For such an original-looking game, Sunset Overdrive is anything but. Tried and tested formulas, gameplay we’ve seen a thousand times before and the kind of sandbox experience we’ve come to expect over the years. So if I’ve seen all before, why can’t I put it down!?
The answer is execution. This game does everything it’s trying to achieve, and it does it almost perfectly. The game feels balanced, fun and a pleasure to navigate. With the exception of some mini-games, every part of the experience felt empowering to control.
Before I even played this game, I knew it would live or die based on the way it handled. Traversal across the landscape is the single most important thing here, and I’m pleased to say that it’s one of the game’s biggest strengths. I’d go as far to say that this game handles better than any other game of its kind. Jet Set Radio is one of my favourite games, and I’ve played nearly every Assassin’s Creed instalment, but I know that there have been plenty of times that I’ve got frustrated when characters miss ledges or rails, awkwardly stopping due to a glitch or unfair collision detection. I have yet to experience this whilst bounding through Sunset City. Generous rail clipping and features – such as the air boost, means you always feel like you can go anywhere, and do anything. It’s an empowering game, which undoubtedly makes it a better one.
I initially thought that the selection of weapons was a little sparse, as I was expecting an absolute mountain of weaponry that would make Borderlands jealous. But Insomniac knows exactly what they’re doing here. Each weapon is not only different and fairly balanced, but absolutely stunning. The Roman Candle firework launcher explodes with colour and noise, whilst bowling ball launcher ‘The Dude’ whirrs and clicks, launching a colourful sphere of death right into an opponent’s face.
In Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac has mastered the art of difficulty. The game isn’t hard, at all. But this is definitely a conscious design decision, and one that works brilliantly. They want you to play the entire game, but they know that these days, everything is competing for your attention. This has led to a game with a lot of content, but all achievable and attainable. If you see a collectable or a power-up, you’re able to get it. Games like Crackdown tried to make players stay by showing them content they’d have to work ages for to reach. For the most part, Sunset Overdrive gives you everything, right from the start. This instant gratification is clever, as the features that unlock over time are welcome additions, rather than visible barriers halting your progress.
Depending on your perspective, the game’s post-modern style could verge on the heavy-handed, whilst some might find it downright annoying. I’m a big fan of games not taking themselves too seriously, and so whilst I enjoyed it, I can see that some people may get tired of this gimmick. It’s a great way of dealing with the stumbling block of game design though. It’s often questioned by the characters where the Narrator’s voice is coming from, and why quests are often convenient in making you fetch multiple items. I really enjoyed this approach, but again it may not be for everyone.
One of the most impressive aspects of Sunset Overdrive is its scope and size, something which is clearly taking advantage of the new hardware. I love the ability for everyone to play games like Destiny and Call of Duty on any console they have, but it’s great to finally see the AAA, current-gen-only games starting to come out, without being hampered by previous limitations. Here, it really shows. The play area is HUGE, I mean genuinely massive. I initially thought the majority of it was just set dressing, or some kind of graphical trickery. I was expecting a loading screen the closer I got to the further points of the map, or the textures to ‘pop’ in as the disguise was lifted. But nothing of the sort. It plays incredibly smoothly, and it’s all there waiting for you to explore it. Similarly, the amount of enemies on-screen at once is insane. They all behave different, all are unique and it leads to some genuine ‘wow’ moments as you play.
Overall, Sunset Overdrive is nothing new. But the game knows this, and in fact it plays upon it. It references everything from Breaking Bad to Portal, in a style that is basically Scott Pilgrim with guns. But by doing this so blatantly, it turns a sloppy homage into a brilliant, ‘how-did-they-get-away-with-this’ piece of gaming fun. There’s that old phrase, ‘Talent borrows. Genius steals.’ And Sunset Overdrive is stealing absolutely everything. I wouldn’t quite say it’s at genius level, but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had so far with my Xbox One.