Insomniac Games is known for putting out quality stuff, and the studio has shown a penchant for crafting mechanically rich and interesting games in the form of action-platformers such as Ratchet and Clank as well as open-world action-adventures such as Spider-Man on the PS4. The developer has primarily worked with Sony and is now a part of PlayStation Studios following the acquisition in 2019. Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac sticks out like a sore thumb in its portfolio since it’s the only game that isn’t available on Sony’s machine until now.
Insomniac Games released Sunset Overdrive exclusively for the Xbox One in 2014, with fans and critics both receiving it with praise. Having played the game for the first game just last year, I am happy to report that it holds up extremely well even today – which ultimately begs the question, what made Sunset Overdrive one hell of a game?
Insomniac Games is known for its sharp writing and humor, and a lot of it shines through brightly in Sunset Overdrive. The game sees players controlling a custom-created character, as Sunset City sits on the brink of an apocalypse thanks to Fizzco’s latest beverage which is turning the city’s denizens into monstrous OverCharge Drinkers i.e. ODs. Players are initially tasked with making out through the city alive by any means possible, although later narrative events do change the objective to expose this disaster to the outside world.
While the characters themselves are not complex or thought-provoking in any meaningful way, they are certainly hilarious. Most of the companions that players will come across are generally stereotypical, with a mocking tone being consistently present throughout the experience. For instance, players will meet a group of nerdy students that will only drink a certain brand of water. There’s a group of Live Action Role Players, who wouldn’t shut up about glory and XP. The writing is filled with jokes and fourth-wall breaks, all of which might sound cliche at times but definitely works in the game’s favour.
Of course, when it comes to Sunset Overdrive – gameplay is king. The majority of the game entails grinding on rooftops, running along walls, and jumping on an insane number of surfaces. Players will also need to fend off enormous hordes of ODs as they try to pummel you down with all their might. As you can imagine, the core gameplay loop is supremely fun and remains such until the very end.
Sunset Overdrive also employs a bunch of clever tricks to nudge players into the way the game is meant to be played. For instance, it’s almost impossible to survive an onslaught of ODs if you sit around a corner and try to shoot them down – thanks to low-damage weapons and the relatively low walking speed. You will have to make good use of the environment and your weapons to make it out alive. AMPs, which are basically buffs to your character only become active once you accumulate a certain number of style points – which can only be done through constant and varied movement across the environment. There’s also a plethora of different enemy types, and players will of course have to switch up tactics on the fly to defeat them. It’s not modern action shooter levels of dynamic gameplay, but it strikes a nice balance between accessibility and depth.
Insomniac Games is known for crafting unique weapons as evident by its work on the Ratchet and Clank series, and Sunset Overdrive is no exception to the fact. The game’s offerings of weapons are as numerous as it is diverse. There’s everything from a regular AK 47 to a teddy bear shooting rocket launcher alongside a healthy assortment of deployers such as acid sprinklers and turret copters. There’s a great strategy to dealing with huge waves of enemies, as one might first deploy a bunch of copters and sprinklers then keep grinding while chipping away at an OD’s health bar through the use of a shotgun.
A special mention also needs to be given to Sunset Overdrive’s progression systems. Instead of doling out upgrades through a system that lets players farm XP, progression is seamlessly woven into the game’s world. Players will be earning various types of upgrades to their characters through constant use of the traversal and combat systems. Players who actually take the time to explore the game’s world while hopping and grinding through the environment are rewarded handsomely for their efforts, which of course – incentivizes players to pursue them.
As mentioned previously, there are Amps – which provide buffs to your character once enough style points are accumulated. These amps can also be crafted using a number of resources scattered around the world. There are Overdrive badges, which are permanent stat boosts. There’s also Weapon Amps, which are buffs for your weapons. There’s a wide variety of options available for players to choose from in terms of upgrades, and there’s some room for experimentation and working towards certain builds. Players don’t need to essentially get all upgrades to beat the game since it’s largely forgiving in terms of difficulty, but those who do take the time will undoubtedly have a better time.
Sunset Overdrive also looks great. Sunset City is a sprawling playground with a ton of brightly lit environments and colours that pop, adding to the game’s distinct look. The art style is a mix of cartoony and realistic visuals and still holds up incredibly well. The city is a joy to explore and has a ton of secrets to find alongside a healthy dose of side content comprising of traversal challenges and collectathons, just to name a few. They might be repetitive sure, but add a lot of mileage to the game’s already decently lengthy campaign. The music is also equally competent, with a wide range of punk-rock tracks that do a great job of keeping the intensity high at all times. Those wanting more out of the game also have 2 sizeable expansions which add even more types of gameplay opportunities in a self-contained fashion. Servers for the game’s multiplayer portion were empty during my playthrough last year, although reports from fans suggest that it was also a worthwhile addition to the game.
Sunset Overdrive can feel like an odd AAA game at times, which can be attributed to its insistence on putting a satisfying and enjoyable gameplay loop on a higher pedestal than supporting elements such as story and realism. This razor-sharp focus and great use of the wide-open areas offered by the game’s open-world elements is what makes Sunset Overdrive a great time, if not one hell of a game. Insomniac’s only outing for Microsoft’s machine is well-remembered by fans even today, and has left legions of fans clamouring for a sequel – a prospect that may or may not happen.
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