Sunset Overdrive: enforced fun in a world full of dayglow idiots

By Matt Martin, Tuesday, 28 October 2014 11:30 GMT

I like Sunset Overdrive. Apart from when it gets on my tits. It leaves me more conflicted than any video game should.

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Sunset Overdrive

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Insomniac Game’s first Xbox One exclusive.

You’re fighting humans mutated by exposure to a new energy drink and the corporation that sells it. Smash the system, man.

From the makers of: Ratchet & Clank series, Resistance, Spyro The Dragon and, erm, Fuse.

Code: supplied by Microsoft on request.

Sunset Overdrive is full of charmless characters – gurning bellends trying their hardest to make you laugh at one giant in-joke that isn’t actually that funny.

But it’s also a refreshingly retro approach to video games, where simple movement and satisfying gunplay are drenched in colour and slapped across your face like a custard pie.

I love it until I hate it. I usually have both those feelings within five minutes of each other. Here is a list of things in Sunset Overdrive that I really like and things that wind me up far more than any video game should:

Things I like

* It does a great line in exploding bodies. The mutants in this game burst all over the screen in an orange mess. We’re so used to grey and brown and dingy in video games we forgot what bucket loads of colour can do. More orange, please!

* The painted city is beautiful. The graffiti, the paste-ups and posters, the neon signs, stickers, badges, logos, decals and sheer amount of design and colour is wonderful. It’s one of the best pop art games I’ve seen in years. It’s like a child has attacked a colouring book with a bunch of brand new Sharpies.

* The dialogue in Sunset Overdrive is not nearly as good as it thinks it is. The swearing seems like it’s only there to impress, like a kid brother showing off in front of teenagers. There’s a vulgarity filter in the options menu and I can bleep out all the fucks and shits and play the game feeling a little less embarrassed. That’s cool!

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“It looks like a child has attacked a colouring book with a bunch of brand new Sharpies.”

* I can dress up as a girl with red and yellow hair and a full beard. Because I think secretly we all want to do that, don’t we?

* It’s not subtle. The first gun you’re given has a big set of swinging balls on it.

* The auto aim is generous but when you spend the majority of your time cruising through the city gunning down dozens of enemies at a time I find it’s for the best. I don’t want to keep going back to try and pick off that last annoying enemy. The game is about momentum and precision would slow that down.

* It has Traversal Challenges which are basically like playing S-K-A-T-E in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. More of this please, Insomniac.

* Chaos Squad multiplayer is great. The structure (vote on and complete maps before being plunged into a Night Defense showdown) and 8-player co-op feels exactly right. And all rewards are taken back into single-player. Wicked.

* It’s chaotic but never gets out of hand. It’s not a particularly hard game and you’ll have the single-player sewn up in 12 hours or so. At times it goes bonkers – especially when you have to make your own Amps and you’re plunged into a crazy defence game – but it never becomes overwhelming to play.

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This is Walter, the only likeable character in Sunset Overdrive.

Things I am indifferent to

* Playing the game for any length of time. Ultimately it’s alright, you know? I won’t be staying up late to play it. It’s not sticky. It’s fun for an hour at a time, max.

* “It’s Jet Set Radio meets Crackdown” say the reviews. It’s not because it’s not as good as either of them. It’s a decent try though, which is something I absolutely applaud.

* The weapons – supposedly Insomniac’s trademark – are a bit too novelty. A lot of them blend into one as far as I can tell. I run out of ammo and another one takes its place and I barely notice the difference, unless it causes massive explosions. They all make the enemies go SPLAT, ultimately.

* The power-pop punk soundtrack doesn’t really have enough bite. The game is about fighting the system – screw the corporations, man! – a bit of musical variety would have been welcome (I’m talking about rap music because that’s all I ever talk about).

Things I dislike

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“Sunset Overdrive is self-referential to the point of wanking in the mirror.”

* You must jump, grind, bounce, shoot and boogie your way around the whole city. If you touch the ground you will become overwhelmed by mutants and killed. You have to go at the game’s own hyperactive pace to keep the multipliers and damage up if you really want to progress. I understand this is pretty much the point of the whole game, but sometimes I’d like to go at my own speed.

* It can feel like enforced fun. Like when you work in a call center and everyone has to dress up to raise money for charity and smile while Sandra from accounts passes around home-made cakes and your supervisor raises £37 for sitting in a tub full of baked beans with a smug, self-important smile on his face.

* It’s self-referential to the point of wanking in the mirror. It breaks the fourth wall all the time (“I’m a video game, me! Wahey!”) which is fine in moderation but it bangs the same point across your head relentlessly. If these characters were real people you would punch them.

* Because I like the artwork so much I’m pissed off I can’t wander around and take screengrabs of it and show it off. This is a game made for a Share button but unfortunately it’s on the wrong console for that. Sort it out, Phil.

* It gets to a point where it’s just throwing everything at you. Sound and visual and instructions and chaos and guitars and alarms and you just think; fuck off a minute, will ya? Slow down.

* The main characters are all arseholes, gurning and hamming it up for the camera. I get why – it’s a video game – but it’s irritating. No one is very likeable. Apart from my girl with a beard. It’s all wisecracks and bullshit. This game is populated by 100 variations of Robbie Williams. Fuck that noise.

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In summary

Sunset Overdrive feels like one of those cool mobile games that keep you occupied for ten minutes on the bus or the crapper, but it’s not something I can play for longer sessions. There’s a lot of good in there but also a lot of irritation, and despite it’s awesome pop-culture window dressing it’s shallow. It really is a radiated energy drink that gives you a 20 minute buzz before leaving you deflated and twitchy.

We don’t score games on VG247 but I’m going to give it a score anyway: 6/10.

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