Punk rock, bright colors, zombies, robots, pirates, ninjas, and apocalyptic marauders all contribute to one of gaming’s looniest concoctions in years, one that sounds like a teenager, amped up on Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks, threw all of his favorite things into a blender and poured the mixture into his Xbox. Sunset Overdrive is pretty much everything your stereotypical gamer would want in a game, and, surprisingly, it manages to handle all of this material and maintain a certain sense of focus, one that is rarely found in these types of games.
Sunset Overdrive takes place in Sunset City, a medium-sized open-world city with thousands of powerlines, handrails, and abandoned cars to make your trek from one side of the map to the other as enjoyable and fast-paced as possible. Sunset City is home to Fizz Co., a Coca-Cola sort of mega-corporation, who has just unleashed it’s newest energy drink, Overcharge, unto the masses. After throwing a huge party in Sunset City, it becomes clear that Overcharge has a few… side effects… essentially turning anyone who drinks it into a crazed zombie-type monster called OD. Things happen and suddenly we find ourselves in the throes of an apocalypse.
But there’s a serious difference between the apocalypse of, say, Fallout 3 and the apocalypse of Sunset Overdrive. I mean, yes, there are monsters and marauders, but all of it is highlighted by bright blues, oranges, greens, and yellows, and is home to one of the best punk rock soundtracks since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. This apocalypse is lovingly referred to as the “Awesomepocalypse” by Sunset City’s survivors.
This all plays into Sunset Overdrive’s general tone, one which focuses highly on ensuring that fun is put before anything else. Nearly every aspect of Sunset Overdrive seems to be custom-tailored to be fun, and if it doesn’t fit into the narrative… well, Insomniac Games has wisely chosen to go with an “oh well!” attitude, which more often than not results in plenty of 4th-wall breaking moments.
Everything about this works toward furthering the developer’s famous sense of humor, perhaps patting itself on the back more often than it should (how many times can saying “fuck” or “asshole” be the linchpin of a joke?). Luckily, the good far outweighs the bad, resulting in several of the best one-liners I’ve come across in gaming in quite some time. One could rank this among the funniest games ever made. Not quite as clever as South Park: The Stick of Truth, but perhaps right on par with Armed and Dangerous (remember that gem?).
Traversal is probably the most important gameplay aspect found in Sunset Overdrive. To get from point A to B on foot is unwise. Once the monsters, robots, or what-have-you attack, being on the ground simply shooting will get you killed within seconds, but should you be grinding, bouncing, or wall-running, you immediately become a more difficult target to shoot. Luckily this doesn’t translate in tougher shooting mechanics. Insomniac wisely chose for an assisted aim function that allows the player to focus more directly on traversal.
Completing these types of moves works to fill the Style Meter, which in turn gives you bonuses on your attacks. As one might expect, these aren’t simply +10% on melee attacks. The player is given access to Amps and ramping up the Style Meter allows you to use specific Amps based on which level your meter is at. For example, one level will initiate your character’s melee boost, which, for much of my game, meant a tornado would fire from my baseball bat and destroy a few extra enemies. It’s because of these types of bonuses (which increase in usefulness as your style meter increases) that you’re actively encouraged to be continually grinding, bouncing, or whatever it takes to keep your Style Meter maxed as high as possible.
In addition to Amps, Sunset Overdrive also gives players access to Overcharges, which result in more standard statistical increases. For example, you might have one that increases your health by 10% or one that gives a bonus to your Style Meter whilst grinding. At anytime, you may have up to six of these active, but there are dozens, making the choice of which six you choose a bit more difficult. These aren’t necessarily as fun as the Amps, which is disappointing at times, and rarely they encourage you to return to this page to discover new Overcharges once you have found a set that fits your style of play.
Similarly, each gun has access to Amps which give such bonuses as freezing enemies when they’re shot. Again, the amount of which you can use these is based entirely upon your Style Meter, once more encouraging you to work to keep those grinds and bounces going. If all of this grinding, bouncing, and wall-running sounds like it becomes a tedious chore, you’d be mistaken. It’s extremely rewarding, however it can grow a bit exhausting while you’re talking to a character, or you’re supposed to be following an NPC who moves significantly slower than you. It isn’t a perfect balance, but it works well enough that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d prefer to let their Style Meter drop a few points to continually bouncing back and forth on grind rails.
Speaking of guns, Sunset Overdrive continues Insomniac Games’ famous tradition (starting with Ratchet and Clank) of having the most insanely different weapons available. Yes, you’re going to have access to an AK-47 (called the AK-FU… get it?) and a penis-shaped shotgun (the Flaming Compensator.. yeah), but you’re also given access to about 20 or 30 weapons that can freeze enemies, fire hairspray grenades, fire a charged-up laser, or spew baths of acid. Few of them shine above the rest which in turn allows you to experiment with all sorts of combos and weapon Amps. You could attach an amp that blows enemies up after they’ve been shot with the freeze grenades, which in turn frees you up from having to smash them to kill them. It’s careful considerations such as these that keep the game interesting from beginning to end. Unfortunately, that ending comes a bit too soon.
For a game of this type, one might expect that the campaign could last a bit longer than Sunset Overdrive’s. Those looking for a 20+ hour experience will be disappointed to find that I clocked in about 10 to 15 hours before seeing the end credits. That said, the game does supplement the player with a plethora of side quests and challenge modes.
Campaign missions do a very good job of straying away from the standard set of open-world quests. Sure, most might be variations on fetch quests or defend-this-position type of quests, but there’s enough of Sunset Overdrive’s brand of humor to make them relatively unnoticeable. Even the side quests are nearly as high-quality as the game’s main quests. Including all of the side quests, you’re looking to put about 25 or 30 hours into Sunset Overdrive, and that’s not likely to include any of the games many challenges (including some that change on a weekly and daily basis).
On top of all of this, Sunset Overdrive features an extremely fun multiplayer mode called Chaos Squad. Chaos Squad gathers 8 players to compete in four mini-game types of missions. While they certainly vary in quality, they all feel familiar within the context of the campaign and are creative enough to warrant many hours of play. In one of my favorite modes, the ground turns to lava while players dash around the streets trying gather inflatable characters and bring them back to a certain spot. Another favorite puts each player in control of a wrecking ball as they try to smash as many OD as possible within a specified amount of time.
When choosing each type of mini-mission, there will be bonuses that build towards a final horde-like mode that, in my experience, was very difficult. For example, one mission might increase the chaos percentage by 300% (which goes towards a score multiplier at the end) or it might make your team’s melee attacks do twice as much damage against a certain type of OD. This adds an unexpected layer of strategy, as at the end all of these stats are taken into account while tallying your total score. Your total score will unlock a slot machine that will then reward you with prizes, the number of which is dictated by your total score. These prizes range from extra in-game currency to clothes for your character to wear.
Chaos Squad is an absolute blast that ultimately adds to the single-player experience in valuable ways, something rare to find in most multiplayer modes, even if it is lacking any local-play functionality. I fully expect that Chaos Squad will maintain a certain niche audience following the release of the next Call of Duty or Halo game and perhaps even until the inevitable sequel is released.
Overall, Sunset Overdrive feels like one of the most complete and focused packages of the year. Gamers looking to escape from the muddy colors and themes of most AAA games will certainly find a lot to love about Sunset Overdrive, despite it’s few, but noticeable, flaws.