Sunset Overdrive is perhaps the most personal game I’ve played this year. The entire feel and tone is reminiscent of college projects put together by mass media students, which I once was. In an attempt to be “creative”, I would stick in pop culture references, try hard to break the fourth wall, and use all sorts of tricks to make a presentation on say, subliminal messaging, seem more interesting than it could be. However, when the haunting refrain of the Imperial March from Star Wars fails to elicit a response and jokes related to mind control fly over the heads of peers and professors, you soon realise that you ended up isolating everyone in an attempt to be relatable. Falling down as I presented didn’t get me any sympathy either.
What does this have to do with Sunset Overdrive? Everything. With references to Reddit, Breaking Bad and even NeoGAF, as well as a heady amount of irony, it is the video game equivalent of a first-year mass media student’s attempt at making sense to colleagues and the world at large. The difference being, Insomniac’s attempt is a success.
Granted it’s not for everyone, what with a heady dose of f-bombs (which you can beep out), but it manages to use slapstick and subtle humour to great effect. The plot isn’t Deus Ex good, or even Final Fantasy, but the punchy dialogue, effortless portrayal of nerd stereotypes, and finesse at which it manages to carry itself is laudable. I never felt a dull moment through the game’s 14-hour campaign, which is amusing since most of it involved winning over factions by indulging them in fetch quests galore; something I only realised well after.
So yes, the narrative presentation is slick enough to make up for its design misgivings. You can’t be faulted for perceiving Sunset Overdrive to be a glorious open-world, third-person shooter brought to you by the same folks who gave us Ratchet & Clank. But any and all possible sense of freedom dissipates the moment the gigantic task of saving the town of Sunset City is reduced to a linear laundry list of busywork and fetch quests in order to get the game’s different factions to play nice.
Nonetheless, there’s enough in the way of gimmickry and showmanship to make up for a threadbare quest structure to support the game’s premise of surviving, and possibly escaping, a town whose inhabitants have turned into mutants on consuming a deadly energy drink. You’ll soak in ponds filled with leeches, chase down dragons, take down psychopathic bosses on roller coasters, and even assist in reuniting a robotic dog with its owner. And you’ll do it all in style. The game’s emphasis on using anything but the ground to traverse is a welcome addition. Much like Jet Set Radio, you’ll grind, wall-run and boost through the air to get from one point to the next. Throw in hordes of assorted baddies to end along the way and you have delightfully beautiful carnage to look forward to.
Much like Vanquish, which isn’t as fun if you played it like Gears of War, Sunset Overdrive compels you to eliminate your seemingly infinite foes in daring fashion. Thanks to solid art direction, you always know what objects in-world can be bounced on (to achieve a greater height and grind on the city’s many rails) without having to look at ugly looking icons to indicate so. What is ugly though is that we’re in 2014 and yet are on the receiving end of messages prompting us to get back to the mission area unless we want to risk failing. Dear developers, seriously, stop this! It’s annoying and quite possibly the game’s biggest negative, sticking out like a sore thumb in what is, by and large, an extremely enjoyable experience.
One of the major reasons for Sunset Overdrive being entertaining is the arsenal at your disposal. From teddy bears stuffed with TNT to guns that shoot vinyl records, there’s lots of quirky ways to defend yourself against enemies. Veterans of the Ratchet & Clank series won’t see anything similar to a weapon that turns hulking mutated beasts into dancing penguins, but Sunset Overdrive’s armoury manages to hold its own. There’s a surprising number of perks (known as amps) and passive upgrades (known as overdrives) to unlock as you play as well. They let you modify your weapons to do interesting things like control your targets or give you a stat boost, such as more health or higher damage. With so much going on in-game, these feel underutilised.
Also, it makes some of the missions questionable as they’re focused on creating amps. From time to time, you’ll be forced to collect items across the city, such as toilet paper or security cameras. On doing so, you’ll have to protect your base from monsters that attack at night by placing traps along with using the vast number of guns at your disposal. These make for some of the game’s most intense moments, throwing rampaging monstrosities at you from every direction. They’re fun, but you can’t help but feel that they’re forced on to pad the game length just a bit.
It doesn’t help matters that netting this game on disc will set you back by Rs 4,299. Sure the digital version is a bit cheaper, but seems dicey given that there’s very little replay value in the way of single player. There’s Chaos Squad, the game’s multiplayer, which seems to be a competent take on horde mode, but very little else is remarkable about it. Whether it manages to have the legs to sustain beyond the initial hype remains to be seen.
All said and done, Sunset Overdrive is a lot of things. It has a fair number of questionable design choices and sports a tone and theme that might not be for everyone, but these worries simply melt away when you’re bouncing on a tree to wall run and dive-bomb a brute of a monster, only to then light it up with firecrackers. The core gameplay is good enough to endure long after you’re done with the single-player campaign and proceed to take part in many of its side quests.
If you own or plan to own an Xbox One, Sunset Overdrive is one game you should check out. It’s a triumph of kitschy presentation, meta-humour and gamer culture. If that isn’t reason enough, I don’t know what is.
Sunset Overdrive is available in India exclusively at Amazon.in