E3 has a strange way of enticing me into games I don’t normally play. Back in 2012, they made me Pre-Order The Last of Us almost instantaneously despite the fact that it was a genre of game I normally stayed away from. Fast forward a couple years and now Microsoft and Sunset Overdrive have done the same thing. I jumped on this game and Pre-Ordered before any of the bonuses or most of the features were announced. Something about the idea of a good humoured post-apocalyptic style shooter that made fun of itself constantly definitely caught my fancy, and the day it’s here has finally arrived. My Xbox One has been pretty busy lately, and I assumed it would be busier with the game finally here. Let’s take a look at whether it was worth the wait.
Sunset Overdrive is developed by Insomniac Games and published by Microsoft
Release date: October 28th, 2014
Genre: Action-Adventure / Open World Shooter
Sunset Overdrive is a 3rd person shooter title where your success relies on your ability to move. There’s no camping, no strategizing, no safety bunkers or anything of the like. The game puts you out in the open with your guns and teaches you that the only defence is good offence. Let that sink in for a moment.
After a brief intro sequence where you learn the controls, Sunset Overdrive introduces you as a pivotal employee of the FizzCo company – The janitor. You’re at the party to end all parties to launch the new energy drink OverCharge. Only one problem – FizzCo bypassed government testing, and the energy drink causes anybody drinking it to turn into ravenous mutants, which are called the OD. So basically, the city has turned into a wasteland right quick, and you’re on the run when you stumble onto Walter, and your adventure begins with the help of some of his pals like Floyd the engineer, Two-Hat Jack the arms dealer and Calista the fashionista. Even weirder, you’re soon introduced to the Scabs, who are basically a rival faction of humans that want to do nothing but kill you and those who aren’t fellow scabs. This was really funny to me, since you’d think people would band together in limited quantities when they’re facing the end of the world. Evidently not. It’s a very Lord of the Flies-esque look at people dividing themselves again when up against the wall.
Speaking of the wall, Fizzco has basically barricaded Sunset City and in order for them to keep this public relations nightmare from spreading and endangering their stock price, they’ve also implemented monitoring planes, drones and robots on the ground hellbent on destroying everything they see. That includes you.
DON’T STOP MOVING
As mentioned, the game’s primary objective is success through movement. In order for you to keep moving, building combos and being successful, you have to keep moving. You can’t stay still and shoot. The game’s movement engine is based on a system of traversing, which involves a mixture of parkour, grinding rails and hopping cars and rolling around. As you progress through the game, you gain amps, which can be used in conjunction with your character and weapons. A meter fills the more you do crazy maneuvers throughout, and eventually, you’ll be able to use your amps and meter to unleash different types of attacks and weaponized powerups to create larger melee combos and cover more ground with enemy attacks. The game really relies on this, and you really need to learn different movement combinations to be successful, so I would spend A LOT of time learning this system early, or else you’ll be pretty screwed almost right away.
By right away, I do mean right away. There isn’t much of a difficulty learning curve in this game. Unlike other open world adventure games of the like where you get 4-5 hours to learn mechanics through gimme missions, you’re thrust into the fire right away. GTA V players may remember that the game basically just assumed you’d played GTA IV before, understood the system and started with fairly difficult missions right away. Expect the same out of Sunset Overdrive. There’s sensical paths for a lot of these missions, but the game isn’t easy by any means. Thankfully, death in this game is expected and well played by the developers. You always respawn (in a number of different creative ways) at your last checkpoint. The game doesn’t force you to have to restart 20 or 30 minute missions from the beginning when you die, and that’s quite a relief considering how vast the missions can be and how far along the map they could take you. Truth be told, my wife hated that feature, and you might disagree on paper, but spend a couple hours in the carnage and you’ll realize it’s the only way this could work otherwise.
The weapons themselves are a riot, and are either obtained by Two-Hat Jack the arms dealer, or through missions. When’s the last time you played a game where your weapons arsenal included flaming teddy bears and explosive bowling balls? The best part about the weapons (which I discovered after I wasted money on “The Dude,” which while paying homage to one of my favorite movies is far from a useful entry level weapon) is that you can watch a video preview of how the weapon works in action. Weapons can be powered up through 2 ways – Leveling up which occurs the more you use it and get XP for that particular gun, and also through the use of “amps.” Amps are obtained through Floyd’s help through batch cooking. At the end of each day, he’ll entice you back to home base where he cooks in vats and creates these powerups. Here’s the thing though – Cooking requires Overcharge, which spawns and draws the OD in. You must spent 4 minutes defending your base and vats from the OD, including laying traps and just plain old attacking. Each of these night missions are interesting because it tests how much you’ve learned that day (since the learning of moves and maneuvers are continuous) and creates hell on earth for you otherwise. You have to fend them off for 4 minutes, and can only die a limited number of times. If the OD capture your Overcharge from the vats, however, it’s mission over and you have to start again. You can also buy amps outside of these missions if you collect specific materials for Floyd and he then turns them into amps..
The combos I spoke of earlier are also helpful for the purpose of your style meter. This 4 diamond meter is the key to unlocking your amps and also a major component to your success. You build it by lining up traversal chains and killing enemies. Your combo ends when you somehow break it, including landing on the ground and doing nothing. Simply landing doesn’t necessarily end the chain. You can use melee moves and grow by killing OD and scabs too. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of this one yet. I admit I’ve only reached level 4 a limited number of times, and don’t think I’ve spent more than 3 minutes at one time at max level yet. It’s definitely beneficial though, as you’ll see the increased power and change on your person when you’re amped up.
The other way you can reach do damage are through Overdrives. These are your own personal success pieces, and obtained by, well, playing the game . You have meters that increase as you do more traversing and killing. The overdrive benefits range from obtaining more style quicker while traversing, or even doing more damage with specific weapons.
SIDE QUESTS, CHALLENGES AND CHAOS
Lastly, as you progress through the story mode, you’ll also be saddled with two more types of optional games – Challenges and Quests. Challenges are simply activities you can play for fun with objectives and rewards. You’ll see icons for these fairly early in the game, but I wouldn’t recommend getting into them until you meet Buck. I won’t spoil too much more, but Buck will do a lot in making sense of what these are and what they entail. Quests are side quests that are completely optional, but again, may have huge payoffs and rewards. These quests can be picked up at any time and saved for later. You might find benefit in saving these until you need to buy something, or are stuck and might need more weaponry to get you through, but well, do what you gotta do right?
The best thing about Sunset Overdrive, far and away, is the game’s sense of humour and how it draws you into the game more. The dialogue is rife with jokes, it constantly breaks the fourth wall, and plays out like an awkward Zombie B-Movie or late night cartoon down to the cheesy splash graphics and over the top rock music. The game has a very “Adult Swim” style feel to it overall. It NEVER takes itself seriously, and this game is far from realistic. The skewed reality is one of its best features. The fact that you can do ridiculous things like dash in mid-air or shoot fireballs out of your crowbar just to keep combo is fantastic.
Graphically, the beauty in the game actually lays in the cityscape. The character builds are pretty average, but the rest of the game is pretty outstanding. The city was purposefully built to be a giant personal stomping ground. Power lines, rails, air vents, cars everywhere – The city is an absolute shambles, and you can traverse off everything. As I’d mentioned, if you miss a cue and fall, your combo meter doesn’t have to be over. Roll toward a guardrail or car and build your way back up. The game encourages you to be a traversal master simply through the mass littering of enemies everywhere on the ground, and the fact that you get to places faster (or you could just fast travel there too I suppose, which also exists for certain venues of the game,) so take advantage of learning your surroundings for sure.
At any point, you can jump into multiplayer (it unlocks about an hour or so into the campaign) and play the Chaos Squad mode. This is basically an overcharged (no pun intended) version of the single player campaign, in which you co-op with 1-7 others to fight the OD in Sunset City. There are two basic forms – You can either create chaos, which creates a harder experience (but better amps) or the opposite – You have better powerups and are stronger during the night mission, but the amps you receive aren’t as strong. Either way, anything you obtain during Chaos Squad transitions back to single player mode (and vice versa) which is really cool. This might be the ticket for anybody stuck in facets of single player mode to encourage multiplayer, so that you can grab some loot with the help of others and go back and try things again.
WHY SUNSET OVERDRIVE IS FOR YOU
The only thing most prototypical shooting enthusiasts may not be game for is the constant need to move and stay active. After playing a bajillion shooting games where you can catch your breath once in a while, you really can’t in Sunset Overdrive. Does it benefit or hinder your gaming experience? It’s a little bit of both. It’s basically what a melee style game should be, but it also hurts your chances of survival quite a bit. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it was also a bit of an annoyance being unable to step back in a battle and think a strategy through all the time. I admit, however, that annoyance only lasted as long as I got used to traversing. Now, I find myself habitually doing everything to build my style meter up even when I don’t need to, or I know will be broken since I need to land to start a mission.
When your only backhanded complaint is that the developer is forcing you to get better at the game, you know you’ve got a good one on your hands. Sunset Overdrive isn’t just a good one, it’s a great one, and justifies the purchase of an Xbox One if you were on the fence before. In fact, I’d say it’s the best one on the Xbox One yet. It might not be remembered as a classic console seller 5 or 10 years from now like the Sonic the Hedgehogs or Marios of the world (if only because it definitely isn’t a family title,) but it’ll be remembered as the shooter that found a way to break the mould out of the dime a dozen shooters that exist on the market, and reinvented the way we look at shooters. This will remain a constant in my Xbox One for a long time, and I’m happy to close by saying it was worth the wait.
Gameplay: 5 / 5
Graphics: 4.5 / 5
Sound: 4.5 / 5
Controls: 5 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5 / 5
Overall Rating: 4.8 / 5 (96%)