High Caffeine Content
HIGH Getting from one end of the city to the other without touching the ground.
LOW Tired references to Reddit, NeoGAF, and everything else culture-relevant.
WTF The villain sounds identical to Monokuma from Danganronpa.
I've got a bone to pick with Insomniac.
Years ago, they declared that they were finished pushing their games to 60 frames per second on the grounds that the difference seemed to make little impact on reviews. Now here I am, a reviewer who's a stickler for high framerate, given the opportunity to make my mark on the Metascore of their latest release which is indeed locked at 30fps.
I've been cracking my knuckles in anticipation.
It's a bit counterintuitive, then, that Sunset Overdrive wound up as one of my favorite games of 2014. It's certainly not a success on every front, but largely it's a reinvigoration of the elements I look for in a proper sandbox game. Despite the framerate I have to be kind to this thing because it's pretty great.
The idea behind Sunset Overdrive is an extension of that "the floor is lava" game we all used to play in our living rooms as kids. Players are meant to get around the city without touching the ground by chaining together exaggerated acrobatic maneuvers using the environment. The core is a grinding mechanic not unlike the one in Jet Set Radio, and bouncing, swinging and wall-running are commonplace, too. There's no straightforward sprint function and climbing vertical surfaces can't be done, so getting anywhere quickly in Sunset City is a matter of mastering this rail-based traversal system.
The controls are intuitive and reliable, but what impresses me most about this focus on acrobatics is how thoroughly the city design complements it. Insomniac has cooked up a vast, complex network of power lines, telephone poles and interactive objects which can all be ridden. There was never a situation in which I couldn't immediately launch myself into the air and grind for a solid mile without stopping. Anyone with the commitment to master the movement mechanics and the patience to scan the environment for the quickest routes will always have that option.
Regarding the open-world aspect of Sunset Overdrive, I have a huge fondness for superhero sandbox games, but a common trap for the genre is to grant the player too much freedom of movement. A lack of restrictions robs players of what I see as the reward of exploring and becoming familiar with these massive worlds. Sunset Overdrive's approach is perfect—not only is it efficient, but I got an adrenaline rush every time I was simply asked to travel to the next waypoint. This is how sandbox traversal is done.
The travel system goes hand-in-hand with the combat. The gunplay tends to be fast-paced and broad, and fits naturally with chaining acrobatic moves to earn player-specified passive bonuses. Enemies are high in numbers and operate on simple AI, and the aim assist is extremely generous. Sunset Overdrive's combat isn't about precision, it's about using over-the-top weaponry to dispose of vast hordes of mutants in the loudest manner possible.
The sharp visual style makes all of this even more entertaining. I may want to whine about the framerate, but Sunset Overdrive is full of appealingly bright colors that put the drab triple-A market to shame, aesthetically. Battles erupt with stellar particle effects, acid sprinkles shine and fireworks rocket about. The enemies even burst into magnificent clouds of orange blood, some of which morph into words like "POP" and "BOOM." There's visual energy all over this thing.
Unfortunately, similar energy is not devoted to Sunset Overdrive's script, which falls into a lazy kind of "irreverence" that's found in so much video game comedy these days, with all the grace and subtlety of a dildo made of whoopee cushions. Insomniac seems to be operating under the assumption that being vulgar, self-conscious and pop culturally aware means the jokes write themselves, but it's just not true. With the humor being so rapid-fire, the law of averages means that Sunset Overdrive did succeed in making me chuckle a handful of times (I especially liked that there's an achievement for earning an achievement) but the majority of the gags are too broad and unclever. Worse, the constant bad jokes rob this world and these characters of any heft. When it eventually comes time for the protagonist to make "difficult choices" for the benefit of the "friends" he or she has made, it's unconvincing.
Thankfully, Sunset Overdrive's narrative and comedic dips are more than counterbalanced by the many story missions that play to the game's kinetic strengths by putting an emphasis on Sunset Overdrive's unique traversal system is some manner or another. One encounter has players engaging in a city-wide chase with a massive flying mutant, across streets, over rooftops and through narrow gaps between buildings. Another has players chasing an elevated train and looking for new surfaces as the track collapses. And the bosses in particular are all incredible. I can't even remember the last time I said that about a game.
It's high time one of these superhero sandbox games actually made me feel like a superhero, and thanks to synergy between the traversal and the combat, Sunset Overdrive is one of the few games this year that I actually wanted to keep playing after I was finished. I can't blame anyone for being initially put off by the somewhat obnoxious sense of humor, but anyone passing on Sunset Overdrive will be missing one of the freshest and most exhilarating games the genre has seen in years. It's a blast, all 30fps of it.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 31 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Approximately two hours of play were devoted to the multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: blood and gore, drug references, sexual themes, strong language and violence. The violence is splattery and over-the-top, and the profanity is vulgar, thoroughly R-rated affair. However, the game offers content filters for both the gore and the language. It's a thoughtful addition that makes Sunset Overdrive playable in the presence of children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All dialog is subtitled, and there are always clear visual indicators of what needs to be done.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.