Sunset-Overdrive-Review Sunset Overdrive Review

   12/11/2014 at 23:12       Richard Horne       1 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Sunset Overdrive, Open World, Insomniac Games, Fourth Wall Breaking, Blue Sky Games

The first few hours of Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive represent a perfect analogue for one of its many ludicrous weapons. It’s a bewildering kaleidoscope of light and colour; a deafening cacophony of bips, beeps, bops and guitar twangs; and an all-out assault on the senses. 

And such is the depth and relative complexity of its early in-game systems and core fundamental mechanics, the first couple of hours of Sunset Overdrive feel all over the place. Like you’re literally trying to grind one of its many rails and electrical cables yourself, arms flailing left and right as you try and find your bearings and make sense of the madness going on around you. Thus, as a result of its bedazzling opening, the first impression Sunset makes is not particularly promising. This is exacerbated further by the fact that its constant breaking of the fourth wall and self-referential humour also initially feels quite forced and too much like a private in-joke to which you’re not privy. That its writing feels like it’s trying too hard, with zingers, one-liners and constant pop culture references trowelled on thick also doesn’t help proceedings.

But then something happens and it all starts to click. Instead of fighting to keep your balance, you start to lean into the turns and quick-fire changes of direction. Instead of rolling your eyes at the in-jokes and winks and nods you actually find yourself laughing and smiling knowingly. And instead of gasping for air as you drown in primary colours and suffer from sensory overload, you instead fill your lungs, narrow your focus and marvel as everything just seems to flow and connect together seamlessly. Whereas at the beginning of the game you’d clumsily and awkwardly shamble from obstacle to obstacle, once you get to grips with the controls you’ll begin to understand the game’s language and grammar. Then and only then you’ll find yourself zipping, grinding, bounding and wall-running across huge distances, stringing together ridiculous combos and chaining moves like a world-class Tony Hawk’s player. It becomes exhilarating and genuinely thrilling as your prowess increases along with your moveset.

But let’s step back a little. That all sounds well and good, but what exactly is Sunset Overdrive you might ask? Comparing game X to game Y and game Z is admittedly reductive, but there’s no other way of describing Sunset Overdrive. It’s Saints Row meets Jet Set Radio meets Ratchet and Clank by way of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s a hyperactive third person, action, adventure, shooter with a massive dollop of speed and kineticism.

Sunset’s controls are tight and slick. At first it feels slow because there’s no run button. But instead, the more combos you chain together the quicker you move through its colourful environments. Tapping X before hitting a rail or cable will allow you to grind it, while tapping it again mid grind will swap between an over grind and an under grind. Holding down the left trigger slows time ever-so-slightly, which for the third-person-shooting mechanics is an absolutely essential concession given the sheer velocity of proceedings. But a healthy dose of auto-aim means that pointing in the general direction of an enemy and firing whatever weird and wonderful part of your arsenal is currently active is generally enough to inflict a decent amount of damage. Now normally this amount of auto-aim would be frowned upon, but normal games aren’t as fast and frenetic as Sunset Overdrive is, and without these concessions, shooting anything while in motion would be next to impossible.

Set in a huge sprawling open-world, Sunset’s main campaign is fleshed out with a comprehensive series of engaging side-missions, and as ever, there are a whole raft of collectibles for you discover. 895 in fact, including CCTV cameras, balloons, trainers, smartphone, toilet rolls and billboards. The sheer variety and volume is mind-boggling, but other than achievement whoring there’s little incentive to actually collect them, however, which makes this one of only very few blots in the game’s otherwise fun-filled copy book.

There’s also a diverting horde mode, which sees you defending your vats of overcharge from the advancing enemies using various fun but ultimately death-dealing traps. The first few times you’re forced to play through this mode feel slightly forced and though they’ve been added to pad the game out. But as you become one with your abilities and weapons, they become far easier to complete and serve as a mildly distracting diversion, especially once you start paying attention to the leaderboards and start focusing on your friends’ scores. 

If that wasn’t enough there are also Crackdown-esque traversal challenges which see you jumping through a sequence of rings linking combos together to boost your overall score. Complete the course as stylishly as possible for huge points.

It’s wonderfully evident that Insomniac was allowed to make the game it wanted to make without any involvement, hand-holding or direction from Microsoft. Throughout the lengthy campaign Sunset pokes fun at focus groups, steals set-pieces wholesale from Breaking Bad, pokes fun at gamers, videogame tropes and even at itself. It’s also quite crass and choc-full with profanity, and even though the majority of the content isn’t of an adult nature per se, its use of language and countless f-bombs mean its adult-rated for good reason. One of the first options you’re presented with is a toggle to turn vulgarity and ‘gore’ off, but given the tone and attitude of the rest of the game, even this is probably a wry joke or niggle at someone or something in the games industry.

Typically when reviewing new franchises, and especially in the current gaming climate, a game like Sunset Overdrive would be described as a promising proof of concept with room for improvement that will be addressed in the inevitable sequel. But that’s not the case with Sunset at all and to describe it so would be disingenuous. Instead Sunset Overdrive stands on its own two feet with its head held high and is fantastic game in its own right. That it’s released relatively early in whatever we’re currently calling the current/next generation is also testament to the skilled team at Insomniac. Best of all, the recent brouhaha about the Xbox One’s supposed lack of processing power and the whole 900p vs 1080p argument is rendered pointless and irrelevant as Sunset is silky smooth with a draw distance to die for. Its rich colour palette and pop-punk aesthetic are beautifully realised and for the first time in a while, Sunset Overdrive feels like a game that wouldn’t have been possible on the Xbox 360. A genuine contender, then, and if you were on the fence about purchasing one of those new tempting looking Xbox One bundles, well it’s time to remove the splinters and jump in feet first.

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