The latest game from Insomniac (Ratchet & Clank, Resistance) is here, and my only hope was that it was going to be better than Fuse…
God Fuse was bad.
Sunset Overdrive is thankfully a superior title,but how much better will depend on your patience for ‘fun’.
Those quotation marks are an important aspect of any conversation about Sunset. It’s a game which is all about entertaining the player – with a garish presentation, jokey dialogue and so many pickups and crazy weapons that you’ll constantly be bombarded with things that are just designed to make you happy.
It’s trying so hard to please, like some kind of day-glo puppy melded with a very loud boombox and a bit of an attitude problem. And it works,but the whole thing sometimes feels like its trying too hard.
Mostly it feels like fun designed by committee – like a room full of rather polite and genial 30-something Californians sat down to create a lead character who would be a bit of a dick with a selfish world few, lots of quips and the ability to break the fourth wall from time to time.
So the numerous references to other works feel like they’ve been carefully cleared with the legal department and a great many of the jokes fall really flat.
All that said, there’s so much energy to the project that its hard to not get drawn in, and that sense of warm feeling means that you’re eventually drawn into its world view, so much so that I genuinely laughed out loud at a few later sections.
The writing may feel a little over-polished but the flip side is that you get equally shiny gameplay. Sunset Overdrive handles perfectly and features detailed animation (regardless of how you make your avatar look) and a visual presentation which makes for one of the most exciting-looking new gen games yet released.
In motion, it looks like a zany CG cartoon – complete with explosions illustrated by giant ‘BOOOM’ letters and a world that’s not only chock full of things to kill but also inventive ways to separate them from their vital organs.
Insomniac has form when it comes to weapon design (just take a look at Ratchet & Clank) and they’ve got tons of fun death-dealers here – from a bowling ball launcher to a firework gun, floating deployable gun turrets and acid-spewing watering-cans. It’s all fun and well-balanced stuff, with each effect adding to the chaos on screen, though beneath it all each gun belongs to a very obvious class.
The game is all about traversal, making it feel a bit like Jet Set Radio with killing. The game actively punishes you for walking around on the ground – by making you slow, vulnerable and cutting your style generation. Instead, you should aim to grind every possible surface, bounce on everything which looks bouncy (which is most things) and also wall run, vault, grab and swing.
The world is full of interactive elements to move around but the whole system takes some real getting used to. For example, despite the game requiring you to grind and nearly every surface being compatible, you still have to hit X every time to attach to a surface. Why can’t I automatically stick to a rail or wire, when it’s an essential part of the game?
Fancy moves and kills can be combined to fill a style meter which has other positive effects (more later) but it’s not always clear how to get the meter higher – which makes the game less satisfying than it might have been.
After a couple of hours, the controls become a little more intuitive and you’ll get around easily. Then you’ve got to deal with amps. Upgrade trees are a pretty ubiquitous thing in games these days but Sunset Overdrive does things differently with amps.
You’ll earn these in special missions and you can also make them with crap you pick up in the world and cash in badge progress to create more. These multiple methods are just the tip of the amp iceberg, which is one of the most confusing systems I’ve ever had to work with.
Amps give you perks – either to your character or weapon. But each amp has to be equipped separately to different aspects of your character or stuck onto a weapon. They can then be individually upgraded and swapped out for different effects – like setting an enemy on fire when you shoot with a certain gun or sending out lightning as you grind a rail.
But get this – amps only activate when you hit a certain level on your 4 tier style meter – so you might spend ages unlocking an epic amp (which requires you to get to level 4) and then almost never see it if you’re not chaining together awesome moves.
It’s all oddly bewildering, especially in a game which seems to be presenting itself as an overwhelmingly accessible shooter where you just have to rail grind and shoot stuff. There’s actually a lot more going on behind the scenes which might help to give the game a bit more longevity (especially after the rather short main story) but also offered up its share of frustrations.
All that said, the moment to moment over the top action is consistently compelling, even if I didn’t always know what I was doing. And there’s some variety added in with siege missions where you place inventive traps and a huge number of side missions and challenges. At times almost despite itself, Sunset Overdrive is a lot of fun.
Loud music and extremely bright (and gorgeous) visualsare the first things you’ll discover about Sunset Overdrive, followed closely by a self-aware sense of humour which has its moments. But beneath all that lies a game with surprising hidden depths and real potential for replayability, something which should help to make this arcade shoot em up linger in the memories of gamers.