Sunset Overdrive (Video Game)

Sunset OverdriveAvailable on Xbox One

Rated M for Mature

Developed by Insomniac Games

I was dead set on hating Sunset Overdrive. The first XBOne title that anyone gives a shit about outside of a re-releasing of five mediocre sci-fi shooters, Sunset Overdrive positioned itself to be “cool” and “quirky” and “not like all those other cover based shooters for SQUARES.” This seems an odd message to send to Xbox owners, since samey shooters have pretty much been their bread and butter since people forgot what Unreal Tournament was and declared Halo to be an innovative masterpiece.

For a long time, Microsoft has been the big boy on campus for the “real gamers” (please ignore Nintendo since the Wii was a toy for your grandparents), but from the start of this console generation they have been looking wobblier than a drunk two-legged dog. First there was the whole “always online” fiasco, followed by an executive telling people without internet connections to move to a “real city”. Now their celebratory cries announcing the release of a $100 cheaper Kinectless version almost drown out the collective sighs of everyone who remembers that their insistence that the console wouldn’t work without the Kinect is the reason it cost $100 more in the first place.

I won’t lie, I’m a bit salty. The original Xbox came out on my birthday, and oh how I did squeal with delight when my parents gave me my first “big boy” console. A monolithic underdog of its time, I too marveled at the crisp visuals of Halo and the frantic party action of Fusion Frenzy. Previously I had only owned a Sega Genesis and PlayStation, which I only owned Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot for. As I felt the heat radiate off of the massive black box and the colossal controller vibrate in my hands, I could feel my testicles’ descent into manhood. Years later, after the midnight release for the Xbox 360, I quickly learned that while I had grown older, everyone else on Xbox consoles had miraculously stayed screaming pre-teens who believed headshots gave them pubes. I switched to PlayStation on a whim, was embraced by the scaly chimeran love of Resistance, and never looked back.

So that being said, no one will really be surprised to hear that after Crackdown and the Gears of War series (main series only, I don’t spend my money on full priced spinoffs), my Xbox 360 didn’t see much love until Remedy forgot to announce that Alan Wake would come to the PC at some point. My XBOne has fared worse, little more than a $500 coffee table conversation piece since I concluded the surprisingly satisfying Ryse.

Meanwhile, the avalanche of “60 minutes of exclusive content” given to the PS4 versions of games has solidly cemented it as the new entertainment system of choice for many previous Xbox fans. While I’m sure that the fandom is enough to keep the XBOne alive, I see many people switching to PS4, but not the other way around.

All right, Ted, 4 paragraphs in and you still have yet to talk about Sunset Overdrive! That has to be a new record for you! No, true reader, I can easily sit through eight whole dates of awkward conversation skirting before I tell a girl I like her! Still, there is a point to all this exposition. I don’t think anyone is oblivious to the fact that the game came out a whopping 35 days before I wrote this. So, why the delay? Well, first off, my boss didn’t give me the game until a week ago, the day before I started a new job, so thanks for that, Steve. Please hold all this responsibility for me while I tell people how it’s your fault. Secondly, almost all the reviews for the game had come out by the time I had already received it, so I figured I could take my time with it and not rush a 30+ hour game to meet deadline. What I found is that Sunset Overdrive is not only a content rich and deeply engrossing title, but might actually be the most compelling new title on the new console market to date.

This is a bit baffling, since the game received some mediocre scores from some very big names. This game was a big deal for Microsoft, as they had wooed their previous enemy Insomniac Games into making an early life XBOne exclusive. This was big news, and given that other Xbox exclusives have included showstoppers like Gears of War and the original Saints Row, anything less than perfection would not be tolerated. With a relatively low Metacritic score of 82% and a score of 7/10 from the traditionally Mountain Dew Doritos flavored Gametrailers, it seemed like this game was destined to be a forgotten last cough of the XBOne. And yet, one by one, friends crawled out of the woodwork to tell me the game was actually pretty decent. Eager to suss out the truth, I clenched my jaw and fired up the game.

After spending the time with it that I did, I can say that the game is certainly better than an 8/10 rounded. I can see some flaws, and I can see how some people might give it an 8/10, but as an aggregate that is far too low for the game. People giving this game anything less than a 9 should be the outliers, but somehow have become the majority. So, to address this, along with the review, I’m going to attempt to explain why people really weren’t keen on Sunset Overdrive.

Let me start off by saying the game is certainly smug. It throws around memes like your father does empty beer bottles, and with about as much respect for their integrity. There is no denying that a guy shooting an exploding dog going, “Wow. Much killing. Much awesome. Most boom,” is obnoxious. The moment the words “awesomepocalypse” come out of someone’s mouth, it is only a natural human response for your hand to ball into a fist. If the game were to have a celebrity lookalike, it would be Dane Cook. But just like you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge a game by how punchable its face is.

If you stick with it, you’ll actually find the game is pretty cleverly written. There’s a difference between being obnoxious and being funny, and Sunset Overdrive is that kind of “goofy guy of the group” funny that at first seems desperate but enough beers in makes you laugh. And just as alcohol makes women more attractive and that old guy at the bar seem like not such a bad guy, the chaotic punk-infused action of Sunset so does lull your brain into simplistic bliss. The jokes evolve past simple memes, and the protagonist’s quips begin to grow on you. There’s an old saying somewhere along the lines of saying that its impossible to explain a joke, so I will just say that the moment I fired my empty pistol and a little flag popped out that said “bang” on it in big cartoon letters, I started chuckling and didn’t stop till the credits rolled.

I will also admit that the combat can be a bit aggravating. The game insists that you stay “cool” to build up your combo meter. This involves acrobatic gameplay such as bouncing off of cars or dumpsters, running off of walls, vaulting over ledges, and grinding on rails. Once you get the keys down, traversing the city is easy and a blast. In the heat of combat, trying to switch between your fire gun and spear gun to maximize damage while trying to figure out which direction the camera thinks backwards is so that you can turn around on the pole instead of drop down into an underhang can buy you a trip to Home Depot for some materials to fix that controller shaped hole in your wall. At times, the game’s desire to be stylish can get in the way of its ability to be playable. In this review, this will be the sole point deduction for the game. While it certainly does not make the game unplayable, at times I found it slightly hindered my enjoyment.

Outside of that little bit, the guns are awesome and feel awesome. I read in some reviews that the guns weren’t creative, to which I would counter with a request for them to provide any other game in which the first weapon you receive is a flaming shotgun that looks like a penis. Oh, I’m sorry, was my flaming shot-cock not cool enough for you? Here’s a teddy bear grenade launcher. There are entire freaking levels where they just have you use new weapons, like a gun that lures a murderous robo-dog using a robo-cat as bait. Sliding along rails and raining indiscriminate death with a freeze gun that I have modified to drop exploding teddy bears when enemies die is a level of balls-tingling joy I have not felt since I used a car as boxing gloves in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

Progression is pretty simple. You buy guns with money the monsters drop and cosmetics with money the people drop. Collectibles unlock new AMPs, which are basically the game’s plasmids. Weapon AMPs change the properties of weapons, while player AMPs give you boosts like flaming bounce jumps or a knockback dash. As the player builds style, these AMPs kick in, and you go from feeble peasant to Lord Murderton of the Kingdom of Pain. While towards the end this makes the game a bit easy, I cannot stress enough how much having a flaming cock- gun makes me care so little about that.

The story is fine. They never explain why you have these crazy acrobatic powers, but it doesn’t matter. They never explain how the survivors stay alive, but it doesn’t have to. I am a big believer in games not having to answer all the questions I have, as long as the game works for what it is doing. I do not care how Rapture got built, as long as it serves as a dystopian nightmare. I don’t care where Anakin Skywalker came from; I just want Darth Vader to force-choke people. The storyline for Sunset is surprisingly robust for how stupid the game is and does a more than admirable job of tying the whole package together.

As far as content goes, along with the lengthy main story, there are 56 challenges and a few hundred collectibles to get. Collectibles unlock new amps, and challenges give you money to buy new stuff with. Guns level as you use them, reaching maximum power at level 3. The map is larger than Infamous: Second Son and benefits from abundant fast travel points. It is large enough and diverse enough to be interesting, but not sprawling enough to be a turn off. The same thing goes for the challenges. There is enough variety between races, weapon challenges, score attacks, and destruction challenges that every time you walk up to one of the spinning green icons, it feels more like an exciting “what’s next” than a grind. As far as the collectibles go, they are collectibles. You collect them. You will if you are a completionist, and you won’t if you have a job.

All right, so the content is vast, gameplay new and exciting, combat fun if a bit clumsy in closed spaces, story better than needed, and humor great. The graphics are great too, but seeing as how this is a next gen game, it only seems reasonable to talk about graphics when they fail to water eyes. So why did this game get so many mediocre scores? To be frank, I wouldn’t be too surprised if many gamers were turned off by the game’s attitude. As I said before, the game tried to be “different” and “edgy” and “not what all those LAMEstream games are all about.” This message seems horribly desperate coming from Microsoft, who seem to have divined that they would now be the underdog and therefore need to pander to youth culture. Yeah, man, we aren’t like those jocks that play CoD and beat up nerds; XBOne is the console of the kids who know what it’s like to have a real personality. By the way, please buy these 5 Halo games in one. So, you can’t really blame critics from being turned off right away by what seems to be Insomniac’s blatant attempt to out-youth-culture Second Son.

I don’t want to attribute all the hate towards Microsoft bashing, but how the fuck do we live in a world where Killzone: Shadow’s Fall scored an aggregate 12 points higher than Ryse? Sure, Ryse’s quicktime events didn’t punch you in the nuts if you failed them, but at least it wasn’t another samey shooter that critics have been complaining are ruining the industry. You know, the same critics that give a different style new IP launch title in a relatively untouched setting 12 whole points lower than the fourth main franchise installment in a samey shooter series. Seriously, guys, the Xbox already cut off the Kinect, the arguably only compelling feature of the console, to appease you. Does it have to cradle the balls too?

Sunset Overdrive is fucking great, and if you don’t think so, you don’t know how to have fun.

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Ted Hentschke

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