Sunset Overdrive is the explosive amalgamation of everything Insomniac Games has ever created. There are trace elements of each of the team’s previous games: the colorful, cartoony world of Spyro the Dragon; the diverse weaponry of Ratchet & Clank; even the world-ending infection storyline of Resistance: Fall of Man.
Although Sunset Overdrive wears its influences on its sleeve, it manages to form its own identity, thanks in large part to one of the most peculiar stories in Insomniac’s canon.
The story of Sunset Overdrive is simple. And ridiculous. The year is 2027. Fizzco, an all-powerful beverage corporation, has just released its latest energy drink: OverCharge Delirium XT. Thousands of people from Sunset City have shown up to the launch party, excited to get their hands on a can, but everything quickly devolves into chaos when all of the unsuspecting citizens begin to mutate after trying the drink.
Your character, previously a janitor for Fizzco, is dead set on getting out of Sunset City before he/she ends up turning into an OD’d (energy drink-swilling mutant) himself/herself. That’s about all the setup you need.
One of the things that Insomniac was most vocal about prior to release was the amount of customization Sunset Overdrive would allow. It’s not often that an action-adventure game gives the player this much freedom to build a character from the outset, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a fellow survivor identical to your own. The wardrobe continues to expand throughout the game as well as missions reward you with new outfits and accessories.
Customization is one of the game’s strengths, but Sunset Overdrive is defined by its agile combat. Everywhere you go, everything you do, you’ll always be grinding, swinging, bouncing or running on walls. On the ground, your character is slow and vulnerable. The OD’d will quickly overwhelm you if you aren’t skating along a power line or leaping from one car to the next, which makes the game’s traversal abilities crucial to your survival.
Mastering traversal is the key to enjoying Sunset Overdrive. It took me some time to begin to see the city as one big skatepark, but the sooner you lock in, the faster you’ll adapt. Within a few hours, my character’s unnatural agility became second nature to me. Be sure to get a grasp on moving around the city before getting too deep into the campaign.
The game’s story missions are doled out by the zany survivors of the “Awesomepocalypse,” almost all of which have banded into disparate groups in order to maintain some semblance of order in a world gone mad. As you encounter these groups, you’ll have to prove yourself before they’ll help you in your quest to escape Sunset City.
It’s worth noting that Sunset Overdrive thinks it’s hysterical. The denizens of Sunset City break the fourth wall often enough that I began to question whether or not they could actually see me through the screen. Some of the “irreverent” humor is groan-inducing, but the jokes that land are genuinely funny. It just tries a little too hard.
As entertaining as the live-action role-players of Fargarthia and the feisty ladies of Las Catrinas can be, their chores are not. A vast majority of the missions in Sunset Overdrive consist of traveling to a marked destination on the map, taking out a group of enemies, collecting an item and returning to the group’s base. An hour or so in, as I learned how to grinding, wall-run and bound around Sunset City, this didn’t stick out. Six hours later, it began to wear on me.
When the game breaks this mold, even in subtle ways, it really shines. Missions that focused on mobility or missions that actually had me team up with the group I was helping were far more engaging than the rote fetch quests, but they were too few and far between. Even more impressive are the game’s boss battles.
These battles are consistently incredible. If you tried to boil the entirety of Sunset Overdrive into a single 10-minute event, you couldn’t do much better than the platform-hopping antics of the battle with oversized FizzCo mascot Fizzie. These fights become increasingly involved as the game progresses, requiring you to use each and every skill you’ve mastered up to that point to take down the boss. If more of the moment-to-moment action was as chaotic and exciting as any of the game’s boss battles, I never would have wanted to leave Sunset City in the first place.
Sunset Overdrive doesn’t capitalize on its open world either. There are story missions, side missions, challenges and hundreds upon hundreds of collectables, but Sunset City isn’t an especially exciting locale in and of itself. The only regular dynamic event that would occur outside of a mission was a survivor or a pack of survivors fleeing a horde of OD’d. Once I saved them, I’d collect a cash reward and move on.
It doesn’t take away from the lengthy campaign or the pitch perfect parkour, but the bar has been set high for dynamic open worlds in recent years. Sunset Overdrive doesn’t do anything to raise it. Insomniac decided to focus on other elements of the game instead.
For example, Sunset Overdrive is packed with an extensive arsenal of unusual weapons, from the vinyl record-launching High Fidelity to the helicopter-deploying Turret Copter to the explosive teddy bear-packing TnTeddy.
Much like in the Ratchet & Clank series, all of the guns in Sunset Overdrive can level up. The more you use the guns, the faster they level. As they level up, they do more damage and each of the weapons also has an unlockable slot for a weapon amp, adding a status effect or a special ability.
There are also amps for your character, five of which can be equipped at a time. As you perform acrobatic moves and build a combo by grinding around the city and taking out OD’d, a meter at the top of the screen will begin to fill up. As it fills, the character amps will activate, making melee attacks more powerful, giving your dodge roll an added shock or calling down a lightning storm from the heavens.
The amps extend to traps as well, which play an important role in Night Defense, the horde mode that occasionally interrupts the story and forces you to defend tanks of OverCharge. These are fun diversions, but feel a little half-baked in the single player portion of the game. But in Chaos Squad, they really click.
Chaos Squad is the game’s multiplayer mode and another one of its highlights. Chaos Squad requires a group of players to compete in a series of events throughout Sunset City — fighting off hoards of OD’d, collecting points while grinding and jumping around — and then culminates in a joyously chaotic Night Defense fracas. With eight players on the scene, Night Defense make much more sense.
Sunset Overdrive is better than it should be. With a questionable sense of humor and some truly humorless repetition in the campaign, Insomniac’s latest could have fallen flat, but the sheer delight of moving around the city and learning how to effectively handle the throngs of baddies is intensely compelling.
Sunset Overdrive will be available on October 28th exclusively for Xbox One.
Microsoft provided BGR with a copy of Sunset Overdrive for this review.