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Sunset Overdrive: a brazen new IP with a taste for fun and soda

Thursday, 8th May 2014 14:00 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman goes hands-on with Insomniac Games’ new IP and discovers that the end of days needn’t spell doom and gloom for everyone after all.

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“This is a video game that relishes being a video game and while its post-apocalyptic-style fiction is familiar it has been approached in a manner that befits its similarly offbeat weapons.”

The most succinct way to convey the tone of Insomniac Games’ upcoming open-world third-person shooter, Sunset Overdrive, is introduce you to a few of its weapons – the most ordinary of which is the machine-gun-style AKFuckYouUp.

If that made you smile, you’re off to a good start but let’s see how you fare with some of the others.

The High Fidelity fires 12” vinyl discs that ricochet off hard surfaces, the Roman Candle’s firework ammo fizzles, pops and burns, and the TNTeddy is a grenade launcher by any other name but one whose ammo is an adorable teddy bear that toys with the deadly payload strapped to its chest while it sits idle in the launcher. The Captain Ahab is a powerful, slow-firing harpoon gun with an attached can of sugary energy drink that doubles as a means of crowd control and there’s a freeze gun that turns its victims into snowmen. All the weapons feature fourth-wall-breaking, Scott Pilgrim style meta-effects and all are designed to riff on the notion of a traditional arsenal.

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As should be abundantly clear from this small sample of the final weapon count, Sunset Overdrive sees Insomniac continue its proud tradition of leftfield armaments. It also goes a long way to shouting – loud and clear – that this is a video game that relishes being a video game and while its post-apocalyptic-style fiction is familiar it has been approached in a manner that befits its similarly offbeat weapons.

Its 2027 and FizzCo, a mega corporation based in the vibrant but recently ruined Sunset City, has inadvertently created a monster. Well, a whole city full of them, actually, after a preview night for the launch of its new uber-energy drink, Overcharge Delirium XT, should have sent consumers home on a high instead turned those that drank it into grotesque, pustule-covered monsters known as the OD’D.

Fearing an understandable backlash that would halt its planned worldwide rollout of Overcharge, FizzCo hastily erects walls around the city and blames a viral outbreak for the horrors taking place inside, while assuring the world that it’s doing everything that it can to contain the situation. It’s on the wrong side of these walls that you find yourself; a down-on-your-luck regular Joe who was spared the fate of your fellow citizens due to having had a job collecting litter on the night of the big soiree rather than being able to join in (yes, you’re that regular a Joe).

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The thing is, over the course of the subsequent seventeen days since “Horror Night” came to pass you’ve come to realise that this localised apocalypse isn’t quite as bad as it might initially have seemed and that, as it turns out, you have an untapped skill for survival and, once you move past the fact that everyone you previously knew has been transformed into a ravenous freak, you discover that residing in a city with no rules is actually kind of fun.

“We had a very clear goal upfront of creating Fun in the End Times,” offers creative director Marcus Smith. “At that time we didn’t really know what our mechanics were going to be, so as designers you sit around chewing over things like ‘what is fun’? Well, fast is more fun than slow, so then we look at how we can speed things up and add that feeling of velocity throughout the game. We also want to have a load of abilities but to also make it easy to jump in and still have a feeling of mastery in the game.”

“Referencing the likes of Tony Hawk’s and Prince of Persia, Sunset Overdrive’s combination of rail-grinds, wall-runs and zip-lines ensures that moving around its world is an entertaining diversion.”

Much of this fun – and the thing that most evidently separates Sunset Overdrive from the likes of Capcom’s similarly OTT open world third-person shooter, Dead Rising 3 – is the traversal system. Referencing the likes of Tony Hawk’s and Prince of Persia, Sunset Overdrive’s combination of rail-grinds, wall-runs and zip-lines ensures that moving around its world is an entertaining diversion in its own right.

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Jumping towards one of the myriad obstacles and hitting X has you snap to it ensures your avatar doesn’t accidentally zig when you wanted them to zag, while a large number of bouncy obstacles, from cars to shop awnings, add zing to your vertical movement as well as your horizontal traversal. Add combat into the mix and it quickly becomes apparent that Insomniac is on the verge of capturing that hallowed combination of easy to grasp, difficult to master.

After ten minutes of running around and falling off stuff, I’m able to put together some basic movement and combat combos that feel both fun and empowering. Aiding this feeling is the style system, that rewards combat on the move with higher levels that enhance damage and triggers Amp upgrades – craftable kit that slots into the weapons and the melee attack to imbue them with a chance of causing status effects and customise your eight-weapon load-out to make it still more offbeat.

The wider customisation options of Sunset Overdrive extend beyond the Amp system to include a full range of aesthetic decisions. By setting up your character as just another Sunset City resident, Insomniac can offer the option to make them anyone you want. Male or female, you can choose one of six different races with comprehensive tattoo and body paint options.

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What’s more, irrespective of which gender you choose you can wear every item of clothing – including underwear – so if you find the lack of restrictive social norms and eyes of judgement liberating you can indulge to your heart’s content. It shouldn’t be a big deal that I can choose to adorn my avatar’s manly physique with lingerie, a ball-gown and a tiara but I’m grateful to Insomniac for extending its sense of Fun in the End Times to allow me to break out my weekend wardrobe on a weekday.

“We had the ‘be who you want to be’ element and we will have multiplayer so we want people to be able to distinguish themselves from one another,” says Smith. “That meant taking the decision to make clothing aesthetic only and have no functional attributes on clothing because as soon as you do that everyone’s wearing the same overpowered piece of armour.”

“Sunset Overdrive is a game about excess but one that looks to have a degree of style in the manner in which its urban playground facilitates high-velocity traversal and calls for sharp thinking on the fly.”

It’s when talk of multiplayer rears its head that things get a little quieter and it’s apparent that we’ll have to wait for E3 for a more in-depth look at how this will work with Sunset Overdrive’s mission structure. NPCs will feature strongly, however, as various factions that have survived the seventeen days since Horror Night re-emerge, irrevocably changed – like the Adventure Scouts that took refuge in the Japanese Heritage museum and since adopted the Bushido Code alongside their own basic survival techniques. You can expect these factions to feature in a number of the missions that progress the main story as well as the optional quests and bite-sized challenges, while alongside the various classes of OD’D, there’ll also be opportunistic human survivors known as Scabs and FizzCo’s own robotic security force.

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Sunset Overdrive is a game about excess but one that looks to have a degree of style in the manner in which its urban playground facilitates high-velocity traversal and calls for some sharp thinking on the fly to make the most of its combat system. There’s still plenty more to see and questions to be answered concerning its progression systems and just how well its multiplayer components will slot into its open world but after the doom and gloom of so many post-apocalyptic set-ups it’s refreshing to experience something whose primary concern is that you’re having fun and whose tongue is planted firmly in its cheek.

Sunset Overdrive will be released exclusively on Xbox One later this year.

This article was facilitated by a press trip to Insomniac’s offices in California. Travel and accommodation were paid for by Microsoft.

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23 Comments

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  1. Moonwalker1982

    Gameplay video here:

    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2014/05/08/see-sunset-overdrive-39-s-frenzied-gameplay-in-action.aspx?utm_content=buffer95e9f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    #1 3 months ago
  2. Joe Musashi

    Video has been withdrawn from the GI site.

    A couple of snippets of footage:

    http://gfycat.com/UniformReadyKid

    http://gfycat.com/TimelyFrankBaldeagle

    (gfycat is awesome – try playing with the widgets :) )

    JM

    #2 3 months ago
  3. Madlink

    @Joe Musashi gfycat really is awesome!

    On topic, I think this looks great. Genuinely excited to have a shot of this eventually.

    #3 3 months ago
  4. ManuOtaku

    Now this is the game that make want to own a xbox one or PS. I do love their games, with the exception of the last one, not ratchet, the new multi plarform ip. I always wanted their insane take on weapons on a third person shooter, this for me is a must buy

    #4 3 months ago
  5. Os Money

    Isn’t this why I have PVZ: Garden Warfare? IMO the games sound like it will sell very much. I’ll take a wait and see approach with it though.

    #5 3 months ago
  6. dontbescaredhomie92

    Another great looking exclusive, nice to see a game not taking itself too seriously for once as well.

    #6 3 months ago
  7. fearmonkey

    It reminds of Jet grind Radio meets Crackdown 2 meets Bioshock Infnitie’s Skyhooks.
    It looks like fun, a good exclusive for MS.

    #7 3 months ago
  8. Legendaryboss

    Looks different, fun different.

    First Gameplay Footage Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1RyRy7_K4fs

    #8 3 months ago
  9. Dragon

    Looks like they had good creative control over the project. Kudos to MS for not being EA and forcing Insomaniac to make another Fuse.

    #9 3 months ago
  10. Joe Musashi

    More footage.

    Funky respawning!

    JM

    #10 3 months ago
  11. Erthazus

    Guys, you are slow as hell. UNREAL TOURNAMENT IS ANNOUNCED and in development.

    Hello Vg247 editors.

    #11 3 months ago
  12. bradk825

    This look genuinely fun and the studio kind of needs a hit right now. Creative, colourful and humourous. I think this one is going on the list.

    #12 3 months ago
  13. unknown_gamer

    http://assets.vg247.com/current//2014/05/Sunset_Overdrive_forall_Fizzie_NEW.jpg

    Sackboy what are you doing in a M$ exclusive

    #13 3 months ago
  14. salarta

    I saw Insomniac Games and started looking a little more at this because FUSE was damn good (and underrated, I think mainly as “punishment” by people that didn’t like how the company changed FUSE’s art style and atmosphere). Unfortunately, aside from how I don’t see much on female characters in the game, it’s also XBox One exclusive. So I’ll never be playing this game regardless.

    #14 3 months ago
  15. bradk825

    @salarta From IGN: “Your nameless character, who you can fully customize, from gender to the absolute minutiae of the clothing he or she wears, is employed by FizzCo to clean up during and after the party.”

    You can customize the player-character to be female. I don’t know much at all about the NPCs.

    #15 3 months ago
  16. salarta

    @bradk825 I knew about the customization, and while I don’t really count it in these things, thanks for mentioning it in case I or others didn’t know.

    #16 3 months ago
  17. eaglerapida13

    @unknown_gamer resistance an R&C also are $ony exclusive ;)

    #17 3 months ago
  18. _LarZen_

    It’s a nice looking game for sure. But what’s it about? Running around shooting is fun and all, but without a nice story it will get boring fast.

    It kinda look like inFamous but in cartoon style :D

    #18 3 months ago
  19. TheWulf

    Ratchet & Clank for boring people, then? How else am I supposed to take this?

    Let’s look at the evidence. They’re keeping the unusual, novel weaponry but adding a veneer of mundanity to improve their familiarity; they’re removing the quirky robots, exotic foes, and over-the-top maniacal villains in favour of zombies, zombies, and more zombies; and they’re tearing down the eccentric retro sci-fi setting in favour of something more contemporary and well-known.

    I mean, sure, it’s still colourful but it’s a massive step back regardless. It’s like they’re trying to create a middle-ground for the knuckle-draggers, alienating their old fans in the process. Honestly, it’s not quite creatively bankrupt enough to be consumed readily by the increasingly herdlike mainstream.

    And that’s definitely what they’re doing. I mean, to top it off, it even has a human as the protagonist — of course! It’s like they’re begging to be profitable and still be fun, they’re giving up their pedigree in order to chase the money, which is what so many of the developers I used to cherish seem to be doing, these days.

    They’re trying to court those whose fear of novelty isn’t unlike a cave-dweller’s fear of fire. It won’t work, for the reasons I said. Those people are too busy playing more realistic zombie games, military shooters, fighter planes in space, et cetera. They have better offers on the table, so I’m not sure how they actually figured that this was a good idea.

    The thing is is that this is going to be disappointing after Ratchet & Clank because it seems like such a step back, they could create something equally as barmy and joyfully insane as Ratchet & Clank, even a spin-off series… perhaps starring Qwark. Or something entirely new which possesses those qualities. But this is just…

    I don’t know. Who is this targeted at? I mean, it’s Ratchet and Clank but it’s MORE safe, MORE familiar, MORE mundane, MORE homogenised, and entirely bankrupt of the cleverness of the aforementioned.

    So… Ratchet & Clank for boring people. But does that audience exist? Do boring people want Ratchet & Clank?

    This seems like a misfire to me.

    #19 3 months ago
  20. TheWulf

    And if anyone is unsure of where my mind is going in regards to my reasoning?

    Bulletstorm. It tried to be a halfway point between the two, and sold to neither, and as such was a flop. I thought it was pretty good, personally, and even clever at times. But I realise that it could have been so much more if it wasn’t holding itself back to try and make sure it was accessible to those with the combined imaginative capacities of an accounting department.

    The thing is is that whilst the LEGO Movie is a lovely idea, most people just really aren’t that special or creatively inclined. The average person has never actually made something within the length of their life, they’ve never brought something new into the world via anything other than breeding (and we all ready have enough of those copycat works crowding up the place).

    Imagination and creativity are genetically disposed. You can hone your talents, yes, because talents are something that’s learned. You can teach yourself to be a proficient, technically perfect artist, but you can’t teach yourself to actually create a grand work. That comes from somewhere deeper, probably some genetic mutation that results in brain wiring so bizarre that the person simply processes basic thought in different ways to the baseline.

    And creative people are drawn to novelty like moths to a flame; just as boring people are drawn to familiarity. Jung described it as the difference between sensing people and intuitive people. The former being creatively bankrupt, the latter brimming over with a sea of cool ideas. Most people are of the sensing type, in fact, the ES** type is the most common type in the world.

    So, what have those people ‘invented?’ Wonders such as ‘the manosphere,’ ‘alpha fux and beta bux,’ hypergamy, the rationalisation hamster, and so on. They usually fantasise over personal power, power over others, fast cars, money, luxuries, vacations, submissive sexual partners whose appearance meets the status quo, alcohol and similar vices, successful gambling, sheistering, managerial positions, and so on. And looking at how the world is, you can see how it’s driven by that type. That type’s entertainment leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to any kind of worth — creative, emotional, intellectual, or any other.

    This is why some decisions baffle me, since I don’t quite grasp whom they’re supposed to be aimed at. Like this, which is watered down Ratchet & Clank. The response from my kind of person is ‘why create something less novel than Ratchet & Clank‘ and the response of the more boring person is that the game is ‘cartoony,’ or whatever else.

    The only area where this seems to have taken hold is MMOs. And often, I hear Warcraft fans wishing that the graphics were realistic, but being understanding about how they need to be stylised based upon the amount of content that’s supposedly being knocked out. I guess, maybe, if you can convince people that this game is going to have a ridiculous, MMO-esque amount of content, they might overlook the aesthetic? But why bother? Just create something realistic.

    But they can’t.

    Insomniac fail at realistic. Let’s face it, inFamous is hardly the greatest superhero game of all time, it’s dire compared to a lot of other offerings, and Resistance was an outright failure. So this seems to be the managing department allowing their creative people to do what they want within acceptable limits. But then… why not let them go all the way and make something really great?

    This is just doomed to failure because it’s not paying attention to what people actually want. I’m disappointed because it’s not novel enough, and others will be disappointed because it’s too novel.

    #20 3 months ago
  21. TheWulf

    @5

    That’s the idea, in theory… I’ve seen that idea ‘in theory’ hundreds of times before. But boring people get annoyed because it’s too wacky, and creative people just get bored with it because there’s just not enough novelty beneath the surface. It’s a half-hearted appeal to both camps.

    I’ve seen many games try to do this, including Bulletstorm, and… I don’t see this ending well. There’s always hype and excitement, but when it comes to actually buying it…

    I worry about Fortnite for the same reason.

    #21 3 months ago
  22. TheWulf

    Wait, am I mixing up Sucker Punch and Insomniac again in regards to their present libraries? Sigh. It’s because they’ve both become a mainstream melange. It was the misogynistic, racist grotesquery of Uncharted that Insomniac was responsible for, wasn’t it? Sigh. I just… I can’t even tell them apart any more.

    All I remember is that both of them used to make exquisite games, and now…

    Sigh.

    I miss fun, silly, irreverent, colourful, fun, creative games. I can’t help it. I do. I’m tired of entertainment aimed at knuckle-draggers, never intelligent, never eccentric, just… there. Blech. I’m sick of it. I’m an old man who thrives on novelty rather than dull, familiar things, whilst you kids seem to be embracing the verisimilitude. This is backwards, it’s supposed to be the other way around! >:C

    #22 3 months ago
  23. ddtd

    It looks like it might be really fun. I can’t wait for E3 to get more details about the game.

    #23 3 months ago