STAFF REVIEW of Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One)

Monday, October 27, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Sunset Overdrive Box art If Dead Rising, Saint’s Row, Jet Set Radio Future, Tony Hawk, and Ratchet and Clank had a crazy love child, Sunset Overdrive would be that wacky result. Created by Insomniac Games and their first Xbox exclusive game, Sunset Overdrive is an extremely colorful game full of crazy weapons, witty humor, and outstanding controls. Most third person shooters tend to fall into either a run-and-gun or cover-based style mechanics, but Sunset Overdrive does things quite a bit differently and is a self-proclaimed traversal based shooter instead. Its unique gameplay mechanic is incredibly fun and doesn’t become tiresome after many hours of killing OD enemies.

FizzCo is having a massive party to celebrate the release of their new energy drink, Overcharge Delerium XT, and Sunset City is the lucky place where the residents get to be the first in the world to try it. Turns out FizzCo didn’t do enough research and development, as anyone who drinks Overcharge turns into a bubbling orange mutant that tries to kill anyone it sees, or OD for short. You the player was working as a janitor at the vent, so luckily you missed your opportunity to taste Overcharge and are unaffected. FizzCo has effectively started the apocalypse, and while it may seem like a simple zombie knockoff to some, Sunset Overdrive’s charm will prove that they aren’t just orange colored zombies. With more and more citizens drinking the toxic energy drink by the hour, you’re going to have quite the fight to try and escape Sunset City, luckily though you’ll run into other survivors that also want to escape FizzCo’s wasteland.

As I mentioned, Sunset Overdrive is a touts itself as a traversal based shooter, and even from the opening gameplay, you’ll see that this is completely true. Sure in other games you can run around from cover to cover to avoid fire, but it’s something we’ve all seen and done before many times. Sunset Overdrive takes a new approach and gives you the freedom to traverse around the city with complete freedom and ease. Not only can you vault over objects and railings, but you can actually jump up and grind power lines, guard rails, or even run along building walls with some simple button presses. Actually, the majority of your moments will simply be done with two buttons as the ‘A’ button is for jumping and ‘X’ for grinding. If it’s got an edge or looks like something you could grind, most likely you are able to. Shortly into the game you’ll also unlock a quick air-dash move that can be used by pressing ‘RB’ and allows you to close gaps in the air quickly or give yourself a boost while grinding.

That being said, there is a learning curve with getting the hang of traversing, at least being efficient with it and making it do what you want it to do, but an hour or two into the game and you’ll be bouncing off trees, cars, grinding power lines, and running along building walls with ease. Once you wrap your head around how to chain together the moves and keep your momentum going, the game truly starts to become fun once you don’t have to think about each moment set any longer. Once you get a hang of the basics, you can even learn more advanced moves, such as changing direction on a grind, super bouncing by jumping the moment you hit a bounce object, and even change from grinding on top of a power line to undergrnding, where you’re still moving forward but while hanging. Play around and experiment as movement plays a huge part of the game and you’ll need to keep mobile if you want to live.

Once you’ve got the hang of momentum and movement, you then need to learn to boost your Style meter, the lightning bolt in the top right hang of the screen. To get more style you need to combine your traversal moves with enemy kills. The more you do so the higher your meter will rise, allowing you to activate your higher level AMP’s, which I’ll explain shortly. Now that you’ve got a hold of movement and the Style meter, you’ll also need to watch your combo meter. The higher your combos the faster your style meter fills, so again, keep moving, chain together your movements, and kill any OD you see along the way to keep your meters filled. Be careful though, as if you stay on the ground for a few moments without killing, grinding, or bouncing, your meter will reset to zero, so always stay moving and shooting whenever possible.

AMPs play a big role in Sunset Overdrive and are essentially special abilities that you can equip to yourself and weapons. There are different style of AMPs that range from traversal, melee, dive bomb, and even epic AMPs that can randomly create elements that help you kill hordes of OD. Weapon AMPs can be put onto any weapon of your choosing and usually gives you a chance to do extra damage to enemies by electrocuting other nearby enemies, causing fire, or even nuclear explosions. AMPs are very important and will help you an incredible amount, especially in the latter portion of the game. For the completionists out there, you’ll be happy to know that there are a ton of collectable items to be found, such as shoes, security cameras, Overcharge signs, toilet paper rolls, and Fizzie (FizzCo’s mascot) balloons. Collecting these and bringing them back to base will allow you to create new and powerful AMPs, so everyone will want to look for them.

Overdrives are much like AMPs, but instead apply as passive bonuses to your character, and can be swapped out for others (that you can afford) at any time. To purchase Overdrives you’ll need badges, and to gain badges you’ll simply need to do certain things in the game. For example, the more you grind rails and power lines, you’ll eventually earn badges for doing so which can be spent on grinding Overdrives. Shooting OD will net you OD badges which can then be spent to give you more damage against or receive less damage from, depending on how you want to customize your character. There are a ton of different Overdrives that you can purchase and equip to boost your play style, or even help with the things you’re weak with if you decide. Overdrives can be upgraded with more badges and don’t forget to check them often as you earn more badges for simply playing.

Much like Dead Rising and Saint’s Row, you can also customize your character’s appearance, even to the point of being completely silly. So what if it’s the apocalypse, you want to look good while showing off your skills and shooting OD. You can mix and match shirts, headwear, bottoms, shoes, hair style, and more. If you grow bored of your character you can even change their body type or even gender whenever you desire. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll unlock more purchasable vanity items to suit your style and moods. Some of the options are quite hilarious, so be sure to check them all out from time to time.

Weapons play a large role in Sunset Overdrive as well, but you won’t simply be stuck with your standard guns that shoot boring bullets. While there are a few of those traditional guns, you’ll most likely be drawn to some of the more unique and wacky weapons like the TNTeddy (essentially TNT strapped to a teddy bear that can be launched), The High Fidelity (a vinyl record launcher), or The Dude (it shoots bowling balls), just to name a few. If you’ve played Dead Rising, you’ll have an idea what to expect with the ‘out there’ weapons. As your traversing, you’ll need to constantly switch up your weapons during battle, as certain weapons are better used against certain enemies that have specific weaknesses.

While you’re only able to have 8 weapons in your weapon-wheel at a time, you are able to swap them in or out as you please as you gain more arsenal. Customizing weapons with AMPs is how you’ll really create massive damage against OD though. Weapon AMPs can be swapped as you please as well, so experiment with what works best for you and your weapon preferences. The more you use weapons the more they will level up (up to a max of five) and gain more passive stats likes more attack or ammo.

Night Defense is a mode that you’ll run into periodically throughout the campaign and in the Chaos Squad multiplayer mode (which I’ll describe shortly) and closely emulates that of Horde where you’ll need to defend your vats of Overcharge from waves of increasingly difficult OD trying to get it. Simply shooting OD won’t be enough, so you’re given access to Traps which can be placed strategically anywhere you like around your base. If OD keep attaching your vat, you’ll lose more Overcharge and will fail if they capture it all.

Traps will vary greatly, depending on how you want to defend your base. Just like the weapons, Traps are usually over the top and something that suits the Sunset world quite appropriately. Once you place a trap down it stays there until Night Defense finishes or it gets destroyed. If you aren’t happy where a Trap is places you can move it at any time, but Traps cost energy to place, which you have a limited resource of, so you’ll need to think carefully how you want to set them up. Once you get the hang of it you’ll even be able to place traps so that they train together, such as having OD step onto the launch pad, throwing them back, possibly into a spinning blade. The harder Night Defense stages get quite chaotic as you have a massive group of OD charging your vats, of which you’ll have to defend multiples at once, so you’ll need to be on top of your game here.

Sunset Overdrive’s multiplayer component is labeled Chaos Squad, and it lives up to its name without a doubt. Chaos Squad can support up to 8 players, but you can start it with just 2 if you wish. It should be noted that to access multiplayer, you’ll need to find a phone booth to do so, which are scattered throughout the city, but a simple menu interface would have been simple to do as well. Your team of up to 8 will vote between two missions they want to take on in the open world. Missions will vary and some will boost the Chaos of the city, which makes the eventual Night Defense mission much tougher, but the rewards are greater too. If your team wants to simply run around in free roam, you aren’t forced to run to the mission marker and start it. All of the rewards for killing OD and completing missions goes towards your character and will transfer back to single player and vice versa, so you’re always progressing your character regardless of mode which is a great touch.

Sunset Overdrive is something special. It simply came together well and most importantly, was incredibly fun to play, even for hours on end. It doesn’t take itself seriously, at all, constantly breaks the fourth wall, and is filled with video game and pop culture references that are absolutely hilarious if you clue in. The campaign story is comical, mission structure is varied, and even though there is a fast travel option, I rarely used it as it was fun to get from place to place without touching the ground (plus I wanted the Overdrive badges).

While reviewing, I really didn’t have many notes in the ‘con’ section about the game other than a few minor issues. I had my character’s hair somehow get attached to the floor during a cutscene and it wouldn’t go away until I fast traveled somewhere. While the mission types vary, there’s still a lot of “you need to help me do this, this, and this before I help you move onto the next guy” type of structure to push the narrative forward. Lastly, while there’s no slowdown, even in the thickets of fights, things can become so chaotic that you can lose track of targets or objectives quite easily. That’s even in just single player, so imagine that with 8 players, and it can be downright too much all at once.

Once you’re done the campaign, Chaos Squad should have you entertained for quite some time and will be a great time waster with friends. Sunset Overdrive is absolutely worth the full price at launch, and I’d even go further to say that it’s worth owning an Xbox One for if you don’t already. Luckily this didn’t turn out to be Sunset Overhype and should be in your Xbox One collection.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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