Sunset Overdrive Review
“Drink some OverCharge!”
Video games can take itself awfully seriously at times, be it with troubling subject matter, dark narratives and tortured protagonists, it can often be a bit exhausting just playing through them. Sunset Overdrive is exhausting but in a contrasting sense, it’s so obsessed with reiterating to its players that it’s a carefree, in-your-face style video-game that it feels like your brain is going to melt through your ears. No matter, this sustained assault on the senses can be overlooked (really) when the gameplay systems on offer here are riotously fun to play around with. Additionally, the open world design is lush and expansive, adorned with so many cute little details and deft touches.
If you can get past the cringeworthy try-hard façade and immature humour, there’s an entertaining game underneath here.
Sunset Overdrive begins with the hero, a character of your own personal design, escaping from a launch party in Sunset City for the cool new energy drink OverCharge which has turned residents into mutant monsters, dubbed ‘The OD’. This whole scenario sounds rather horrifying, but the game treats it as the opportunity to indulge in partying and gleeful insanity. The apocalypse, is instead the ‘Awesome Apocalypse’, because why not? As one of the last few human survivors in the city, it’s up to you to attempt to uncover the conspiracy behind the unstable energy drink and escape the city. The narrative overall is pretty disinteresting but it’s probably the last thing the game wants you to focus on, it’s all about the attitude, immaturity and lampooning of popular culture everywhere you turn.
This is fine in theory, but sense of humour is a subjective thing, and oh is Sunset Overdrive completely unrelenting in it’s self-referential quips and brash banter. To be blunt the script flat-out isn’t funny, even embarrassingly bad at times. It’s all a bit “how do you do fellow kids?” from Insomniac here, and it’s a bigger problem than you might have anticipated considering the humour is one of the foundational aspects of the game.
Fortunately, the gameplay of Sunset Overdrive fares much better. Constant, aggressive movement is spliced with Insomniac’s signature flair for explosive weaponry and imaginative chaos. I’ll freely admit however that it’s tricky to get to grips with initially, but when you unlock a very useful air dash ability, the game clicks, revealing a satisfying escalation in freedom and mobility. Nearly every object and surface can be used to propel yourself into the air, rails can be grinded, and wall-runs can be used indefinitely, allowing the player to scale fast distances with grace. Each mechanic enjoys its own little boost speed as well, so you never feel as though you’re losing momentum as you’re chaining crazy traversal combos around the city.
Momentum is a critical aspect of the game as whole, you need to keep moving and certainly never, ever stay on the ground for long. The reason is two-fold, firstly the on-foot speed is very slow, secondly you are extremely vulnerable to attack from the OD on ground-level. Players are encouraged to adopt varying traversal strategies in order to fill a ‘style’ meter, higher levels of style naturally require more diversity in your play-style. It’s certainly worth it to aim for more skilful combinations as they unlock ‘overdrives’, an experience system which gives you perks such as increased weapon damage and health augmentations. On the other side of the same coin, you have ‘Amps’, another strand of upgrades that can be unlocked through completing story missions and side activities, these abilities are of a far more outlandish nature. For example, one Amp allows you to create a trail of fire when you grind, another can cause lava to erupt from cracks in the ground.
It’s a rewarding system that allows for flexibility and experimentation, there are so many different amp combinations to choose from that you can curate your play-style to what you want it to specialize in.
The combat meanwhile is a bit scratchy in comparison, the weapons are imaginative like a bowling ball cannon and a Chinese dragon launcher, but they miss a fundamental oomph when you use them, the feedback isn’t the best in all honesty. The aim assist is very heavy too, but it’s needed in a game when you’re moving around as frantically as this. That being said, the combat used in conjunction with the traversal abilities is satisfying as a whole, and the levels expand into one big playground because of it. It’s just a little disappointing that a studio of Insomniac’s fame didn’t get the core combat mechanics totally nailed down.
There’s also a fort defense mini-game that crops up a few times, it provides a much-needed change of pace in the campaign, even if it’s for all intents and purposes, a simple horde mode. These ‘night defence’ missions are enjoyable though, and can get quite challenging in it’s later stages without using a bit of strategic thinking.
The world design meanwhile is absolutely fantastic, Sunset City is huge and vibrant, divided into numerous highly distinctive districts that ooze style. You can tell that Insomniac’s artists have loved working on this game, as stylistically it’s a treat with dazzling art murals and interesting architecture everywhere you look. Getting around the place feels great too, it seems like every square foot has been meticulously adorned with traversal equipment, allowing you to joyfully chain together parkour combos around the city.
It’s a shame that the missions meanwhile don’t showcase this world to it’s fullest potential, the bulk are generic fetch quests for various factions, the game is unsurprisingly self-aware of this, but how ridiculously stupid is that? Admitting the tedious nature of the task at hand, and then making you carry out said task. Nonetheless the gameplay remains fun, yet you can’t help but feel Insomniac could have stretched themselves a bit more in this regards, there’s a few set-piece moments, but not enough to truly combat the lack of variety that’s present.
There’s never a dull moment in Sunset Overdrive, the game fizzes with energy throughout. The traversal mechanics are a joy to use, even if the shooting could do with a little more power behind it. In addition, the upgrade system allows for flexibility and experimentation, in keeping with the game’s unapologetic ethos. But it’s the way each of the gameplay elements feed into each other that makes it a rewarding experience to play.
It’s not quite a must-play but still certainly worth checking out.