more. I switched from over a decade of xbox use, to the ps4, and although it isn't with out it's faults, it's much better than the stunts microsoft pulled with xbox one. When they announced the xbox one, with all it's features (or lack of features) it was a big middle finger to gamers. As for games, i stick to Besthesda, rock star, naughty dog, Ubi soft and bio ware. these developers have missed the goal once in a while, but over all they do good, by the common gamer.
  • Sjoeki - October 27, 2014 2:20 p.m.

    I'm guessing this game struck a nerve?
  • J-Fid - October 27, 2014 4:30 p.m.

    You tell em Double Dash!! I'll cheer you on against Mr. XBox! That being said, I have to disagree with you about the game's look. I think the vibrant graphics are great (and a stark contrast to COD).
  • _--_ - October 27, 2014 8:22 p.m.

    --it's not so much the colors and graphics(they look great) --it's the 'content' --it's looks stupid~uninteresting~goofy~for kids --and it's also like I said --it's not really 'just' the game itself(that bothers me) --it's how xbox has sorta 'adopted' the game as their 'posterboy' --the game looks like a 15$ eshop game --it screams --"GAMING IS GOING NOWHERE"!!! --whereas --at the beginning of 7th gen(and during early 6th) --xbox OWNED 'innovation' --and they distributed the future of the industry --with grace~pride~and joy for gaming kind
  • pl4y4h - October 28, 2014 7:23 a.m.

    Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this like it's first "actual" exclusive (save for.....knack I guess)? It's the main game out of necessity until based halo comes out and blesses microsoft with da money
  • _--_ - October 28, 2014 noon

    @pl4y4h --thats exactly my problem with it --this is XB1's 'game' --and instead of it looking like some kinda mind blowing 'futuristic' technical marvel --it looks like a 15$ eshop game
  • XXXscawtyXXX - November 9, 2014 4:26 p.m.

    I'm 21 and own this game and I don't agree with most of this. I don't understand why people always feel the need to talk down anything they have never even tried. I understand it's your opinion, but I mean if you don't try it, you can't know for sure you'd like it or not. When I first saw the game, I thought it wasn't going to be good, but I got it on the 28th and I love it.
  • _--_ - November 9, 2014 8:03 p.m.

    --Ive already said --I don't really have a problem with the game 'itself' --my problem is --that xbox wants to make this game "Xb1's flagship game" for it's first holiday season --titanfall sucked(and FAILED HARD) --but still --titanfall looked at least somewhat 'futuristic' --like --"where gaming is going" --xbox's 'version' of this --that is my point and problem with this whole mess
  • homestar99 - October 27, 2014 8:48 a.m.

    Looks great. If only I had an Xbox One to play it on.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - October 27, 2014 7:53 a.m.

    Nice to finally see a game next gen can be relevant for, these last get shared games are killing the reason.

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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