Sunset Overdrive has ruined my attention span, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
During my 30-hour trip through developer Insomniac’s insane but endearing depiction of the apocalypse, I strayed off the beaten path more than I have in any other open-world game in recent memory. Despite the mini-map encouraging me to head 400 meters east, I couldn’t help but veer off the route at every opportunity.
This isn’t due to a lack of interesting things to do, but rather a testament to the abundance of them. Because of Sunset’s superb traversal, impeccable comedic writing, and wealth of upgrade paths for my character and weapons, I was more than happy to take the road less traveled. More often than not, it led me someplace that I’m thoroughly glad I visited. Sunset Overdrive visually pops, like the Easter Bunny on an acid trip. Its bright colors, punk-rock attitude, and nose turned up in the direction of authority all meld together wonderfully.
Sunset Overdrive is an always changing, open-world shooter set in the not-so-distant future.
Tokyo JungleChrono TriggerThe Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series — Season One Like the cult-classic Jet Set Radio, Sunset assaulted my senses with a never-ending barrage of stimulus. Monsters explode into an ocean of bright-orange viscera, certain weapons allow you fire off a torrent of blazing fireworks, and freezing enemies will result in the word “BRRRR” appearing in the air above them. I really appreciate that Insomniac has crafted a world that successfully adheres to a strong, unique, and artistic vision.
This distinct style transcends aesthetics, and actually aids in Sunset’s most successful and often-used mechanics. Like most any open-world game, the mission structure here has you talking to a character at point A, making your way across the map to point B, and engaging in some activity that usually results in being sent to collect a reward at point C. While that structure might sound monotonous, Sunset makes the very act of traversal a constant joy instead of an obligatory trudge. I rarely found myself using the fast travel system, because this is a game that’s about the journey as much as the destination.
Narrative conceit be damned, your hero or heroine can, using nothing but their own two feet, bounce off anything remotely buoyant, dash through the air, and grind on all manners of power lines, billboards, and anything that presents a right angle. In fact all of this is encouraged thanks to a punitively slow regular ground running speed, the rewards of a smart combo system, and an ridiculous abundance of monsters, soldiers, and robots. Seriously, if you find yourself on the ground for more than 10 seconds, deprived of your godly mobility, chances are you’re going to end up dead shortly after that. But Sunset wisely avoids harsh punishments with quick respawns with amusing animations that lovingly pay homage – in clever ways – to dozens of classic works, from Portal to Terminator to Night of the Living Dead.
As long as you keep moving and refrain from lingering on the ground, Sunset’s combat proves to be deep, entertaining, and rewarding. I loved fighting enemies like the giant Hurkers, as each encounter felt like a mini-boss fight in and of itself. There’s a great sense of tension in trying to stay moving while maintaining the high ground. And thanks to Sunset’s deep and varied arsenal, I found myself creating some really interesting combos: I’d start off by peppering the area with freeze bombs, which bought me enough time to lay down a field of Acid Sprinklers, and finish it all off with a cascade of exploding teddy bears.
While all of that looks and feels awesome in motion, it definitely isn’t easy. The controls in Sunset aren’t simple: by the time you gain a full suite of weapons and traversal abilities, your hands will be getting a serious workout trying to manage them all. But while it certainly felt cumbersome initially, leading to a stretch of hours where my fingers always felt just a fraction of a second behind where my mind was, I eventually acclimated to the complex system and even grew to appreciate it.
For sure, by the end of the campaign, I still found myself having to work to navigate this hand-eye-coordination spaghetti bowl when I had to grind on a wire, kill a horde of monsters below me, hop off, switch weapons and kill an airborne bat-thingy, and air dash towards the nearest bounding so I could wall-ride around its outside. But while it might be a bit complicated, the result of mastering the system and eventually being able to make it across the entirety of the city without ever setting foot on the pavement is wildly satisfying.
That prior example of insanity is just one of hundreds that I remember fondly. I love telling other people my stories about my time in Sunset Overdrive, because they seem to be just that: my stories. If I wanted to put on a wolf mask and fire off explosive teddy bears at a group of robots, I could do just that. Sunset treats its open world as a canvas for you to express yourself aesthetically, through movement, and of course, through combat.
It also felt personalized by the fact that weapons and abilities are upgraded based on how often you use them. The more I bounced across the city, the more opportunities I had to add an explosion to my jumps. Everytime I killed a robot with an Acid Sprinkler, I inched closer to upgrading both my weapon, as well as my skills against robots. Not only does it reward your playstyle, but it also encouraged me to experiment with other weapons in order to see how they’d evolve over time.
Combat reaches new levels of insanity when you hop into Chaos Squad, Sunset Overdrive’s eight-player cooperative multiplayer missions. These unfold as wave-based siege defenses where you’re given a brief amount of time to lay traps and coordinate with your buddies before all hell breaks loose. The ensuing spectacle of blood, guts, lightning, ice, lasers, and giant fireworks is insanity of the highest caliber. But while Chaos Squad is a neat diversion, it didn’t grab me quite as tightly as the single-player campaign managed to.
Weaving in and out of this self-expression is also one of most consistently funny scripts in recent memory. From pop culture deep cuts to fourth-wall-breaking remarks about the nature of video games, I found myself genuinely laughing at Sunset Overdrive throughout the entire campaign. The voice work is great, the supporting cast is varied and interesting (spend 30 seconds with the robot dog and it’s tough not to fall in love), and I found myself weirdly obsessed with uncovering the events that led to this apocalypse.
Sunset Overdrive is big, gorgeous, and a hell of a lot of fun. Never has getting from point A to point B in an open-world game provided so much enjoyment. It provides some of the most fun, frantic, and fantastic gaming I’ve had on the Xbox One. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to once-again adorn my wolf mask, leap off the highest ledge I can find, and fire an explosive stuffed animal at that group of angry robots.