The moment I set foot in Sunset City, I felt like an eight year old kid visiting a playground for the first time. When I think of what a apocalypse might turn out to be, I think about a horrifying experience, maybe a contagious viral breakout, and surely the threat of death and destruction around every corner. Developer Insomniac Games obviously has their own vision of what the end days could bring us and believe me, there's nothing horrifying about it.
Sunset Overdrive kicks off its epic adventure with your newly created character being chased by dozens of deformed atrocious fiends called the "OD". OverCharge, an energy drink, is contaminated with some sort of virus that turns everyone who drinks it into one of those horrendous monsters. Luckily for our main character, he wasn't cool enough to join the party of punk rockers who drank OverCharge. He survives the outbreak and now has one goal: get the hell out of Sunset City.
While this plot may sound like something that should be taken seriously, trust me its not. Sunset Overdrive is a game that is fully aware of the fact that it's a game. The writing has the characters constantly breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at other games and overused mechanics. For example, doing something spectacular in the game may trigger your character to say something like "Xbox, you should've recorded that!" Hilarious moments like these are what sets the game apart. The jokes and smart-ass comments never let up and characters say things that made me appreciate how great the writing is. I found myself listening to every word in the game because not only are the characters talking to each other but some of the time they are talking directly to the player in subliminal ways.
The journey, not the destination, is what this game is built upon. Never have I enjoyed traveling so much in game. Traversing Sunset's huge world is an abundance of fun. Your character doesn't drive or fly anywhere because they don't need to. Sunset City is jam packed with railings, rooftops, and cable lines to get you across the map. The game does have a fast travel system but because traveling is so much fun, I only used it a couple of times.
The majority of my time I spent off the ground and for good reason. If you stay on the ground for more than a few seconds, OD monsters will swarm. The game encourages you to keep moving no matter what. I love how fast paced everything is. The controls are also solid enough to keep your focus on whats happening on screen (because there's a lot) rather than trying to fumble with clunky controls.
The enemies are just as fun to fight as the world is to travel. Human enemies levy insults until you blast them into a pool of blood. The OD are far more interesting. There are different types of OD, from the newly infected to giant atrocities and flying dragons. These enemies all prove to be challenging, and entertaining, to fight. The abundance of action on screen built up tension while I was playing and always kept me on my toes.
In a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, Insomniac ensures death isn't too serious either. Dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever. You don't lose progress and are treated to some pretty comical respawn animations. Some of those moments are akin to other games and movies like Portal or Mission Impossible while others are random events, like being dropped off by a spaceship or breaking out of a casket. In a weird but ironically great way, death rewards more than it punishes.
This wouldn't be a proper Insomniac game if such a crazy narrative wasn't coupled with even crazier weapons. Insomniac once again delivers in that department. There are approximately 40 different weapons at your disposal including melee weapons. I emphasize on the word "different" because they are unique to say the least. There's a fully automatic firecracker machine gun called the "Roman Candle" that does what is expected of a firecracker machine gun (obliterate everything). TNTeddy is a teddy bear with explosives attached to it, an AK-FU (no need to explain that one), Acid Sprinkler, Murderang, Freeze Bomb, the list goes on and on. These weapons are easily some of the most imaginable weapons I've seen and I expected no less from Insomniac in that regard.
What I didn't expect, however, was the game's robust upgrade system. Each weapon has a maximum of five levels and their own XP bar that increase the more it is used in combat. The level increases the damage of the weapon and its bullet capacity. On the surface I saw that to be a pretty basic system until the game introduces "Amps" that give your weapons more firepower. For example, an electric amp allows bullets to electrify nearby enemies while another amp can enrage enemies and make them fight each other. There are a lot of amps to buy and earn throughout the game that can make your weapons different from other players.
The upgrade system doesn't stop there as the player character can also be upgraded. Badges are awarded for everything you do, be it grinding, wall running, killing enemies, or swinging off poles. These badges can be spent to upgrade your maximum health, elemental damage, style points, etc. There are a ton of different badges you can earn and even more ways to spend them. You can further customize your character, bringing it even more to life. There is a diverse selection of clothing options to give your avatar a distinct look. If you want to travel around Sunset City with nothing but underwear or dressed as a superhero and throw on a cape, it's all there.
Even with some of the most charismatic characters out there, I got lonely in Sunset City. That's when I ventured into Chaos Mode, the multiplayer portion of the game. Chaos Mode throws you into the city with up to seven others players with missions to complete. These missions aren't mindblowing, in fact some are admittedly tedious and boring, but they all lead into to something that is the polar opposite of boring – Night Defense. Night Defense is the tower defense element of the game but with a Sunset Overdrive-twist to it. There are waves of hundreds of enemies that attack your base at night and attempt to destroy your Overdrives. You have to defend your base as long as you can using teamwork and all your weapons that you hopefully upgraded.
This is where traps come into play. You are introduced to traps in the main story but I found myself not really using them until Chaos Mode. You can set traps along your base that can help you defend it. These traps are just as lethal as your guns. Swinging blades that rip apart the OD, or acid sprinklers that eat away at their flesh all need to be used to ensure your success. The addition of Chaos Mode is a welcomed one and I found it to be really fun to team up with people and just wreck havoc in the city. Since Chaos Mode worked out so seamlessly I couldn't help but think how awesome it would have been if Insomniac implemented co-op in the story as well.
While most next generation games have gone for realistic visuals, Insomniac does something simple-- use color. Sunset is jam packed with bright, gorgeous colors. The art direction is impeccable. Everything from huge explosions that leaves a pool of bright-orange liquid laying on the ground to shooting a shotgun round into an enemy chest and watching their bodies explode into blood just looks absolutely gorgeous. The cartoonish art style of the game is perfect for the setting and silliness that it's a part of. The visuals of the game are so good that's its easy to overlook how immersive the soundtrack is as well. The punk rock tunes got me more into the action than I already was.
I was especially pleased by how great Sunset performs. With all the insanely hectic action that happens on screen, I expected frame rates to drop occasionally but to my surprise the game runs really well. I did however notice a few graphical pop-ins every so often but they are so few and far between that they take nothing away from the game.
I've spent well over 20 hours in Sunset Overdrive and there are still tons left to do. The city is chock full of challenges and collectibles to be used for upgrades. Traversal challenges and weapon challenges are just a few options you have while roaming the city. The side quests are a strong point for the game, too. Most, if not all of them, are fetch quests but in a game that makes traveling feel so great, I didn't mind at all. Sunset does an awesome job of distracting you from going down the path the main story tells you to go.
Sunset Overdrive is the definition of the word "fun." Insomniac has created something special here. The hilarious plot, unique gameplay, stunning art style and massive, explorable world translate to an unforgettable journey into Insomniac's not-so-serious apocalypse.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09