Spin-offs and theories concerning an earth-shattering apocalypse have become so commonplace today, the mere idea of zombies and extinct-inducing viruses often sound boring. With Sunset Overdrive, the idea of a metropolis trapped in an apoclyptic predicament gets a massive refresher.
Done first by giving it a new name—Awesomepocalypse—Sunset Overdrive redefines the the very essence of mercilessly laying waste to the infected while laughing in the face of travesty, all because it’s a video game.
Clearly, Insomiac Game’s purpose for this new Microsoft-exclusive IP was to make the apocalypse shtick cool again. It has succeeded in resurrecting interest in an overused plot for horror-slash-thriller movies by tearing down the rituals of regular, open-world adventure games. The game is like a ballsy politician, throwing away the status quo in exchange for…well, limitlessness, fourth wall destruction and brash flavors of absurdity.
The absurdity aspect is heavily rooted in Sunset Overdrive’s dialogue and main storyline. A soda company known as Fizzco begets no time for food regulations or testing for their seemingly ultra-exhilarating drink called Overcharge Delirium XT. As a result, the beautiful people of Sunset City were able to get first dibs of the drink at a promotional party and unfortunately turn into horrible, slimy and ferocious mutants after gulping them down.
Of course, Fizzco tries to sweep the event under the rug and hide the fate of the city’s inhabitants from the rest of the world. The character that you play in Sunset Overdrive, the one who worked the promotional event as a trash collector, has other plans: to leave the mutant-swarmed city and spread the word.
If the premise of the aforementioned story sounded serious to you, trust me when I say that it won’t feel that way once players jump into the game. Long before anyone could touch the game, Insomniac’s effort in dubbing the third-person shooter as an sandbox adventure with comedic relief was widely apparent. Just check the commercials. The story barely takes itself seriously nor makes sense, which is great considering that your character and other survivors, who happen to either be jerks known as Scabs or other faction members, side with the constant ‘what the hell is going on’ state of mind.
When odd names like “Bryllcreame” come up in a discussion, your character quickly questions its whackiness. Your first solution in winning over the hearts of Dias de los Muertos facepainted cheerleaders? Excalimune, a fire and lighting sword that can run through 99 robots with ease. Ever met a band of live action role-players who—by way of OverCharge—think that they’re living in the twelfth century? Turns out you can nurse someone back to health by feeding them roast pidgeons.
There are also a ton of crazy one-liners, obscure pop culture references and a giant, husky overhead voice that takes the audio spotlight in order serve as the game’s tutorial method (or whenever you equip an amp that brilliantly announces how awesome you are at killing OD, which is awesome but more on that later). Sunset Overdrive’s hook relies on being the butt of its own joke, which for the most part is thanks to Insomniac’s brilliant, unfiltered and hilarious writing that might have been held back in the Ratchet and Clank days. See what happens when you bottle up something inside for so long?
Sunset Overdrive doesn’t just offer another reason to laugh. The over-the-top action and visually captivating Sunset City makes it easy for players to not worry about the plotline. Sunset City’s surroundings looks like blends of Skittles and rainbows splattered all over the place. Every building wall, every inch of pavement and all of the specific, exotic locations are brightly colored and detailed in an almost comic book fashion. Backed by the baby blue sky, the tall skyscraper buildings and interesting little areas such as Little Tokyo and the Museum District seem to pop out to your eyes the most. Big emphasis on Little Tokyo, a small Japanese-inspired base for a couple of girl and boy scouts dubbed as Troop Bushido.
The metropolitan area does have the looks, but how does it ride? At the start of the single-player campaign, you’re immediately told to grind zip lines and rails, bounce on platforms and run alongside walls as you wail away at your enemies or even if you’re just trying to get around the city.
With your style meter, chaining together all these variations of movement grants you some pretty big powerups, both to the amps applied to yourself and to your weapons, and it feels hella empowering. Zipping along the rails, bouncing off of bushes and doing the ninja wall run feels like playing as Spider Man or a younger version Tony Hawk.
Despite having a fast travel option, I rarely wanted to use it during my playthrough. Every chance I got, I travel the Jet Set Radio-esque way, which not only opens the door to exploring every nook and cranny that is Sunset City, but also allows for picking up random collectables needed for the Chaos/Vat Machine missions.
The weapons in Sunset Overdrive is beyond cray-cray. One of the first few weapons granted is the “Flaming Compensator,” a sawed-off shaped like a male’s genitalia. “TNTeddy” combines soft, cuddly teddy bears attached to dynamite explosives. Ever wanted to shoot vinyl records at people? Choose “High Fidelity.” Players are able to apply Amp boosts to the weapons that add certain elements such as fire, electricity and ice. Using certain weapons frequently levels up, granting more power and amp slots.
There are plenty of OD enemy types, but most of them are grounded and provide very little breathing room if you’re on the ground. I found myself enjoying the game more whenever my characters came across these monstrous fiends, especially the giant Herkers. Popping off a couple of smaller OD with a pistol feels like popping a pimple, while Herkers and Spawners feel like a mini-boss fight. As players enjoy traveling along the open, vastly painted city, they’ll also get a kick out of doing away with the OD in high, explosive fashion.
While we’re on the subject, Vat Machine missions is great for some good old fashioned OD massacre. These events, as well as the online Chaos Mode, basically serves as Sunset Overdrive’s horde mode. Players set up traps around certain entry ways and go ham on the baddies. After successfully defending each wave from getting close to the Vat machine, players taking part in the single-player version will get new Amps for their weapons and their character.
The online co-op Chaos Squad mode is also pretty dandy. With up to eight players, you and your squad link up and engage in several different mini missions, but the competition lies in scoring points for yourself. After these missions, you and your crew go straight to Overcharge Vat defense, where things rapidly get hectic.
With so many players on the field, the action can get cluttered with fire and a mush of explosives, so much that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where some of smaller OD enemies are. Throughout some of the online sessions that I’ve been a part of, a lot of people were using heavily damaging weapons such as TNTeddy and the Hairspray Bomb. Combine that with trap set ups that spew flame, ice and thunder when you jump on them and you’ll pretty much be left with massive, convoluted action. Playing with around four to five member makes everything a lot easier on the eyes. The winner of the entire fury get a bunch of perks and money that can be used in the single-player campaign, a page taken out of Forza Horizon 2′s book.
The biggest asset of Sunset Overdrive is the character that you play and how you make that character look. There are mostly positives when it comes to Sunset City’s hero, playing dress up being one of them. After selecting gender and skin color, players start off with a few threads and hairstyles and gradually earn more as they complete the main story quest, as well as side missions and challenges. Sunset Overdrive combines street wear clothing and accessories with various cultural attributes, so just about anything can be mixed and matched. You can even choose between various melee weapons.
My character for example is light-skinned brown dude who shares the resemblance of the “blondie dreads” pirate from the movie Bad Boys 2. At first I had him wearing a button down shirt with jeans, kicks and of course blonde dreadlocks with the blonde goatee. After finishing the game, he ended up looking like a hobo-stuntman; full blonde beard, a helmet with horns and a microphone and a jean jacket. The dreads are still intact. In some weird, whacky way I felt that the hobo on screen was a direct representation of myself.
It’s also feasible to create a character who could resemble one of the factions in the game or mirror some type of comic book superhero. Insomniac Games tried to fit in just about every possible vanity clothing and accessory as each had the potential to speak to it’s audience, however they seem to have dropped the ball when it comes to the speaking voice of the main characters.
While its great that Insomniac encouraged players to dress and be whoever they want in the game, the fact that players can choose from a myriad of threads but have no choice in the characters voices can’t be ignored. Male and female main characters will always be voiced by Yuri Lowenthal and Stephanie Lemelin respectively, and they do a great job of picking up the overall essence of the often nonchalant, funny and give-no-ratails attitude of the main characters.
But my hobo-Rastafarian-blondie dread sounds like a white dude. It comes across as an overlook in detail, but can also be seen as a fine fitted piece to the nonsensical puzzle that Sunset Overdrive employs.
Sunset Overdrive also has it’s fair share of glitches. Each mission in the game usually has players doing a couple of crazy, chaotic and weird things before reaching it’s end, but it can get frustrating when you have to abort and restart a mission due to the game freezing the mission. During my playthrough, this occurred about once or twice. There are also a few pop-ins and some other graphical errors that flash from time to time. Fortunately, none of these are game breaking. Since the game likes to poke fun at itself, I was half hoping that the character to act or say something snobbish about these issues and errors. On the same coin, your character also does a great job of repeatedly bursting out “I should buy new weapons” during another ongoing dialogue. Again, the voice acting is great all around, but the frequency at which voice cues do and don’t happen can be irritating.
Sunset Overdrive is like a dream that only a gamer could have in their sleep, except this one doesn’t require you to wake up. Insomniac is making a statement with this game, one that spits in the face of the industry and says that every game shouldn’t feel like work. Games should be made for what they are, and this one is definitely worth spending time with.
Long live the Awesomepoclaypse.