REVIEW / Sunset Overdrive (X1)

 

The launch of a new console means a lot of pre-rendered trailers to raise hype.  After all, many of the new games are simply not ready yet.  This was the case for Sunset Overdrive, an early exclusive title for the Xbox One that was revealed at E3 in 2013.  It showed an open world shooter with unique traversal options, crazy weapons, and online co-op.  Taking inspiration from developer Insomniac’s previous titles, it promised a third person shooter that wasn’t dark and gritty.  This idea was taken further with the trailer shown at this year’s E3, which directly mocks the Call of Duty-style titles that remain so popular.

The premise of the game is ridiculous enough: energy drink company Fizzco, which pretty much owns Sunset City, has released an energy drink that turns people into terrifying mutants.  The customizable protagonist, stuck collecting trash at the launch party for the beverage, is one of few peaceful survivors in the aftermath.  With help from the other bizarre groups held up in the city, he/she tries to escape.  This requires taking down mutants and violent psychopaths with weapons made from whatever’s left over, and keeping off the ground by grinding on power lines and bouncing off of cars (among other things).

 

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It takes some time to get used to the basic gameplay.  In a third person shooter, you generally want to find a strategic place from which to shoot.  You move around to throw off the enemy, but you often take cover or move in for a solid kill.  Those tactics will get you killed pretty fast in Sunset Overdrive.  This game is all about movement; grinding from place to place helps you not only traverse the open world, but also find the best angle from which to shoot mutants.  Bouncing around is the closest thing there is to standing still, and still makes getting around faster than simply walking.

Another unusual aspect is that certain weapons work better on certain enemies.  For example, The Dude (a bowling ball gun) works better on the mutant ODs, while The Roman Candle (a fireworks gun) works best on murderous Scabs.  Once you remember which of the bizarre guns hit each enemy hardest, it won’t be hard to take down waves of them. You can always pause to check the effectiveness of each weapon on each type of enemy.  It would be nice if the weapons were a bit crazier and more varied, but there are more than enough to keep things entertaining.

 

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Sunset Overdrive is oozing with style, and rewards you for playing with it too.  Besides guns, you have Amps, which give you extra powers when you fight with style.  Hero Amps give your character some basic abilities (such as a damaging dodge roll), Weapon Amps add new properties to a chosen weapon (such as freezing ammo), and Epic Amps add crazy new features to a fight (such as lightning that will randomly come down and shock enemies.)  These are just a few examples.

The game’s style shines through in its stylized graphics too, creating one of the brightest shooters recently released.  Though the city is corrupt, it’s rendered in such an inviting way.  Even the multiplayer is inviting in Sunset Overdrive.  The multiplayer mode, called Chaos Squad, is cooperative instead of competitive.  It features a bevy of missions and challenges from which to choose, and the rewards from this mode help you with the single player campaign, too.

 

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It’s a good thing the game presents everything so well, because the overall story isn’t too exciting; your character is just trying to escape, facing many trials along the way.  It’s those trials, the characters you meet during them, and the game’s overall personality that make things fun.  Character factions include a samurai-themed scout troop, college geniuses holding up in a Chuck E. Cheese knockoff, and a redneck trying to film a TV show.  Very little is actually explained; your character can grind, the college kids managed to survive, and that’s all there is to it.  This is just as well as taking things too seriously would go against what makes the game great.  Sunset Overdrive is not afraid to break the fourth wall either.

It’s full of jabs at many aspects of the video game medium.  Not even the interface is sacred. One scene has the protagonist bringing up the weapon wheel to show the aforementioned redneck that he/she is armed to the teeth.  The protagonist even wonders aloud about why it seems the whole city was designed for grinding and bouncing.  If you want references, you won’t go hungry; just about every respawn animation pokes fun at an existing game, movie, or show.  Fortunately, this doesn’t distract from the game, as it very easily could.  The references are there, but the game doesn’t shove them in your face.  They serve to enhance the experience.

 

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Gamers have been clamoring for something new, and Sunset Overdrive is that game, for better or worse.  The unusual nature of the gameplay means that it takes longer than one might expect to get into the swing of things.  If you stand still and try to focus on your melee weapon, you die (for what little that means in this game).  If you grind too far, you’ll leave the mission area.  It takes a couple hours of play to really get the hang of balancing traversal with combat.  Fortunately, Sunset Overdrive’s style and sense of humor make it much easier to get through the confusion.  Once you do, you’ll find an excellent and quirky game waiting for you.

 

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