Review: 'Sunset Overdrive' is a flashy, fun game that makes the next-gen an exciting place to be
Owning a next-gen console in 2014 has been a bit of a sore experience. The launch lineups for both systems were jarringly lackluster, and the coming spring and summer didn’t do much to justify early adopters’ big purchases. The annual slew of game announcements at E3 almost universally came with tags that said “coming 2015.” The year’s most compelling titles (Wolfenstein, Shadow of Mordor, Titanfall) might be great on the XBox ONE & PS4, but they’re also playable on the last generation systems. Two of the fall’s biggest releases (Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Grand Theft Auto V) are just ports of older experiences. Games that dared to live exclusively for new hardware, like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and DriveClub have been buggy to the point of being unplayable.
For the owners of these machines, it’s hard not to ask “Where’s the game that justifies this damn thing’s existence?” If you own an XBox ONE, that game just might be Sunset Overdrive.
Sunset Overdrive is best described as Dead Rising meets Jet Set Radio, cooked in a pot lined with next-gen polish, and laced heavily with a Scott Pilgrim-style dedication to mocking gaming tropes. It’s a third-person shooter, combined with a speedy open-world platformer – a chocolate-and-peanut-butter combo that has never been done better this. Moving across Sunset City, the game’s candy-colored apocalyptic wasteland, is nothing short of joyous. Your main character (who can be customized and dressed up in a fantastic variety of options) runs along walls like the Flash, swings from telephone poles like Spiderman and grinds along power lines like Tony Hawk. The traversal feels natural from the first minute of play, and only gets better as you unlock new abilities. Playing hand-in-hand with the movement is the layout of Sunset City – a brilliantly constructed web of ledges, bounce pads, and grindable wires that allow you to cover the entire map without ever setting foot on the ground.
Combat is just as focused on smooth speed as the platforming. Developer Insomniac Games (most known for the Ratchet & Clank series) is known for creating innovative and fun weaponry, and Sunset Overdrive confirms that legacy. Shoot enemies with vinyl EPs, light them aflame with fireworks, even command a robot dog to maul them senseless. New toys are just around the corner, and have wildly diverse abilities to suit different styles of play.
You can also enhance guns with different Amps and Overcharges, ensuring that no two character builds are the same. Unfortunately, this is where Sunset starts to get a bit too complex for its own good. Between the four different varieties of collectibles needed to buy new Amps, the different badges (unlocked for excelling in a specific skill, like killing mutants or wall running) used to enhance Overdrives, and the style meter that promises vague benefits for combining together kills, I found myself wishing for one less page of stats to interact with, one less variable to complicate what is otherwise a smooth, fun experience. Fortunately, the game doesn’t force you to interact with all of the different possibilities too frequently. The game’s fairly easy, aside from a few punishing side-missions. But the satisfaction from killing an entire army of robots, firing exploding teddy bears into their ranks, and smashing into them from the sky with a giant foam LARPing sword is undeniable.
Most missions in Sunset follow a standard formula – head to a checkpoint, beat up some mutants/scavengers/robots, collect a plot-centric item, then return to rinse and repeat. Occasionally you’ll have a timer to contend with, or have to kill enemies in a set fashion – but you almost always know what you’re getting into. You’ll also get a few horde-mode-style defense operations, which are less than compelling. A few visually stunning & cleverly constructed boss battles break up the established flow, but they’re over all too quickly. Despite the repetitive mission design, I rarely felt myself caring during my adventures around Sunset City. The combat is just so fun to play, the traversal so natural, and the writing so clever that I was always down for another reason to interact with it. By the time I finished the main campaign (around 12 hours, doing most of the major side-quests), I felt compelled to go for a full 100 percent.
About once a year, I’ll find a game that I fall in love with, even if it’s got a few flaws that are hard to ignore. But it’ll usually have one great idea, one strong concept that I just can’t put down. It’ll also get me excessively excited for whatever comes next in that franchise, because the foundation has been laid for something extraordinary. Sunset Overdrive might not be perfect, but it’s the sort of game that makes you damn excited for what’s to come.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @Mushroomer25
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