Grind, shoot, what more could you ask for?
Isn’t it funny how we form a relationship with our favorite games? Sometimes those relationships take no time at all, growing strong bonds between our thumbs and the controller, the images on screen, the sounds, and mechanics. Sometimes a game can take excruciatingly long to form that connection though it may quickly foster and cement it in a twist of narrative or an incredible choice that splits the path into multiple avenues of player agency.
Those are my favorite games. The dichotomy between these two design theories has become more clearly defined over years and while many of Sunset Overdrive’s mechanics suggest a decidedly last-gen (or even two generations late), slow-burn approach to an insanely colorful world, I think it has the ability to go both ways. Where players have typically dodged and blasted at enemies before diving behind cover, Sunset Overdrive doesn’t feel like a shooter in the typical sense and instead leaves as much open to the player from the outset as possible.
The experience starts with a brief tutorial and character customization where you can color your hair as wildly as your fashion. When Overcharge energy drink consumers turn into zombified monsters, it’s up to you to start cleaning the streets. Players learn to bounce on platforms like umbrellas and cars before grasping the grinding mechanics that send them zipping along power lines, rooftops edges, and essentially anything that looks like it was meant to have two feet planted on it. Sunset Overdrive also offers boosts of speed and a quick weapon tutorial at this point, though I won’t go too deep into the game’s Amp systems that add effects and power to each gun available.
Those Amps can be mixed and matched in order to create new combinations, though every firearm in the game has an interesting twist whether it’s an explosive teddy bear launcher or a shotgun with what can only be defined as a scrotum near the hilt. Accuracy is a second thought in nearly every endeavor as Sunset Overdrive had no obviously qualms with my reticle off to the right, but that doesn’t mean some of the bigger enemies won’t require concentrated fire.
Soon, I met up with a few other survivors, completed a few missions, and it was time for the first Night Defense tutorial. This particular sequence introduced a large arena where an Overcharge station crafting up a new Amp would attract a ton of the “OD” or Overcharge Drinkers that make up mobs of enemies throughout the map. The first Night Defense mission featured several different fences to hold back groups, though the larger monsters soon found an immediate path to the center by breaking the fences to my left. I countered this with a few explosive weapons.
Thankfully, by the time any of them had reached the Overcharge station, it was ready to blow and the enemies were dead leaving me with a new Amp and plenty of currency for new weapons and other upgrades. Sunset Overdrive has plenty of stores to check out in-between missions but more often than not I got completely distracted by the open-world itself, complimented by sticky and satisfying grinding mechanics. I started leaping from line to line, roof to roof, and bouncing on cars and other reflective platforms all the same.
Where Sunset Overdrive seems to falter is in creating a compelling reason for you to care about any singular character. In the demo, I met a group of preppy kids glued to their cell phones. As entertaining as it is to check your tweet-bots and your space books, I wanted to use that shotgun on these fools just to call it a day and move on. A Joseph Gordon Levitt lookalike couldn’t eagerly explain a mission fast enough for me to care, though a few quips had me laughing out loud at the event and eager to meet some of the more diverse cast mentioned in our interview with Insomniac’s Ted Price and Drew Murray.
The ensuing mission sent me looking for a particular brand of bottled water, mimicking Fiji Water’s atrocious filtering process, where I had to grind along pipes to clear a set number of valves holding the deliciously overpriced supplies. These designs obviously call back to Sega’s more arcade-oriented console experiences on the Dreamcast. I know we just celebrated that system’s birthday-beyond-the-grave and it might sound like an insult to the platform, but Sunset Overdrive feels like that amazing Dreamcast game people hope and pray for given that it moves incredibly fast, looks gorgeous, and offers bouncy mechanics that end up sending satisfying loops back to the player whether they’re actively pursuing an objective or not.
I didn’t get a chance to play multiplayer and I could tell the map had a lot more depth than I could comprehend in such a short demo. I’ve already said that the title seems like the kind of game where a backseat instruction booklet marathon is necessitated. Ahead of release, it’s one of the few games that has me ready to preorder thanks almost only to its gorgeous visual design. It’s a comic book following a two-day binge, vomiting the contents of an ethnically diverse mall food court all over town only to wash it down with an equally colorful fruit smoothie.
Sunset Overdrive is out exclusively on Xbox One October 28th. We’ll have more on the game as we near release.