Chaos. Flashy, blaring, satisfyingly cheeky chaos is what Sunset Overdrive offers, and it’s delivered in excess in a neon-soaked city wherein pretty much everything can be grinded, vaulted over, or swung upon.
Also on tap is raucous fun, and loads of it too. Insomniac Games’ first Xbox One title isn’t terribly concerned with slow-paced precision, well-thought-out storytelling, or relatable characters. Instead, this wild hodgepodge of seemingly random ideas and influences proves an enticing concoction simply by virtue of how wide of a grin it puts on your face as you clear energetic mutants with hilarious weapons and constant acrobatics.
SOAK IN THE SUNSET
The bright, open world of Sunset City is ground zero for your antics, which are fueled by the sudden emergence of violent mutants – all former citizens under the spell of a horrible new energy drink gone awry. You begin the quest as a janitor, cleaning up refuse from the launch party; before long, you’re cleaning up the monsters it created, only now with an array of insane weapons instead of a broom.
We’re talking an explosive teddy-bear launcher, a firework-blasting firearm, and a gun that spins out vinyl records at foes, among many others. It hearkens back to Insomniac’s heritage with the wonderful Ratchet & Clank series for Sony, where the talented team created dozens and dozens of truly sublime creature-killers – some of which seem to have inspired the lineup here.
With a generous bit of aim-assist employed, you’ll have no problem clearing even the hulking, gargantuan beasties that emerge across the city, as well as evil drink-maker Fizzco’s robot guards and some aggressive survivors. And you’ll need a little help with the aim, because one of the biggest keys to success is to never, ever stop moving.
SERIOUSLY, DON’T STOP
It’s a weird suggestion for a game with a lot of wonderful guns. Why wouldn’t you take a moment to steady yourself and position your shot before letting loose? Because a flat surface is the most dangerous place to be in Sunset City, and the game demonstrates this at every possible opportunity, burning you with flung acid gunk and other enemy assaults that’ll take you down very quickly.
Luckily, Sunset Overdrive makes it very easy for you to be ever in motion, providing a seemingly endless array of rails and wires to grind upon (Tony Hawk-style) or hang below with a hook, along with cars, patio umbrellas, and plants you can leap upon. And doing all of that generates style, which helps in battle. You’ll never have to worry about balance or staying upright, aside from occasionally avoiding attacks and hazards that appear: once you start grinding, you can focus on the bloodshed.
Since you can also vault up and over walls with ease, the result is an incredible sensation of movement that proves to be Sunset Overdrive’s biggest selling point. It’s simply a joy to whip around the city, bounding over wall after wall until you leap off of a skyscraper – and then slam down onto an elevated train track, swing around a flagpole, wall-run along another tower, bounce off of an abandoned car, and then continue to glide along the power lines to your next destination.
You can more or less traverse the entire length of the city without ever touching the ground, and I highly advise it – not only to avoid danger, but also to simply enjoy the goofy thrill of it all. That reminds us a lot of Microsoft’s original Crackdown, which provided an open world and the dexterity to enjoy its vertical space as well, but here it’s much looser and sillier, and that gives Overdrive a nicely distinctive feel.
And Insomniac uses that freedom of movement to create huge moments in the campaign – such as fighting a giant balloon mascot boss up in the clouds above the city, which you’ll accomplish by bouncing between floating jump pads and grinding on a suspended wire. Or when you take down an elevated train by grinding along the rails behind it, occasionally being forced to leap to a nearby skyscraper ledge or suspension wire when the track is blown to bits right in front of you.
Sunset Overdrive‘s campaign has several of those wonderfully over-the-top scenarios, and they’re all a blast, but elsewhere there’s a lot of errand running without a cohesive, clear arc to the story progression. That’s not a huge concern, since the action and movement are all fun throughout, plus most of the jokes – mocking game design tropes and poking fun at online communities – land solidly.
But characters come and go in the loose narrative and are barely developed, and aside from the requisite array of collectibles and combat trials, the world feels a little empty beyond the very linear 10-12 hour campaign. Moreover, we encountered multiple bugs that forced us to restart checkpoints, along with some visual pop-in issues. Not a huge surprise for an open-world game, but still annoying.
You’ll find a bit of multiplayer fun beyond the campaign, however, thanks to the Chaos Squad mode. Up to eight players can team up to both compete and collaborate in a series of quick-hit missions – at times, you’ll be grinding and swinging to collect the most icons in the group, or perhaps working together to ward off enemies. Each set culminates in a survival shootout against the monsters as you protect a facility.
Chaos Squad’s structure is a bit confusing and not particularly well explained, but once online comrades start swinging and shooting, you’ll surely find it difficult to stand around and ponder its meaning for too long.
Like some mad hybrid of Dead Rising, Crackdown, and Saints Row, Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive ends up being a zany, joyous ride that’s well worth taking.
While not the most robust open-world action game around, and some elements feel superficial in the mix, that’s all very easy to overlook once you start grinding around roller coaster tracks and shredding 10-tonne monsters to bits with glossy vinyl records and explosive stuffed toys. It’s a blast.