I started the year on a quest to expand my gaming horizons. The goal was to play genres that I never really touch and try to see what I’ve been missing out on and in large part I succeeded. I played Titanfall, my first shooter in years, and it was great. I tried my first MOBA with Heroes of the Storm and I’m still logging hours weekly on that title. I also went in spurts playing Hearthstone, a collectible card game, the first time I’ve played one of those since middle school. But in the end the best game I played all year was a game that feels tailor made for the old me and everything I love about gaming, that game is Sunset Overdrive.
Sunset Overdrive throws you into the world of the “Awesomepocalypse”. An giant evil energy drink company named Fizz Co has just unveiled their latest drink “Overchage Delirium XT” that has the unfortunate side effect of changing its consumers into energy drink crazed mutants. Your job as the hero is to get out of the city which been overrun by mutants, looters, and Fizz Co security bots. Usually these doomsday scenario games are dreary emotional affairs of people holding onto their humanity , having to make grizzly decisions in a fight for survival. Where Sunset Overdrive makes the refreshing change is their version of the apocalypse is one big party. The soundtrack is all punk rock, the color palette is bright and loud, and the character and plot points are outrageous, All of this is wrapped in a tight gameplay loop of city transversal and combat that is one of the best examples of combining the two I’ve seen in a third person 3D space ever.
The stand out experience in this game is how you move around Sunset City. To start with, basically any edge is grindable. As a child of the 80s and 90s I have a certain fascination with grinding, it was a big deal back then. I even had a pair of SOAPs which were skate shoes that had built in grind plates in the sole. The grinding in this game is my dream come true 15 years later. Roofs, power lines, planters, truck beds, it’s all fair game. You also have a crowbar that serves as a convenient hook to “under grind” power lines, basically zip lining around the city. A lot of the objects in the environment are also bounce able. See a car or a cafe table umbrella? Time a jump off of it and get a large height boost. Now you throw in wall running, pole swinging, water surfing, and air dashing and you get to the point where you transverse the entire city never stepping foot on the ground. While moving you’re also aiming your weapons and trust me there is a lot to shoot at.
This game follows Insomniac’s tradition of giving the player wacky weapons to use in combat. Dynamite Teddy Bears, C02 powered harpoon guns, and vinyl record launchers are among the dozens of weapons available to unlock. I particularly enjoyed the ease of use of the flaming compensator, a double barrel shotgun that would ignite whatever foe I shot. There is an upgrade system available too in the form of AMPs that you can add to your weapon to add a damage effect like slowing or stuns or perhaps change some other property of combat like increasing its ammo capacity or experience bonus. The unique thing about the combat in Sunset Overdrive is the always on the move feel. If you play this game like a typical 3rd person shooter, looking for cover, skulking around corners, you will die in a hurry. The mutants attack in hordes and on the ground you are an easy target but in the air you can bomb them to your hearts content. A typical combat scenario might go something like this. Zip line past a horde of twenty or so mutants and soften up the group with some shot gun blasts, flip jump onto a car and throw a dynamite bomb at your feet then air dash to a wall run , run along the wall avoiding enemy fire , jump off and land next to some stragglers meleeing them until they turn into a pile of energy drink goo. It’s kind of hard to describe but the fluidity of the combat and movement and how they are work together is the whole crux of the game and what truly makes Sunset Overdrive a pleasure to play.
The other thing that made this game a real stand out for me was the atmosphere. The game boasts this irreverent attitude that really shines through in the writing and mission structure of the game. As the game progresses you befriend survival factions throughout the city, each seemingly more over the top than the last. The main story revolves around your quest to escape the city and expose Fizz Co to the rest of the world. Each faction you need to convince to help you in your goal and before they will help you need to win their favor. From retrieving designer bottled water for some rich kid to helping some scouts with their merit badges, the quests do a good job of integrating combat and making it feel fresh. New enemy types pop up as the game progresses and you are unlocking new weapons and AMPs along the way as well so things stay fresh especially if you let yourself experiment. There are also dozens of side quests and challenges to keep you busy around the city along with “Night Defense” horde mode missions where you gain the ability to set traps to help defend a base. All this adds up to always having something new to do or some unlockable to chase.
Sunset Overdrive is fun. It’s gameplay that is a little bit of Insomniac’s past efforts pushed forward with a transversal system reminiscent of Jet Set Radio or Tony Hawk, always on the move, able to trick off most of the environment. When the punk rock soundtrack is blaring , mutants are exploding in splashes of neon orange and you just covered a couple hundred meters by grinding and swinging through the streets there will be a smile on your face and you’ll remember everything you love about a great video game when the total package all comes together. Bravo!