The highest praise I can give to Sunset Overdrive is that no point did I find myself caring any more or less about any real-world issues, nor did I feel like the game educated me at all about anything. This is a game that hands you a rocket launcher that shoots dynamite-strapped teddy bears, shows you how to pull the trigger and tells you to have at it. And that’s all it does for the entire game. There’s no disclaimer about how no teddy bears were harmed in the making of this game, no serious introspective look into the inner lives of the developers, no Kickstarter donation buttons, no notes about how the game is in beta and everything’s going to be broken but you damn well better not complain about it.
I love it. It’s amazing.
The concept is simple: a whole bunch of people in Sunset City – basically the most 1990s California of all video game cities – drank a whole bunch of nasty mutating Overcharge energy drink and turned into baddies. They’re called zomb–er, mutan–er, OD. They’re called OD and they’ve taken over the city. Fortunately, you, a loyal employee of the Fizzco corporation whose fault this whole mess is in the first place, didn’t drink any Overcharge so you remain mutation-free. You’re one of a few survivors still around in Sunset City. You should probably get out of there, sure, but it’s way more fun to bounce, grind and fly around blowing everything up. You’ll get around to it later. There’s a plot. It’s dumb in the “summer blockbuster” sense. If you enjoy killing stuff you’ll probably be fine with it.
So what you’ve got here is Tony Hawk’s Pro Explosioner. Sunset Overdrive’s bizarre cartoon physics mean that you can grind around on pretty much anything, bounce on pretty much anything else and carry a massive arsenal of weaponry to blow shit up with while you do it. You’ll want to look good in the process, since doing so boosts a Style gauge that powers your Amps – essentially customizable Overcharge-based superpowers. These range from generating a defensive shield when you dodge roll to causing a seismic shockwave when you ground slam from the air. Amps can also be added to your weapons to produce various status effects…or, uh, cause the enemies to explode into confetti and glitter when killed because why not? If you stop flipping out like a maniac in combat your Style gauge depletes and your Amps power down, so it’s in your best interests to constantly play as if you’re some kind of demented ninja. New Amps are acquired periodically throughout the story via short tower-defense style missions, though you can also get more by scouring the city for collectibles.
Along with Amps, you can further customize your character with Overdrives, which are basically tiny percentage-based boosts to stuff in the same vein as every modern RPG. Much like in those RPGs, they’re not really worth getting excited about until you’ve leveled them a few times and percentages aren’t quite so tiny. You pay for Overdrives with badges obtained from various activities; grinding a lot will offer grind badges which can upgrade grind-based Overdrives, for instance, while shooting OD will offer OD-shooting badges, etc. etc. You tend to get better at what you do the most, in other words. Some of the more esoteric Overdrives take a smorgasbord of different badge types, which is a neat way of encouraging you to use weapons or stunts you might otherwise have ignored.
There’s a variety of foes to take on with your customized gear and dude, naturally. OD come in a number of flavors, ranging from the standard zombie analogue to projectile-vomiters to ice-spewers to mobile spawners. You’ll also take on human foes as well, which encourage a different style of play as you’ll need to make the most of your extreme mobility to avoid getting the crap shot out of you. The combat always feels fresh and it works great with the parkour system.
We’d better address the elephant in the room as well: Sunset Overdrive really wants to be funny. I think it is! I’d call it a step above Family Guy, at least. I laughed out loud multiple times throughout, friends I had over while playing got a chuckle, generally it was a hit amongst people who can still appreciate the concept of joy. It definitely comes down to taste, though. If you feel as though the spark of life has been sucked out of you by doge pictures, cat memes or jokes about princesses being in other castles, you’re probably going to spend most of your time rolling your eyes and wishing you were reading math jokes on XKCD instead. This game doesn’t really let up with its particular brand of comedy, so you’re probably best off watching some videos before purchasing to make sure you wouldn’t prefer something a little more highbrow. I won’t judge.
In case it wasn’t clear, this is not your thinking man’s strategy game or your enlightened example of how games really ARE art so I’m NOT wasting my time, Mom! It’s dumb, it’s loud and it’s brightly-colored. It’s a bit like the Saints Row series; you can deck your character out in ridiculous costumes if you want, you can tell most of the basic concepts of physics to go straight to hell, all in all it’s pretty great stuff. Sunset Overdrive goes for a 90s Saturday morning cartoon sort of aesthetic, so you’d actually fit in much better than Emo Darkington, Esq. Explosions are enormous, enemies explode with a visible word-art “POP!”, everything’s bright and gorgeous in contrast with the average modern open-world game. This is accompanied by a fantastic punk rock soundtrack that gets the blood pumping for some OD-mulching. At no point did I feel like muting the game to put on my own tunes. There you go, it’s got decent music.
So there you have it. Sunset Overdrive is a good choice if you like fun and can deal with your entertainment being terminally non-cerebral. In a world where games that don’t take themselves too seriously are becoming less and less common, this one stands out in its dedication to being “just a fun game.” It’s also one of the limited number of Xbox One exclusive titles and a solid one at that, so owners of Microsoft’s console can appreciate a little relief from the endless torrent of multiplatform releases. Might it come out on PC eventually? I’d say yes, Microsoft would say no, a Magic 8 Ball would tell you to ask again later. If you’ve got an Xbox One, you can’t really go wrong with jumping on it now.