“Refreshing taste… some monsterism.”

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About time I played through and watched all this stuff I’ve been collecting. Work can wait, right? …Right?

Sunset Overdrive (MA-15+)
Xbox One
Copy purchased (Xbox Game Pass subscription)

Sunset Overdrive was unveiled at E3 in 2013, and came out in November 2014, about a year into the Xbox One’s existence. Produced by Insomniac Games (Ratchet And Clank, Resistance: Fall Of Man), it’s an open-world shooter… no, wait, stay with me here… with ATTITUDE!

…okay, yeah, I know. At least in the corners of the internet where your humble scribe lurks, the game was seen as Trying Too Hard To Be Cool (much like Microsoft and the Xbox division as a whole at the time.) But it debuted to mostly positive reviews, sitting at 81 on Metacritic (and 78 on its user reviews), so here’s the big question: is it worth a tenner to check it out, either from a used copy at your friendly local retailer, or on the Xbox Game Pass subscription?

Yeah, s’alright. I guess.

Screenshot from Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be here today!”

Sunset City is a war zone. The home of the Fizzco Corporation, Sunset City was to play host to a glittering launch event for Fizzco’s new energy drink, Overcharge. Unfortunately, in addition to the usual energy-drink side effects, Overcharge turns people into ravenous, slobbering mutants known as “OD”, fixated on murder and obtaining more Overcharge (and not necessarily in that order).

The player character, working catering at the launch event, barely escapes at the start of the game, and (once the beer runs out and their apartment is almost overrun) becomes the hero Sunset City needs. And by “hero” we mean “hired muscle and general dogsbody to every single NPC in the game”, because it’s yet another open-world shooter.

Sunset Overdrive has two gimmicks to stand out from the crowd. The first is that it’s full of pop-culture references and has an extremely flimsy fourth wall; the player character knows full well they’re in a video game, even giving shout-outs to the “text guy” giving you button prompts. In one sequence the character even brings up the in-game weapons menu to show another character how heavily-armed they are. It has a bright, colourful 90s-punk aesthetic, right down to the soundtrack and the player customisation options; you can “be” male or female, with voice acting as appropriate, and there are no restrictions on clothing choices regardless of gender.

The game’s humour is a bit less cringe-worthy than the initial trailers might have suggested; there are some genuinely clever moments where Sunset Overdrive plays with video game cliches and pokes fun at its contemporaries. I didn’t find any real laugh-out-loud moments like I did with Tales From The Borderlands, but the writing is enjoyable and keeps the story moving along.

Screenshot from Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One.
Run awayyyyyyy!

The second gimmick is in its gameplay. The player character is extremely fragile and the game loves to throw hordes of enemies at you, so you need to rely on mobility rather than exchanging blows with the OD. To that end, the player can grind on rails, gutters  and telephone lines, and bounce off cars and canopies to gain height and create some breathing room between themselves and the OD. In addition, chaining jumps and grinds together builds up a Style meter which powers up your weapons as long as you can keep your momentum going; even your base-grade crowbar can hurl fire and command lightning providing your Style is high enough.

You’ll need that Style bonus, too, because the weapons in the game don’t feel terribly useful. The weapons you can buy are suitably wacky and radical-dude, like a gun that fires exploding hairspray cans and a bowling-ball launcher, but a lot of them don’t seem to be terribly useful without substantial upgrades. The record launcher, for example, does only minimal damage, and the bowling-ball launcher just fires in a straight line; neither is particularly efficient at crowd control. I tended to eschew the game’s sillier options and found myself sticking with heavy explosives for crowd control, and the game’s starter weapons (a shotgun with incendiary shells, and a Magnum-like handgun named the Dirty Harry) for stopping power.

You can purchase Amps, which upgrade weapons to add new abilities- for example, you can have electrified bowling balls that stun enemies and then conduct the electricity to their nearby allies- and the more you use a weapon, the more powerful it becomes. To get Amps, you round up a set number of collectables- it’s an open-world game, of course there are hundreds of collectables- and then return to your base for a round of tower defence, where you set up traps and then have to survive a set period of time and stop checkpoints (vats full of Overcharge) from being overrun.

Screenshot from Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One.
What do you mean, a crowbar and power lines don’t make for a good flying-fox?

I found these levels the worst of all. Several of them form part of the main storyline, so they are unskippable. If you misjudge a jump or a bounce and end up on the ground you’re as good as dead; especially early on in the game, your weapons aren’t good enough to bail you out if you land in a crowd of OD, and arguably aren’t good enough to break up a crowd at a checkpoint. You also can’t sacrifice one checkpoint to concentrate on another; (in-universe) the vats are connected and the OD will drain the energy from all of them if they’re allowed to capture one. Luckily the game does auto-save between waves of OD, so you don’t start from the beginning if you do mess up.

There is an escort mission in the game, because game developers hadn’t learned that escort missions are terrible, although the NPCs in that level are at least armed. There is one defend-the-NPCs level (think the infamous Natalya level from GoldenEye 007) but that, again, is generous with its save points and does provide you with some very heavy artillery. And if anything in the game proves a bit too frustrating, there’s also a multiplayer option called Chaos Squad (untested in this review) if you want to take on the hordes in co-op.

The only other bit of the game that really irritated me was the final level, a kinda-sorta-boss fight that has some fairly intricate platforming but combines it with powerful enemy weapons that insta-kill you because you rag-doll off the tiny platforms when hit. The final level does have a cool gimmick which I won’t spoil here, and I figured I couldn’t rage-quit right at the end, but it was still annoying.

So is it worth a tenner, then? There isn’t anything terribly wrong with it; other than the design decisions above there are no real problems, and I didn’t encounter any major bugs or glitches. It certainly filled a few hours of gameplay and earned me some Gamerscore (oh yeah, it’ll take a lot of time to get all the achievements due to the scattered collectables everywhere. Have fun!). But I didn’t have any particular desire to go back and mop up any side quests or even consider the DLC.

It’s fun, but it’s disposable fun while you’re waiting for something else to come out. The perfect fodder for a service like Game Pass, in fact.