Battling Mutants Beneath the Sunset in Insomniac’s new Open World Shooter

Title: Sunset Overdrivesunset-boxart
Developer: Insomniac
Distributor: Microsoft
Platform: XBOX One
Duration: 12 + hours

More Entertaining Than:
Ratchet and Clank Q Force

Less Entertaining Than:
BulletStorm

Pros:
-Gorgeous visuals
-Acrobatic fun
-Uniquely awesome weapons
-Entertaining upgrades
-Good use of humor
-Enjoyable soundtrack

Cons:
-Occasionally annoying controls
-Moderately restrictive environment

Verdict: 8 (out of 10)

Insomniac’s more recent titles, including Resistance 3 and Fuse, might cause some gamers to question their faith in this developer. The quirks in the above mentioned games however have certainly been ironed out when it comes to Sunset Overdrive, a game which, much like Ratchet and Clank, seems to make a habit of taking the piss out of the gaming industry. Many titles today seem to be obsessed with realism. In 2009, a developer working with id software discussed people’s first impressions of Rage, a strong focus been on the weapons. Apparently, having spent brass ejecting from the left of the weapon caused criticism from gamers, who said the bullet casings were a distraction, however, when the casings sprang out from the right, people complained it wasn’t realistic. Clearly, a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. In the case of their new product, Insomniac take the guide book on how to create a video game, and kindly tell it to fuck off (excuse the expletive, however, if you play Sunset Overdrive, expect to encounter as much profanity as you do mutants).

This is evidenced throughout the entirety of the game. Right from the start, you can change the appearance, physique, sex and attire of your character, and can continue doing so as you progress through the story. Unlike a certain game I played recently (*cough* Destiny *cough*) which refused to show the player how an attire looked upon their person before they bought it, Sunset Overdrive happily does, and for good reason. Despite having access to contemporary attire, you may also equip, if you happen to have the same tastes as I, a jester hat, spider web face paint, a corset, drivers gloves, a biker’s jacket, loose jeans and red sneakers.

Additionally, whilst playing, there are moments when the character might hear a narrator discussing how to use the controls, before wondering how a disembodied voice is talking in their ear, and later still, when things aren’t properly explained, the lead says ‘don’t poke holes in how we present the story.’ Although NPC’s and the player alike may question the legitimacy of the environment or story in general, Insomniac constantly reminds the gamer that this is a work of fiction, and thus, seriousness should therefore be the one thing that’s lacking. While games like Call of Duty go above and beyond to provide an in-depth world which feels and reacts much like the military does, Sunset Overdrive doesn’t care about authenticity. Rather, it works similarly to the film Cabin in the Woods, where a genuine horror story is instead told with ridiculousness and humor. Despite monsters running amok through the streets and the plentiful amount of violence, the game often appears bright and inviting. The physical layout is reminiscent of XIII meets Fuse, with comical graphics ensuring stunningly bright environments, which the player is drawn into via the action oriented soundtrack. On one occasion, the character asks that a spy theme begin to play to help set the espionage mood of the mission, and immediately, the game grants the request, the themes helping the gamer feel like a regular action hero.

Fizzco, a shady drink developer, may have created the ultimate thirst quencher, however, their beverage has the undesired affect of turning those who drink it into mutants, and unfortunately, the town in which you inhabit, much like Resident Evil’s Racoon City, is suddenly in the midst of an apocalyptic disaster. The mutants the player encounters come in a variety of flavors, from the common OD, which brainlessly chase anything resembling a human, to Blowers, a more intelligent life-form, which eject a pile of glop at enemies from the leaf blower attached to their arm. Larger enemies, like the Spawner, which aptly do as their name suggests, require specialized attacks from the player, who must switch between weapons in order to take them down. Unlike in many games, where the stronger opponents often appear later, the player finds themselves in front of a massive ugly not even half an hour into the story. As more enemies appear, players are forced to adapt to creature’s attacks. Where some use ranged weaponry, others pounce, or attack from above, a combination of styles being required to achieve success.

Mutants are not the only threat in the city though, with Scabs, a human gang, who seem to have adapted to the epidemic a little too well, rampaging through the districts. Apart from looting and kidnapping, they arm themselves with a wealth of firepower and explosives, to inflict maximum casualties. On top of this, Fizzco themselves have a lot to answer for, and will go to any lengths to stop their dirty secrets been made public, which the player is unfortunate enough to often confront. Despite the mutants been a massive threat, Fizzco’s mascot, Fizzie, is the true masochist of Sunset City. Zenya Amo in Akiba’s Trip Undead and Undressed was very entertaining for being such an eccentric villain. Fizzie however takes this a step further to become quite possibly the funnest antagonist this year. ‘It’s the apocalypse, bitches!’ he cries, while doing all manner of horrific atrocities, before resorting to using lines from contemporary media sources when things don’t go according to plan. If a mutant were to say ‘we have destroyed the world’, Fizzie would surely be there to retort ‘and I’m going outta my way to make sure the world stays dead.’

Fizzie may well be the apex of the game’s deranged characters, however, he is not alone, with those who survived the pandemonium making up a collection of rather funny sorts. With the exception of Floyd, who is the master of wisecracks, the men in the game who your character teams up are either, insane, nerdy, LARPers, or lacking in limbs or common sense. The women on the other hand are the most well adjusted to the end of days, with a combination of intelligent babes and kick-ass cheerleaders accompanying you for the ride.

The game itself operates much like a Greek tragedy and a comedy of errors, all combed into one. In one instance you find a certain someone to help craft an item. This someone has friends who are needed to build said item, each of whom need motivation to work, requiring you to fulfill jobs for each of them. Once complete, and the item in question is in the process of been built, the machine crafting it breaks down, and you are required to find spare parts, which just so happen to belong to a person who has a mission of their own they want completed.

Unlike in Gears of War Judgement, where all you really ever did was kill Grubs, Sunset Overdrive makes the continuous slaughter of mutants fun by providing the player with a collection of weirdly unqiue objectives. In one instance, you are required to go to a bottled water plant to find several liters of refreshingly overpriced spring water, while on another, you go to a hot dog factory to find a missing acquaintance. However, as the game progresses, the missions become even wackier. At one point, you are tasked with killing hundreds of pigeons, while on another, you are required to bounce across a set of drums in order to achieve an intended result. Near the conclusion, the lead character decides in their wisdom, that although threat of an imminent cataclysmic event is on the horizon, they will instead form a rock band, and even I, at this point, began to question the general sanity of the storyline. If there is a line separating the deranged from normality, Sunset Overdrive not only crosses it – the game leaps over it, before turning around with a laser gun and pulverizing the line into oblivion.

The serious lack of authenticity begins to be displayed from the start with the armaments you find yourself using. Reflective of the gadgets in Ratchet and Clank (people may remember Mr Zurkon), the guns you use are both original and unqiue. These include the High Fidelity, or Nothing But The Hits, weapons which fire records at your opponents, or the Flaming Compensator, a shotgun with flammable buckshot. There’s the Acid Sprinkler, which lobs a grenade which acts like the kind of sprinkler you may find in your yard, but instead shoots noxious acid at your foes. On top of this, there’s The Dude, which fires an onslaught of bowling balls, the Murderang, which lobs a metallic boomerang at opponents, which almost always hits its mark, if not the first time around, then certainly on the return journey, and the TNTeddy, which fires an explosive teddy bear. At the end of the game, if you have the cash, you can reward yourself with the Charge Beam, a weapon that makes even the mightiest mutant do pee pee in its pants. These are just a few of the entertaining armaments, however, this isn’t all, with a selection of traps also available at the player’s discretion. Such include the Hack N Slay, which produces a propeller that renders your enemies shorter, and the Pyro Geyser, that when bounced on, emits a burst of fire upon all enemies in the vicinity.

Additionally, the environment itself constantly reminds the player this isn’t the conventional experience some gamers may be used to. You can bounce on cars, use fans to reach higher altitudes, run on walls, swing on lampposts, and grind across rails and power lines, among other things. The fact your character’s health is unable to survive much attack is the game’s way of incentivising the player to use the wealth of acrobatic options available to them in order to survive.

Occasionally though, as the ‘x’ button is used to not only enter grind mode, but swing and wall run as well, sometimes the character might inadvertently do something the player did not intend, or perhaps even begin moving in the wrong direction. Although the character is able to grind without the player holding down any button, the game will automatically pick the direction you grind in (although this can be changed). On top of this, despite the openness and interactivity of the environment, restrictions do apply. The character may climb up some buildings, but not others, which instead requires you to bounce up them, and if said bounce pad is located on the other side of the building, and you are presently on the other, being chased by mutants, this makes chances of survival less plausible. On top of this, some plants can additionally be used as bounce platforms, however, on occasion when I leapt in the direction of one, I passed right through it rather than ricocheting upwards. Again, the inconsistencies and restrictions are a little annoying: it’s a bit like going to a camp where the instructor announces ‘there are no rules’, before providing a list of regulations.

Using the acrobatic options moreover, along with killing enemies whilst grinding or leaping through mid air, increases the character’s style gauge. With each part of the style meter that is filled, abilities the gamer has attached to their character become unlocked. Abilities can include Amps, to increase the character’s effectiveness in combat (as an example, you can set enemies on fire with your melee weapon, create a shield around your player which activates after an enemy attacks you, or leap down onto your foes, emitting a shock-wave in the process). Amps can additionally be applied to weapons, many of which allow for an influx of explosive capabilities, however, there is no guarantee they will work every time, with the game insinuating there is a chance the Amp may be activated.

Many of the Amps moreover, the player needs to build, by using a combination of items, including smelly shoes, toilet paper, cameras, or even balloons. What is a little annoying though, is that the game makes it a requirement for you to build the Amps, rather than an option. Although it is not mandatory to play online (unlike Destiny), or compete in Buck National (an arena where you verse mutants to score points), it is rather restraining the game presumes the player wants Amps in the first place. The fact they are difficult to create, as you are forced to hold off wave after wave of mutants as the Amps brew, is perhaps a deliberate strategy by Insomniac to make the game last longer.

Moreover, upgrades can also be applied to your character, which can increase the amount of style points you acquire from using acrobatic skills, how much spare ammunition you can carry, or the damage done by your weapons. Rather than increasing the overall health of the protagonist, the game offers the player the option of decreasing damage taken by certain enemies. Some upgrades do however come with a price. An example might be, inflict 5% extra damage to mutants, but suffer an extra 1% damage from them, and in a game where a single hit from a mutant can take off a significant portion of your health, increasing that particular damage is the last thing you may want to do.

Although death is a common occurrence in the game, unlike during other titles where gamers may find themselves grunting  a number of choice words afterwards, Insomniac alters death from an unwanted hindrance, to a welcome occurrence. If simply running around town, or undertaking a side quest, the game will automatically respawn you where you fell, however, it is always different. Maybe you’ll hatch from an egg; erupt like Dracula from a coffin; be deployed from an alien mother-ship, or materialize out of the air; the possibilities are as vast as they are fun to watch. On top of this, unlike in Fuse, for instance, when, during the final boss encounter, you were forced to repeat the grim ordeal time and time again if you failed, checkpoints are commonly found in the game’s main gigs, which limits the amount of repetition in difficult areas.

As with many games these days, the conclusion is left wide open for a potential sequel. Though the ending doesn’t necessarily fall flat in contrast with the rest of the game, it certainly leaves a lot of unanswered questions, again, perhaps doing so to pave way for future titles. Moreover, although your character is frequently referenced as a hero by your fellow peers, at the end, unlike conventional story lines, there is no gorgeous dame who launches herself into the arms of the lead character, which I found to be a little limiting.

In conclusion, Sunset Overdrive reminds consumers of the pure, fictional entertainment once experienced in games when they were been conceived over ten plus years ago, with suspension of disbelief and realism having no sway over the game’s events. Frequently ludicrous and often lacking in sense, rather than questioning how something occurred, you simply go with it, in a game that plays by no rules – not even its own. Where so many gaming companies today seem to care only about making money, and this desire flows into their titles, Sunset Overdrive appears to be filled with the same passion games were once injected with; fantastical environments, unexplainable, often delusional story lines, and energetic fun.

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