Everyone around you is partying, slamming Overdrive energy drinks, and pulsing with the “untz untz untz” coming from the stage as a smarmy Fizzco rep slings their latest sugar buzz. You? You are the loser in the janitor uniform, getting to pick up trash and their discarded cans.
Your life sucks.
Imagine your surprise when you find out that you dodged a bullet by not chugging the can of kidney-killing crap as people bubble and swell up into horrible orange beasties. Scrambling to your shoddy apartment and barricading yourself inside only holds for so long though, as you are rescued just in time by Walter. As the bright light of Sunset City hits your eyes and you see the horrible devastation that has befallen the city, Walter tosses you a shotgun that can set people on fire and an imperative to save yourself. With the help of the aptly-named gunsmith Two-hat Jack, and an absent minded scientist named Floyd, it’s time to kick off the Awesomepocalypse. Welcome to Sunset Overdrive.
“Will someone please cast me in a Gymkata Remake?”
If you read my preview you know that somehow, the crazy-ass world of Sunset Overdrive was not on my radar. I love loopy sandbox worlds, so I’m not sure how that happened. Now that I’ve gotten my hands on this wide-eyed trip through the loonybin, it’s time to find out what all the fuss is about.
The locomotion in this game comes courtesy of several of my favorite games in the sandbox genre. Take the grinding from Jet Grind Radio, mid-air dashing from Saints Row IV, a pinch of combo meter from Tony Hawk and put it in a blender full of crack and you have the bizarrely awesome slurry that is Sunset Overdrive.
Put simply, walking sucks in Sunset Overdrive. That’s why this game all but demands that you do very little of it. Power lines stretch overhead, the straight edges of flower boxes beckon, and every vent is an air-spewing springboard waiting to launch you straight into the air. For reasons better left to your imagination, your character is able to perform superhuman feats such as grinding for miles on city power lines, fall from infinite height, and otherwise zip around the city at incredible speeds. Doing so earns you combo points that carry you from level one to four on your meter. That’s when things get a bit crazy.
“The guns are like my children…”
For a moment, try not to think about the fact that your buddy Floyd is creating amps from cooked Overdrive to give you special powers. Amps are split into five categories: Melee Swing, Hero, Epic, Dive Bomb, and Hero Extra. Selected from a big list of possibles, each amp grants additional properties such as fire to your melee attacks, spewing explosions when you bounce on things, or additional damage when you dodge roll as examples. Each weapon can also be equipped with amps once you’ve used it long enough to hit level 2, granting special powers like immolation, stun, or even a chance to turn a projectile into a TNTTeddy. Just like the regular amps, weapon amps level up through use and there are quite a few to choose from. The game encourages you to simply play your way, and over the course of ten hours for the main story, I found that worked out pretty well. If you do a lot of undergrinding and bouncing, you’ll see those skills ramp up faster. Do a lot of work with the TNTTeddy (and why wouldn’t you?) and you’ll unlock amps and level the base weapon up as well.
The weapons in this game are the product of a lot of sleep deprivation, illicit smokes, and various edibles. With weapons like The Shocker, the Turret Copter (literally an RC helicopter with a pistol dangling underneath), The Dude (it throws bowling balls, also abides), and the Murderang (it throws wrenches…of murder!), each weapon is more ludicrous than the last. The best part? Much like the clothing, you are encouraged to buy frequently and change often. There is no “right” weapon, just the ones you like the most. Since you can carry eight of them at once, there’s little reason to be all that picky.
It isn’t all about the weapons in this game though – you’ve got to save the world with style. Certain amps are only activated once you’ve hit a requisite style level, and you’ve got to flex your agility muscles to make that happen. Undergriding, bouncing, scoring headshots, combining fire from The Compensator with Icy rounds from the Dirty Harry, and pretty much anything else that looks awesome helps fill that meter, unleashing your Hero Amps. Ultimately you’ll be ok without them in the beginning, and by the time you encounter enemies that are a little tougher you’ll already have the hang of things.
I do want to give a special nod to what has to be the best fast-travel system I’ve ever seen. Rather than just doing a fade to a loading screen, the game takes a different approach. Your character whips out their favorite beverage, drinks themselves into unconsciousness, and then stumbles out of a Port-a-potty near where you’d like to go. It’s hilarious every time, and is just one example of the patented Insomniac sense of humor. There is one big difference here though – Insomniac has made rated M games before, but Sunset Overdrive embraces the rating wholeheartedly. From copious amounts of gore to very salty language, this brightly colored game is one you might not want to play around the kids.
“Bombing – the fun way evict someone!”
Beyond the main story, there are 40 tagging locations, 20 high points to reach, 9 eavesdropping opportunities, as well as 150 pairs of shoes, cameras, toilet paper rolls, and Fizzy balloons to collect. The shoes, cameras, toilet paper, and Fizzy balloons are scattered all over the map, serving as crafting materials for the amps mentioned earlier. You can buy maps to help you locate them, all manner of crazy clothing, weapons, and ammo, but all of that costs either money or cans of Overcharge. You’ll earn Overcharge and money by killing OD or through missions, but there are also 54 challenges in the game to tackle.
The challenges are split up into several categories, each with multiple levels of difficulty. The Points Challenge gives you a series of numbers on various obstacles, asking you to grind, flip, and bounce through them until you hit a goal amount. Buckie’s Challenge gives you random objectives to complete against a clock as you kill OD while doing things like bouncing, grinding, or setting them on fire for Buck National’s redneck TV show. Bomb Delivery has you dropping already-lit bombs off at Scab hideouts, for only good reasons I’m sure. The Glider Challenge lets you pilot a glider through the city in a bid to destroy floating air-mines. Night Defense is your opportunity to get new amps as you play through a tower defense minigame to defend the vats from marauding OD.
Using a finite power level you can place traps (you start off with four and you’ll have far more by the end of the game) to prevent hordes of OD from breaching your base and stealing your still-cooking Overdrive vats. The traps are as varied and bizarre as the weapons, with standouts being the linked Tesla trap, the Pyro, and the Spinning Blades as my personal favorites. Run down the clock and you’ll pick up three new amps to drop onto your weapons, fail and you’ll earn a chance to try again.
My absolute favorite of the pile is the Weapons Challenge goals. Sometimes they are straightforward giving you access to weapons you may not have purchased yet, but sometimes they go waaaaaay off the reservation. The high point for me was the Pigeon Roast, which asks you to fricassee up 500 fat juicy pigeons courtesy of the Pyro Trap. Again, I don’t want to spoil the fun, but it was a hard mission as I was busy laughing my ass off the whole time – I might be sick in the head. You might be too as I suspect you’ll find similar twisted bits of fun amidst the cooked squab.
The challenges in the game are entirely optional. I say that as I didn’t really tackle them until I had already beaten the game. They do grant you more money to spend on making your character look even more nuts or to pick up a larger host of weapons and amps. If challenges aren’t your thing though, there is plenty of content to consume on the direct path.
“Whatever look you were going for….you missed.”
Graphically Sunset Overdrive has a look all its own. Not quite realistic, not quite cel-shaded, the game is bright and colorful giving it a unique look. There is a bit of mipmapping as clothing loads, or at the start of new cutscenes, but all of that goes away pretty quickly. Even with quite a few OD of varying sizes and types, as well as your allies on the screen, the framerate stays absolutely rock solid throughout the entirety of the game.
The game does commit one cardinal sin – unskippable cutscenes. Any time you fail a mission for some reason, you’ll be sitting through whatever setup there was preceding the challenge. Annoying, but not overly so – most of the scenes are thankfully short or absolutely hilarious anyway.
Sigh…it’s fairly pointless to even say as this game runs silky smooth and looks gorgeous, but some folks are entirely too invested in resolution numbers. Sunset Overdrive runs at 900p and 30fps. There, are ya happy now? If after all I’ve told you about how great this game is, and all of the video showing it in action doesn’t sway you more than some fairly arbitrary numbers, I don’t know what else to say.
Over the course of roughly ten hours of main mission and all of the side content, one thing became very clear – this game has absolutely no respect for the 4th Wall. Constantly self-referential, the game never tries to be serious and it carries itself very well. The solid voice work from a few veteran voices adds nicely to the mix with Stephanie Lemelin and Yuri Lowenthal turning in performances as the player. It comes as no surprise that Jennifer Hale is fantastic as Wendy. Scoutmaster Brylcreem is a high point in the crazy characters in this game and I’ll leave it at that – no spoilers. The story is pretty predictable, but it doesn’t make it any less hilarious and fun.
One of the things that worried me about an open-world game that focuses heavily on humor and side missions is that it can become very stale and quickly. Thankfully that isn’t the case here. There are missions where you’ll fly a glider, others where you’ll use a set of Taiko drums to blast the OD with sound, another where you’ll use a drastically overpowered weapon to one-shot most enemies for a brief period of time, and they all seem to come at just the right time. Right about the moment when you are starting to get a bit of fatigue running, jumping, sliding, and bouncing, the game switches things up and gives you some new toy to play with for a brief time. My hats (there are a lot of them in this game) are off to you, Insomniac – great balance work!
Speaking of breaking the fourth wall, there are giant TV monitors throughout Sunset City that give you access to Sunset TV. Sunset TV lets the folks at Insomniac reach out directly to the playerbase. It’ll have tips and tricks for sure, but it’ll also be the vehicle by which Insomniac brings new challenges to the community. The current upcoming Community Challenge is to kill 1.5 billion OD, with the Solo Challenge asking players to kill 200 Blowers with the Flaming Compensator. Insomniac also intends to show off community fan art, but we’ll have to see some of that when it goes live.
I thought Sunset Overdrive was primarily a multiplayer experience, but I’m happy to say that it holds up very well as a singleplayer one as well. That said, you will certainly want to test out Chaos Squad. Pushing the player count to eight, this cooperative mode turns players free in the world at large. Joining is as simple as finding one of the frequently-placed photo booths in the game and switching to Chaos Squad mode. Players will vote for the mission they want to tackle, each with bonuses like extra trap power or additional Chaos rewards. The objectives seem to be randomly placed around the world, so each game is different. After several waves of missions, the whole thing culminates with Chaos Squad: Night Defense. Night Defense is wave-based survival mode where you tackle the trap-based tower defense mode featured in singleplayer. Selecting missions with better rewards during the day results in a more difficult challenge once night falls, but it gives you more goodies if you can survive. Do you go for the easy path, or do you gamble it all at the chance for better loot, cash, and even the occasional weapon? The risk/reward falls to the votes, but anything you earn is held over to singleplayer, so it is worthwhile to blast some orange baddies with your buddies. The best part? Remember that rock solid framerate I mentioned before? Even with eight players and hundreds of enemies, as well as fireballs and traps everywhere, the framerate never budged – not even once.
Whether you are defending a trash barge, grinding a dragon spine, or flinging bowling balls at exploding enemies, Sunset Overdrive is pure insanity - just how I like it. Come for the crazy, stay for the fourth-wall-breaking fun.