One of the first titles to be announced alongside the Xbox One was Sunset Overdrive, which is the first console exclusive title Insomniac Games has produced for any of Microsoft’s consoles. Not much was known about this wildly vibrant title at the time, outside of the fact that it featured mutants, over-the-top weaponry, and a game world that looked like a skate park on acid. One thing was clear though, and that is the fact that Sunset Overdrive looked to offer a new take on the open-world shooter genre that has become so popular over the past few years. The question everyone wanted to know though, was would Sunset’s unique focus on traversal-based gameplay hold up for a complete experience that is both fun and fresh, and now that the game’s official release is here, it’s time to decide if Insomniac’s experiment paid off.
Ultimately, sales dollars will determine if Sunset Overdrive is a successful venture or not, but in terms of pure fun factor, Insomniac Games has definitely paid off on its promise of creating a new style of shooter. This is thanks to the traversal-based gameplay, which shapes the entire experience from the campaign to the multiplayer component known as Chaos Squad. Although, Sunset Overdrive’s offline campaign may just be its secret weapon, thanks to the absurd plot and characters, which are both entertaining and full of memorable out of this world moments.
The campaign definitely stands out thanks to the South Park meets Saints Row sense of humor and cast that it features, which came as a pleasant surprise to me as I played through its fourteen-plus hours of content, which can be extended greatly if you choose to do all of the side-quests and challenges. The plot is definitely ridiculous, a company named Fizzco has released its latest energy drink called Overcharge Delerium XT in Sunset City, which causes those who drink it to turn into murderous mutants of death. You star as an unnamed character, which allows you to live out the campaign as if you are the hero bouncing and grinding his/her way to victory. Along the way you meet a zany cast of characters who are all looking to escape the quarantine, and break free from Fizzco’s lockdown that has kept them penned up with the mutants and other factions looking to kill.
The various characters and their completely different personalities are what really makes Sunset Overdrive’s campaign so entertaining and worth experiencing. The main missions are spread out amongst a variety of factions that you need to help progress your goal of getting out of the city alive, and each one is batshit crazier than the next. You will encounter spoiled brat trust fund kids, Lord of the Flies-style Boy Scouts, Larpers, and other colorful characters who all bring humorous moments to the campaign, as well as memorable action set pieces that will make you feel like a God.
It was the interactions with these factions, and the overall plot that kept me coming back for more, but the traversal-based shooting gameplay is what kept me hooked. Sunset Overdrive features very stylish visuals that will remind you of Guitar Hero’s shredders, or the cartoonish cast of a Saints Row game in terms of the characters, but the unique looking environment is what helps to set this game apart from other open-world shooters, as well as make the traversal-based gameplay shine. Sunset City truly does look like it was designed by an architect who loves punk rock music, vibrant colors, and skateboarding.
The city itself is key to the traversal-based gameplay and is essential to how you must play, so its design reflects this through ample rails, power lines, fans, cars, awnings, and other objects and surfaces that can be used to grind and/or bounce on. The environment plays into Sunset’s mantra of being a traversal-based shooter perfectly, so each area of the relatively large world map is littered with the items mentioned above to allow you to take advantage of the lack of real world physics, and your character’s ability to bounce, grind, and zip his/her way through the perils of a mutant infested quarantine zone as if they were a superhero that specializes in skills you’d find at an X-Games competition.
Utilizing the various rails, poles, and objects to bounce on is crucial to defeating the mutant, scab, and fizzbot enemy types that hunt you down throughout the campaign. This is not a game that rewards you for being a precise third person shooter that likes to keep things on the ground. In fact, if you try to take on the hordes of enemies thrown at you like other open-world shooters, you will die many gruesome deaths, only to be rewarded with one of the game’s brilliant randomized respawn animations that call upon various geeky pop culture franchises (the Terminator respawn is my personal favorite).
To be successful, and quite frankly to realize the amount of fun that can be had in Sunset Overdrive, you must embrace the concept of staying in the air using bounces, grinds, and eventually air thrusts and other enhanced skills, while you shoot down massive amounts of tough enemy AI during the variety of main and side missions, which all offer a range of objectives from protection missions, to kill all the enemy type of requirements. At first it takes a bit of getting used to, that is the idea that you should be traversing the environment while you attack rather than taking the traditional approach to the shooter gameplay, but once you figure it out, the odd controls become natural, and you’ll find yourself zipping through Sunset City like a seasoned vet in no time. Towards the latter half of the game the action really amps up, which provides some insane gameplay moments that will make you grin with excitement as you pull off one ridiculous maneuver after another to vanquish the evil forces of Fizzco and the mutant problem it created. You become so wicked at grinding, bouncing, and flying that you could make Shaun White green with envy.
Being skilled at the traversal aspects of Sunset Overdrive extends into other facets of the gameplay too, which agains highlights how integrated Insomniac wanted it to be in the overall experience. You eventually get a style meter that grows when you kick-off traversal combos, which activate amps, which can be used to buff your weapons, hero skill, grinding, and bouncing. This compels you to stay mobile at all times while also changing up your tricks to ensure that the meter continues to grow so you can utilize the bonuses it offers. You also unlock passive buffs known as overcharges, which can enhance your attacks, defenses, and other skills.
Sunset Overdrive’s campaign really is a gem, but there’s also a built-in multiplayer mode that offers up a solid experience on its own. Due to the lack of players online during the early review copy window, it was hard to get a bunch of matches in, but from what I could play, Chaos Squad is definitely not just a tacked on mode. You can enter it at anytime from within the campaign by going to a telephone booth that serves as the lobby. Once you’re paired with up to seven other players you all must vote on the challenges that you will face. You then go on various missions, which range from pure killing missions, to those that use the environment for attack.
Depending on how you do in these missions you will either have a bonus, or the mutants will have a bonus when the match changes to the game’s Night Defense mode, which is a hybrid of Sunset Overdrive’s traversal gameplay and the tower defense genre. These matches last around 25-30 minutes, and they reward you with new amps and skills that can also be used in the single-player campaign, which offers motivation for completing Chaos Squad matches.
With all of its upside Sunset Overdrive does suffer from a few minor technical flaws. The first noticeable issue is with the visuals, they’re not poor by any means, but at times characters do bleed into the environment and clip through backgrounds. This happens more often than not, which sometimes causes the AI to get stuck in the map, which can lead to the next issue, glitched missions. Sunset Overdrive features a very generous checkpoint system, so the problem of having to restart checkpoints due to the game not realizing that a mission should be over because a character is trapped in the map, or because enemies won’t stop respawning, isn’t a major issue, but I did have to restart one boss fight due to it not progressing to the next scripted action, as well as two regular missions for doing the same.
Even with these minor issues Sunset Overdrive still manages to shine in the somewhat overpopulated open-world shooter/action genre. This is due to the innovative traversal-based gameplay, and the surprisingly awesome single-player campaign that sports more, or at least the same level of ludicrous characters and situations than a Saints Row title. Mastering the grinding, bouncing, and flying aspects of the traversal-based action does take some time, but once you figure it out you’ll greatly appreciate Insomniac Games’ vision for Sunset Overdrive.
The Xbox One finally has an exclusive experience in 2014 that its owners can be proud of, so if you’ve found yourself wishing for more worthwhile gaming experiences that can only be found on Microsoft’s next-gen console, then Sunset Overdrive is definitely a star worth wishing upon.
Feel free to check out Sunset Overdrive in action via the Let’s Play video after the break. You can also register to win a copy of the game for free in our Sunset Overdrive giveaway contest.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a code for the game from the publisher for the purpose of this review.