Insomniac Games has fallen on hard times recently. The House That Spyro Built had a great run with the Spyro franchise, and then hit it big with the Ratchet and Clank series. Their next series, Resistance, was a massive change of pace: instead of the bright, colorful, humorous games that the developer was famous for, Resistance was the kind of dark, serious first-person shooter that was only possible in a post-Gears of War world. Still, the franchise started strong, at least in terms of sales, but fizzled out by the time the end of the generation. Ironic, really, considering that Resistance 3 was arguably the best game in the series.
Insomniac’s return Ratchet and Clank didn’t fare much better. The games were well received critically, but didn’t perform particularly well commercially. This led to Fuse, Insomniac’s first multiplatform title. The game was initially titled Overstrike, and looked like a return to form for Insomniac, but it was not to be. Then, after yet another Ratchet and Clank title, Insomniac did something crazy. They partnered with Microsoft to make an Xbox exclusive title. The result was Sunset Overdrive, and it captures the best parts of Insomniac’s core philosophy: ridiculous, crazy fun trumps all else.
"Things are going great at Fizzco’s pre-launch party, hosted in lovely Sunset City; people are pounding down Overdrive, dancing, and generally having a good time. At least, until the partygoers start mutating into hideous monsters and attacking everyone in sight.
Sunset Overdrive’s premise is delightfully stupid: in a move to get their latest project, the energy drink Overdrive, to market as quickly as possible, mega-corporation Fizzco cuts corners on the required federal testing because of course they did. Who needs that stuff, right? Things are going great at Fizzco’s pre-launch party, hosted in lovely Sunset City; people are pounding down Overdrive, dancing, and generally having a good time. At least, until the partygoers start mutating into hideous monsters and attacking everyone in sight. It’s at this point that your character, the poor slob of a janitor that’s stuck cleaning up everyone’s mess, decides it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.
Meanwhile, Fizzco, in a complete state of panic over what this could do to their stock prices, goes full Weiland-Yutani, and locks down the city, leaving the survivors inside to be murdered by the mutant “OD,” killed by other survivors who believe (and rightly so; this is a video game, after all) that if they kill you, they get your stuff, or massacred by the Fizzco robots that the company has dropped in to contain the situation. It’s in the middle of this chaos that your character finds their true calling: they’re going to be a friggin’ superhero. And, you know, maybe escape the mutant infested city. Maybe. But it’s definitely number two on your priorities list.
Sunset Overdrive is the punk rock version of the apocalypse as told by the Sex Pistols. It’s the Awesome-pocalypse, as one of the game’s characters so aptly notes. This is a game bursting with color, one that feels alive and is practically begging you to explore it. Get that grimdark, serious, “You know, Ellie, we really are The Last of Us” nonsense out of here. Insomniac wants nothing to do with it. This entire game is a joke, but one that’s snickering and slapping you on the back the whole time it’s being told. Sunset Overdrive wants you to have fun, dammit, and that incredibly catchy sense of humor informs everything the game does.
"Each of the game’s many and varied weapons is satisfying to use, and the game has one of the best bullet-to-enemy feedback systems I’ve seen in a long time. Some will even explode into orange goop that paints a visual “Pop!” across the screen, adding to the game’s comic book feel.
Like most of Insomniac’s titles, Sunset Overdrive is, at its core, a third-person shooter, the kind that any fan of Insomniac’s previous work, especially Ratchet and Clank and Resistance 3, will enjoy. The weapons are one big joke, and the carnage that follows them is the punch line. Every one of them, from the gun that shoots teddy bears strapped to TNT, to the “assault rifle” that fires vinyl records, and the shotgun that sets people on fire and looks very… phallic (it’s called the Flaming Compensator, for God’s sake), is designed to kill enemies at the speed of maximum enjoyment. Even the standard issue revolver, lovingly named “The Dirty Harry,” can’t resist having a little fun.
If combat was all that Sunset Overdrive offered, it would still be a pretty good time. Each of the game’s many and varied weapons is satisfying to use, and the game has one of the best bullet-to-enemy feedback systems I’ve seen in a long time. Some will even explode into orange goop that paints a visual “Pop!” across the screen, adding to the game’s comic book feel. Even whacking people with the crowbar, one of the first tools in your arsenal, never feels anything less than satisfying. The shooting, however, is just one slice of a much larger pie.
Sunset Overdrive is a game about unending, aggressive movement, often to the point that if you’re not moving in some way, you’re probably already dead. It’s so important that it’s the first thing the game teaches you, and you’ll be grinding across rails, running along walls, vaulting over fences, and bouncing off cars (yes, you read that right. Bouncing. Off. Cars.) long before you ever get your hands on one of Sunset Overdrive’s glorious weapons. In fact, the game throws so many movement options at you so quickly that it’s initially hard to keep track of them all. That’s not to say that the act of performing your special movement options is hard; every single option in your traversal arsenal is available at the push of a button, but knowing all of your options, when to do what, and where in the environments you can do it, is something else entirely.
"It’s when you put movement and combat together that Sunset Overdrive really shines. Shooting while moving builds up your combo meter, as does performing your special movement tricks. Push it high enough and you’ll activate your Amps, special upgrades that you can buy or earn during missions that add bonus modifiers to your movements or attacks.
The game’s movement becomes something of a game in and of itself, especially after you’ve unlocked the more advanced movement options, like the air dash and the super bounce, and you’ll spend more and more of your time trying to go as far as you can around the city without hitting the ground. The best part is that Sunset City rises to the challenge with you. It’s so varied and diverse that each new area represents its own navigational challenges. There is a fast travel system for those that want to move across the city quickly, but I never used it outside of the feature’s initial tutorial. With a movement system this good, why would you want to?
It’s when you put movement and combat together that Sunset Overdrive really shines. Shooting while moving builds up your combo meter, as does performing your special movement tricks. Push it high enough and you’ll activate your Amps, special upgrades that you can buy or earn during missions that add bonus modifiers to your movements or attacks. One, for instance, might add a projectile fireball to your melee attack, while another creates an explosion every time you bounce on an object. Each level you reach on the combo meter unlocks a new type of Amp, which allows you to build more combo meter. It’s an incredibly satisfying system that ensures that you’re never bored (you’re constantly making and acquiring news Amps), reinforces the game’s movement and combo system, and encourages player experimentation.
There’s also an experience system in play. Using weapons levels them up, making them more powerful and allowing you to equip weapon Amps, while performing tricks unlocks badge that grant passive bonuses to the abilities in question. All of this customization allows you to chose and hone in on your own particular style of play. But these aren’t the only customization features you have access to. You can also customize and re-customize your character at will, and can even change your gender and body type on the fly, which adds another layer of flavor to a game that’s already up to its neck in style.
"And that’s what’s cool about Sunset Overdrive: its style. Your character is at the center of everything, from the cutscenes, which openly break the fourth wall and poke fun at video game conventions that we take for granted, to the missions themselves. Sunset Overdrive is a game that never takes itself seriously, and never gets in the way of you having fun.
And that’s what’s cool about Sunset Overdrive: its style. Your character is at the center of everything, from the cutscenes, which openly break the fourth wall and poke fun at video game conventions that we take for granted, to the missions themselves. Sunset Overdrive is a game that never takes itself seriously, and never gets in the way of you having fun. When you die, for instance, you’ll respawn via some gag or pop culture reference, like, say, crashing a rocket ship into the area you were just in, or rising out of the ground in a coffin. The best part, though, is the sheer number of them on display, and how varied they are. You could watch them for days and never get bored.
That variation carries over to the missions, too. They’re pretty standard, as far as open world missions go: you’ll go somewhere, get some item, or fight a group of enemies, and then head back to get another one. What makes them so much fun, however, is how absurd they are. One, given to you by a spoiled rich girl obsessed with her phone, finds you retrieving her lost dog. As it turns out, the dog is a robot and pretty adept at murder, to boot. Launching its favorite toy, a stuffed kitty, into an area will cause the dog to chase it, and tear any enemies around it to shreds. Meanwhile, your character will gleefully spout lines like “Advantage dog.” and “Much murder.” Switch to a real weapon, though, and the dog will kill you. Because really, why wouldn’t it?
It’s this sense of humor that keeps Sunset Overdrive so fun, and that level of absurdity displays itself in every character you meet and mission you undertake. Sure, there’s a wide variety of missions, challenges, collectibles (which enhance your Amps, so you’ll actively want to collect them), and even a multiplayer mode where you and up to seven buddies can take on what amounts to much, much harder story missions, but the core appeal comes down to the gameplay, the gags, and the sheer sense of unrestrained fun that runs rampant across all of Sunset City.
"Everything in Sunset Overdrive works, from the gameplay, to the art design, the humor, and the combat, and each feeds off the other to create a title that not only feels great, but cohesive as well.
Sure, sometimes the jokes fall flat, and every now and then the game lets you down by putting you into a mission that you’ve seen one too many times in one too many open world games, but right after that you’ll fight an awesome boss or take a killer robot dog for a spin. Even the game’s biggest issue, the fact that Sunset City doesn’t have a whole lot for you to do outside of combat (remember, kids, this ain’t GTAV), never becomes that bothersome because the game is just so darn fun.
All told, Sunset Overdrive is one of the rare games that feels complete in an age where most games feel like a combination of elements from all over the place. Everything in Sunset Overdrive works, from the gameplay, to the art design, the humor, and the combat, and each feeds off the other to create a title that not only feels great, but cohesive as well. It feels like a game that someone wanted to make, that someone had a passion for. And for the first time in a long time, it feels like Insomniac getting a chance to do what they want to do again. And that, in and of itself, is pretty grand.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Fantastic visual design. Genuinely funny gags will make you laugh. Excellent gameplay that emphasizes movement, experimentation, and customization. Well-designed collectibles that will make you actually want to collect them. Unique missions that turn traditional ideas, like escort quests, on their head. Lots of side content to conquer. The game exudes fun from every pore.
Missions are varied, but often come back to genre tropes. Some jokes fall flat. Not a lot to do outside of combat.