Genres: Action, Third-Person Shooter, Open World
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Developer: Insomniac Games (Ported to PC by Blind Squirrel Games)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
What’s the background?
Sunset Overdrive is a bit of an oddity for developer Insomniac Games, who’re primarily known for making quality titles exclusively for PlayStation consoles. The Spyro the Dragon trilogy on PS1, the Ratchet & Clank series across multiple PlayStation iterations, the Resistance trilogy on PS3 and most recently the Spider-Man titles on PS4 & PS5. Sony eventually decided to purchase the studio after the massive success of the first Spider-Man game in 2019. However this leaves Sunset Overdrive, a game which shares a lot of DNA with these PlayStation exclusive titles stranded on Xbox and PC. Which is a shame because this has a lot to offer and primarily feels exciting as a more gameplay focused title compared to the cinematic scope and focus on jaw-dropping graphics of the newer Ratchet & Clank games and Spider-Man titles.
What makes Sunset Overdrive still feel so fresh and exciting after seven years is how it’s streamlined around being as ‘gamey’ as possible. No overblown cinematic plot, your character has absurd levels of movement options that defy any sense of realism and its open world is colourful and packed with goofy little details.
How does it play?
Very well! Often the best sort of game is one where just controlling the character and enjoying traversing around the environments is a joy. Your protagonist is at risk of getting overwhelmed and mauled by the enemies of the game if you stay on the ground and strafe about like a typical third-person shooter, so the aim of the game is to grind, jump, swing, wall run and generally keep on the move to always have the upper hand. Luckily the game is pretty liberal with what objects in the open world are grindable, by that pretty much meaning pretty much everything. Chaining together different parkour moves while keeping enemies at bay with weapons feels like a fun expansion on Insomniac’s long-running Ratchet & Clank gameplay. It takes the formula of wacky weapons in a third-person setting and adds in all these crazy movement options to truly feel like a step-up, which gameplay-wise the Ratchet games had been lacking for many years. Playing with the games movement options increases a ‘style meter’ which then gives you further power, discouraging boring play of strafing on the ground, though at times it can still be a last ditch strategy.
Any points of comparison or influence?
Definitely, you’ll feel a lot of similarities to Insomniac Games’ own Ratchet & Clank series, being a third-person shooter with wacky weaponry and platforming elements. In fact the weapons are R-rated expansions of the silly alien arsenal that Ratchet wields, looking like DIY enhanced real guns or absurd concoctions like a gun that shoots bowling balls, one that shoots explosive teddy bears or one of my favourites, which is an assault rifle which rapidly fires roman candles to explode on enemies. You can easily switch weapons on the move and you can have eight on hand at once as well as an all-purpose melee attack.
Movement wise this takes after extreme sports titles, mainly I felt it drew comparison to the Sega cult-classic Jet Set Radio, a rollerblading game where characters grind about a very colourful Tokyo leaving graffiti. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise also leaves a mark with the style meter and general smooth over the top movement. While the game’s excess of parkour options feels like an evolution of the Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed titles, this game particularly stepped up the breadth of movement available compared to those Ubisoft developed games. However, where it owes a stronger debt to Ubisoft is in its open-world formula, which is packed with side-missions, challenges and collectibles, much like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry or Watch_Dogs.
What’s the tone like?
Its tone is sure to be divisive. Sunset Overdrive is very unashamedly a video game, which back in 2014 when this was released would’ve been a fresh feeling given how cinematic a lot of the big blockbuster video-game titles were. What it definitely gets right here is to keep the plot at a minimum, it’s very basic - the only sort of substance comes in a ‘friendship above all!’ moral, the rest of the plot mainly being crude gags and self-referential humour. Sometimes it’s funny to play a game which breaks the fourth wall constantly to wink at you and smarmily refer to itself as a videogame, with characters making references to its own game mechanics. However sometimes it feels a little much, constantly turning to the player and being self-referential has its limits and eventually it gets old. Combined with the puerile writing which thinks saying aimless profanity is a core source of humour, like a teenager watching South Park for the first time, it does sometimes leave room for cringe.
How’s the value for money?
Nowadays you can pick this up for dirt cheap, on PC you can pick it up for £14.99 before any sales, which is already a great deal. I personally got about 12 hours of entertainment before the credits rolled, and that still left many hours of side-missions and collectibles to seek after - though personally I wasn’t too interested in a lot of that portion of the game. However the game generally being so much fun to control, making zipping around Sunset City feel great, makes this a game I could see myself booting up just for a quick play session in the future.
Anything else worth mentioning?
Definitely the character customisation. Thankfully the mohawk wearing punk on the game’s front cover and promotional material is simply the default look for your main character. There’s a fantastic character customisation system which will likely mean that no two players will end up with a character who looks exactly the same, especially as you gain more and more items of clothing and accessories as you proceed through the game. It’s also great how this customised character will always show up as you have designed them in cut-scenes, adding in immersion and often gaining laughs if, like me, you go for making your guy look as silly as possible.
There’s also a punk/garage rock soundtrack, featuring music from bands like FIDLAR, Bass Drum of Death and The Melvins. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I felt the scrappy garage rock soundtrack added to the general ‘party at the end of the world’ tone. My copy of the game on PC (via Steam) did have occasional audio bugs however, sometimes making the game feel a bit empty when no music was playing over top of the slaughter of hundreds of zombies.
Sum it up!
Sunset Overdrive’s fast-paced gameplay and fantastic controls as well as fun traversal options make this a top-tier open-world game. It’s knowing tone sometimes comes off as obnoxious, but mostly allows it to thrive as an unashamedly gameplay-focused triple A title. A well designed open world packed with detail and collectibles will keep you busy, though the primary enjoyment will come from exploring, shooting imaginative weaponry and completing the core missions.
Very colourful and detailed open-world
Fantastic traversal options and smooth controls
A light-hearted tone and lack of cinematic melodrama
Highly commendable character customisation options
What's not so good!
Dialogue and self-referential tone sometimes gets obnoxious
Collectibles overload and fetch-quest side missions aren’t great