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Sunset Overdrive Review

by William Schwartz

For the better part of the last decade and prior, Insomniac Games was known for almost annual releases of PlayStation exclusives in the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance franchises. That exclusivity spanned from the original PlayStation to the PS2 and PS3 — those days are over though. Insomniac jumped into multi-platform development when they launched Fuse back in 2013,  though it wasn’t a very well received game.  In fact, critics panned the shooter. While that initial release on Xbox 360 may not have made a good first impression for those that had never played a game by the respected developers, Sunset Overdrive, a stylish, open-world, over-the-top shooter is here to right those wrongs, and it’s only available on the Xbox One.

We’ve seen a couple of shooting/combat-centric open world sandbox titles hit the Xbox One this year, and it’s not surprising that developers are flocking to this genre on the new machine.  The significant jump in computing power for the console allows for bigger, better looking games, with more characters on screen and just more action in general.  It allows for things that just weren’t possible in the previous generation, and Sunset Overdrive is one of the best looking games to grace either of the new generation machines.  Insomniac really focuses on style, and a wide variety of different types of imaginative weaponry to keep their open world experience fresh, and make Sunset Overdrive stand out from the crowd.  For those that are familiar with their previous work, this won’t come as a huge surprise.  Insomniac is well known for coming up with some of the best game weapons in their Ratchet & Clank and Resistance franchises.  Sunset Overdrive and its non-traditional open world gameplay is a perfect fit for the developer, giving players this wide arsenal of weapons to use, and setting them loose in the beautiful, fictional energy drink-crazed world of Sunset City.

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Sunset Overdrive’s story is about as absurd as they come, but battling an evil corporation which has spurred an apocalypse by unleashing a mutation-inducing energy drink on the unsuspecting public of Sunset City is the nuts and bolts of it.  Everyone in the massive sandbox world that’s taken a sip of the Overcharge Delerium XT energy drink, brought to you by the evil corporation FizzCo, has been affected.  In Sunset Overdrive, players take on the role of a person who didn’t drink Overcharge, and will band together with other survivors to fend off these mutants, FizzCo robots, and hostile human survivors called Scabs.

So you’re tasked with saving the world.  Not much new there, right?  Well Insomniac’s approach to story telling in Sunset Overdrive is anything but conventional.  There’s a lot of humor in the game, and also plenty of fourth wall breaking commentary.  The game constantly acknowledges the player, speaking directly to them, instead of respecting the boundaries that most games do.  It’s a different approach, but for Sunset Overdrive it works well.  Couple the deep character customization and the game addressing you as a part of the world, and you’ve got a story that you feel very involved in, which introduces you to a fairly unconventional cast of characters, putting you in some gameplay situations that just haven’t been seen before.  Sunset Overdrive is anything but familiar.  It’s a game that takes a lot of risks, straying from convention, permeating into just about every aspect of the game.

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As to prepare you for things to come.  Sunset Overdrive tells you straight away that the gameplay is going to focus on movement.  Playing this game like you would a traditional third person open world shooter isn’t advised.  Sure, you can stick to the streets of Sunset City and battle the hordes of enemies on foot, and sometimes you will, but the best ways to both get around the city and engage enemies is by using the many environmental objects.  These allow you to over and under-grind rails, power lines, and ledges, bounce off vents and canopies, and combine these moves into long strings of free flowing movement.

Combat in Sunset Overdrive features a very simplistic targeting system and there’s a healthy helping of auto-aim with every weapon.  While it may seem a little easy at first, it’s pretty obvious that asking the player for any more aiming would be overwhelming.  Grinding rails, bouncing around the world and shooting enemies at the same time isn’t an easy skill to master in Sunset Overdrive, but with some practice, and an ever-growing list of moves and upgrades things really gel together for a fun gameplay experience about mid-way through the campaign.

Sunset Overdrive Gameplay

As you can see in the video above, the combat flows pretty well, so long as you keep moving around.  As soon as you stop, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the massive number of enemies in Sunset Overdrive.  The enemies are varied as well in each of the distinct classes.  Whether it be the mutants, bots, or humans, each enemy class has specific weaknesses to certain weapons — so it’s definitely not as easy as pointing any weapon at any enemy for success.  You’ll need to identify what types of enemies you are fighting and what gun will work best for the situation.  Weapons, there are plenty. Sunset Overdrive is chocked full of cool killing tools, and you’ll have ample opportunity to unlock more unique weapons as the game progresses. The weapons of Sunset Overdrive have wide ranging effects on the gameplay, and largely because the enemies weaknesses to certain types of them.  But they look cool too.  The on-screen effects are nothing short of amazing for many of the weapons.  From setting enemies on fire with the Flaming Compensator, to nuking groups with dynamite strapped teddy bears, some of this stuff fairly imaginative if not downright ridiculous.

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As good as it looks, and as fun as the weapons are to play with, the auto-targeting system can take a lot of the challenge out of the actual execution of using said weapons.  It’s a give and take though.  The movement mechanics work exceptionally well, and most of the challenge is found in keeping combinations strung together, building your style meter,  not necessarily relying on twitch reflexes or sharp aiming skills for success.

Sunset Overdrive will reinforce that you do keep moving by using rewards.  The longer strings of combinations that you chain together, and the more stylishly you do so, the more powerful your attacks will become. Amps and Overdrives can be purchased and upgraded, and these can enhance your character or gameplay experience in a number of different ways.  These Overdrives range from more basic buffs like extending your health, to making it easier to rack up style points, and many, many other ways to tweak and customize your characters skills.  In the case of Amps, these can be applied to weapons or the character, and have various impacts on attacks and traversal moves that you can do.  For instance, if you’ve equipped the “Overachieve Amp” on a specific weapon, you’ll earn XP faster when using it.  Equip the “Burn, Baby” Amp and you’ll have a chance at creating an area of effect blast that sets enemies on fire.   The Amp system is interestingly integrated into the game.  While many open world games have collectibles to hunt down, Sunset Overdrive makes collecting everything a integral part of upgrading your character.

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Mixing and matching all these unlockables with the many different weapons leads to a lot of customization options, and can make the combat in Sunset Overdrive play out differently from player to player.  Players can also set themselves apart by  altering the way they look at any time by visiting one of the survivor bases, which always have vendors to either buy new items from, or equip items that may have been earned as rewards for completing a mission.

Sunset Overdrive isn’t entirely new ideas. The open world structure of the game, and the way that missions are delivered to the players are going to be familiar to anyone who’s played a game of this type recently.  The world of Sunset City is littered with side missions, story content, collectibles, and objective based challenges.  Like many open world games with a sprawling map of this size, the main story missions will essentially guide the player to new areas of Sunset City, introduce them to a growing cast, while constantly introducing new gameplay elements.  While side missions on the other hand will fill in the blanks, and flesh out the universe.  It’s a pretty common formula in this genre.   What’s uncommon are the actual missions themselves.  While it may seem like many boil down to glorified fetch quests, the settings for both the story and side missions are usually pretty creative, and Insomniac doesn’t run out of new ideas or lean on their best ones over and over. Eventhough almost all will boil down to go to said location and kill said enemies, the implementation stays fresh by mixing in new enemies types and preposterous objectives.

Challenges however, add some competition into Sunset Overdrive.  These are replayable activities that focus on very specific aspects of the game, and will test your skills and allow you to compete on global leaderboards. You can also compete with your friends via Xbox Live, and try to top their best times and scores in specific challenges.  There are a lot of challenges to be met in Sunset City.

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You can also work WITH your friends or other Xbox Live users to play cooperatively in Sunset Overdrive, and it’s an experience that’s nearly identical to the solid single player gameplay.  Chaos Squad allows up to eight players to team up and run through a series of random missions, which culminates in a final Night Defense battle, which has the team fighting through rounds of increasingly difficult enemies.  As a team, you’ll vote on the missions you want to tackle, and each one will have different Chaos levels attached to them.  The more Chaos you take on, the harder the Night Defense segment will be.  The harder Night Defense is, the better rewards that will be doled out to the players.

Chaos Squad

Chaos Squad is designed to be a seamless experience.  You can interact with photo booths in the single player mode of Sunset Overdrive to access the cooperative mode, and then when a game is available, it will dump you in.  All the progression, cash, weapon levels, and other earnings from Chaos Mode will transfer back to your character across all game modes.  With seven other players on screen, Chaos Squad is hectic. It looks incredible though, with so many players all using different weapons and power-ups it’s certainly a sight to see.  As far as replay value, I’m not sure what Insomniac’s plans are for adding new challenges into the mode, but I saw a lot of the same missions popping up in our review sessions with multiplayer.  Which seems troubling as the goal is apparently to have this feel like a different and unique experience each time you play it.

Still, the Night Defense segment of the game is some of the most visually impressive stuff in Sunset Overdrive.  The “Horde” mode has you laying down traps and holding your ground against an insane number of enemies.  The only complaint was that there wasn’t more variety, or ways to extend that experience to something longer than the three rounds that it throws at you.  It would be nice to see something that gets exponentially harder and just keeps going, something that truly tests your mettle.  Night Defense has a ton of promise, it just doesn’t feel like it’s going to offer too much challenge for those that dedicate any time to it.

The Verdict

It’s important that we’re continuing to see games like Sunset Overdrive.  Games that take risks and try new things are few and far between these days, but console exclusives are a great spot to try new stuff.  Sunset Overdrive makes a strong case for owning an Xbox One, if not just to see all the beautiful madness Insomniac has eeked out of the hardware.

"loved"
loved

Sunset Overdrive

  • Available On: Xbox One
  • Published By: Microsoft Studios
  • Developed By: Insomniac Games
  • Genre: Open World, Action, TPS
  • US Release Date: October 28th, 2014
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Microsoft Studios tapped on one of the best developers in the business for this Xbox One exclusive, and Sunset Overdrive is a triumphant next-gen coming out party for Insomniac."
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