Insomniac Games has been responsible for creating great exclusive software for the PlayStation brand over the years. With franchises like Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank and Resistance earning both critical praise and impressive sales numbers, it’s easy to see why Sony has held the developer so close to the chest. That’s why it was particularly shocking to learn during E3 2013 that Insomniac was busy working on Sunset Overdrive, a game exclusive to the Xbox One. After the multiplatform disappointment that was Fuse, we’ll admit that we were a bit concerned that Sunset Overdrive wouldn’t deliver an apocalypse as awesome as it was advertising. But now that we’ve dressed in punk rock attire and survived hordes of energy drink addicts, we can joyously exclaim that Insomniac’s first Xbox-only effort might be its best.
If you’ve been exposed to trailers or gameplay videos – any footage, really – you’ll know that Sunset City isn’t your average setting for a video game. It’s a vibrant and strikingly colorful open world that bears a slight resemblance to Jet Grind Radio. It’s also a city with a problem – a big one. After the beverage manufacturer Fizzco launches their latest energy drink exclusively in Sunset City, anyone that has consumed the substance turns into mutants called OD and all hell breaks loose. Your – you play as a custom character – motivations are to seek out other survivors and do what you can to escape the rapidly decaying town. It's a story less about major plot points and more about interacting with ridiculous characters. The anything-goes sense of humor and rebellious attitude probably won't be to the liking of everyone, but the game is so enthusiastic about what it does that it's hard not to be entertained by it.
Getting around town is all about grinding, bouncing, wall-running, and other flashy acrobatics that keep you mobile. These core mechanics make traversal an incredible thrill, so much so that it’s common to lose track of the agenda at hand because you’re too busy treating the city as your own personal jungle gym. Whether it be by riding on power lines, springing off cars or dashing along the sides of buildings, it’s best to string moves together to stay in motion and off the ground. Residing on the pavement slows you down considerably and leaves you vulnerable to OD that will swarm before you can even taunt them with a “come at me, bro.” It’s a unique design choice that forces flashy and exhilarating open-world navigation to make for something constantly involving and arguably more satisfying than Tony Hawk or Jet Grind Radio ever were.
Marrying gunplay with the aforementioned mechanics further serves to stimulate and ensure there’s beautiful chaos all throughout Sunset City. While it might take some players a couple hours to get a confident grip on the skate-‘em-up gameplay, thanks to snappy and precise controls, it shouldn’t be much longer before you’re shooting down enemies – even during transitional maneuvers – like a pro. The expansive arsenal of off-the-wall weapons (which is something Insomniac is known for) accommodates all styles of players, and they’re also responsible for a surprising degree of strategy in the combat. This is because each weapon has varying levels of effectiveness against the numerous kinds of baddies in the game. And, not only are there in-your-face offensive guns, there are also deploy-and-forget contraptions for defensive needs. How you choose to approach each fight is, well, up to you.
Adding another layer of personalization and panache to a great foundation are Amps. These secondary abilities can be attached to weapons or equipped to the player to add an extra boosts to offensive tactics. For example, while one will cause melee attacks to be accompanied by fireballs, another provides the chance that bullets will occasionally electrocute their targets. There are bunches of these to acquire, all with diverse powers. To use them, though, you’ll need to fill your Style Meter by stringing together combos and doing flashy things, so be sure to showboat your skills every chance you get.
So what's the reason for utilizing all the cool moves and killer weapons at your disposal? There are numerous types of activities, actually, and they come in the form of story missions, optional quests, and challenges. Story missions typically revolve around helping the different factions of survivors throughout Sunset City, so they, in return, will help you. Quests function in the exact same way and can often be just as substantial as the story missions. Majority of the objectives rotate between fetch quests, protection, and extermination missions, and while that may sound repetitive, it’s really not. Insomniac does a fantastic job shaking up the circumstances and incorporating unique variations on the expected formula to keep things fresh and interesting. Fly a glider with homing missiles to shoot down a Fizzco blimp, help pull a boat through a waterway while simultaneously protecting and repairing it, and even initiate catapult strikes with a single button press while engaged in standard combat – there are plenty of memorable moments to be had.
Challenges come in many flavors and can be found in heavy numbers throughout the city (there are 54 total). There are Traversal, Points and Weapon Challenges, as well as a couple other variations, and these short activities are highly addictive and beg for replays. Each one allows you to not only score medals and earn rewards, but there are leaderboards attached so you can make an effort to outdo your friends. Traversal Challenges were easily our favorite considering they ask you to put your parkour skills to the test. With controls and mechanics as tightly tuned and satisfying as they are in Sunset Overdrive, anything that rewards you for zipping around like Tony Hawk with superpowers is alright in our books.
If you're the type drawn to social situations, you'll be happy to know that Chaos Squad, the 8-player online multiplayer mode, is actually a lot of explosive fun. Here, players will venture from one objective to the next, working together to wipe out waves of enemies, deliver packages, or enact the stylish kills specified on screen. After a number of rounds you'll then be placed into a Night Defense Mission, which is all about protecting vats of Overcharge from the imposing flood of OD determined to guzzle it down. This mode isn't anything we expect to be holding the attention of players for the long term, but it's way more enjoyable than you might expect, and it serves as a solid means of reeling in loot and other goodies.
When first being let loose within the city, we were a little concerned that the world was going to be too empty to be interesting outside of the exciting traversal mechanics and visual allure. The problem was that there didn’t seem to be many missions or a prominent enough enemy presence to make it all that engaging beyond the surface. But worry not — after you're gently eased into things, all kinds of missions and activities will open up and the streets and rooftops gain more and more hostile inhabitants. It’s not long before the surroundings come to life in a big way, and there’s plenty to do to keep busy.
One of the most impressive things is that every one of the missions and events takes place within the open world. You’ll never be transplanted into linear corridors that only exist for the sake of the mission at hand (like you would in the Arkham series), nor will the rest of the city cease to function while you’ve activated a particular mission. In many situations you can have a mission initiated but still scrounge around town for collectibles, deviate to buy ammo at a shop, or even finish up another active quest. There’s a lot of freedom here, and it works really well. It doesn’t hurt that, because everything takes place within this one giant space, there are virtually no loading times; basically, once the city has been loaded upon booting the game, it never has to load again. Even the cutscenes, which are in-engine, trigger almost instantly.
During the first half of the game we didn’t run into any technical issues, which was surprising given the scope and amount of action that occurs within the open world. In the second half, however, there were minor hiccups – music not starting, random slowdown, and other oddities – but none significant enough to interrupt gameplay. From what we could tell, these minor issues could easily be smoothed out with a patch. But by and large, Sunset Overdrive is a highly polished and technically impressive video game that takes advantage of the power under the hood of the Xbox One.
Being crystal clear, Sunset Overdrive had us smiling from ear-to-ear throughout the entirety of the 20 odd hours we spent with it. In that time we completed all story missions, side quests, tracked down all collectibles, and finished about half of the challenges. From the extensive character customization options to the wacky factions (samurai Boy Scouts, larpers, entitled rich kids), there's so much personality and flamboyance around every turn that it's tough to avoid being sucked into the spectacle of it all. And why would you want to resist it? Sure, the F-bombs and in-your-face attitude can be a little much, but being in the presence of a game that's having such a good time being itself is contagious.
Insomniac Games has stated many times that Sunset Overdrive is the game they’ve wanted to make for years. It’s supposedly a representation of the staff’s collective personalities and their diverse creative influences all jam-packed into one game. Usually when you hear statements like those – especially when it comes from the company’s CEO – it’s interpreted as a salesman working his salesman magic. In the case of Sunset Overdrive, however, it feels entirely true. This is a game that is what it wants to be. It’s I-don’t-give-a-damn punk rock. It’s a celebration of creative game design. And, most importantly, it’s insanely fun. They (the industry) don’t make ‘em like this anymore. They should, but they don’t.
Want to know how to make a truly great game? Provide players with a liberating and energetic method of traversal, create an eye-popping urban environment that serves as a massive playground, and do everything you can to promote uninhibited fun within that space. That’s the essence of Sunset Overdrive, and it’s why we think this is arguably the best new IP so far this console generation.
If you own an Xbox One, this is a must-have game.
Stupid question but please answer truthfully. I hated tony hawk, jet set radio and dead rising. What are the chances I will like sso. I really want to get it but I keep hearing its a mashup of those 3 games and it worries me.
ohh man I'm gonna hate saying this....I had this on pre-order but I cancelled it last week cause I had a bad feeling this game would screw up somehow and that I would wait for a review....looks like my fears where exactly that, just fears Great...now I need to try and get a copy of this game lol Great review, though ^-^
Nice review @DRL. I'm not too far in but one thing I love what I've played so far. Once you get used to the controls and figure out how to start stringing combos together, the game is a blast.
I was worried too, Insomniac has been hit or miss (mostly miss) since Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time came out in 2009. I liked Resistance 3, but the R&C spinoffs, R&C Into the Nexus and especially FUSE were not so good. Sunset Overdrive is excellent though, the crazy weapons of R&C mixed with Insomniac's love it or hate it humor and an inFamous/Crackdown feel.
Waiting to pick this up with the white xbone on eu release on friday, looking forward to it. Im a little disappointed that, according to many, the auto aim id waaay too generous and the game's too easy but im not bothered as much as I would be because this game is like a doorway back to the year 2000, when the dreamcast was loitering with intent to entertain and it did just that with games in the vein of sunset overdrive (fun first, everything else later). Equally excited for the white xbone too, think it looks awesome in white
Excellent review Mr. Letcavage! Now if only the download would FINISH!
Nice review, now i feel bad for not pre ordering it,ill pick it up later broketober hit me hard this year.
wow, great review, i had a feeling this game would be amazing. i gotta give it a try on of these days
I also didn't pre order it. i wish i did
I really wasn't that excited for this game. Or at all, if I'm being completely honest here. I had hopes way back at its reveal, but as the gameplay clips started releasing my excitement level just drained completely. I even considered canceling my preorder, but seeing as I've owned my Xbox for four months and still don't own a single game, I figured what the hey, I'll give it a go, even if just to ensure my disk drive works properly before warranty expires.
And yet, as it turns out, this is one of those situations where the game is SO much better than I thought it would be. Not only is it a good game, it's a great game! Finally, my reason for owning an Xbox. I unlocked my first achievement today too. Well, my first real achievement anyways.
Hot dang, it feels good to be an Xbox owner!
Welcome to the world of Xbox, I added you to my XBL friendlist.
Hmmm no responses to my question.......
I always say if you're unsure, try before you buy. Personally, I think outside of the grinding, the game has more in common with inFamous, Crackdown, even Ratchet & Clank than it does with Tony Hawk or Jet Set, can't say about Dead Rising 3 as I haven't played it. If your interested in SO I'd say gamefly it at least.
@EternalDragonX I would have answered, but other than a short hands-on at EGX, I haven't played it yet. Not out here in the UK until Friday.
The reviews this is getting are really pushing me to get a One. I like how colorful this game looks. And I like the look of the white console. That $50 price cut does not hurt either.
@EternalDragonX Personally, I find it hard to believe there's someone out there that couldn't find fun within this game. BUT, if you legitimately HATE Tony Hawk, Dead Rising, and Jet Set Radio, you probably won't like this. It feels like it was inspired by all three of those games.
As usual, thanks for the kind words, everyone! I'm glad to hear that so many people are attracted to this game. Insomniac definitely needs to get the go-ahead on a sequel, so let's hope it sells very well.
Thanks for this fantastic review, this game is why I'm so interested in wanting an Xbox One.
I'll probably wait until 2017 before owning an XB1 though, assuming I'm still unemployed/broke by then.
i should have this in the ost tomorrow, looks all sorts of fun
@JaxonH Welcome to Xbox, new friend!
@DRL Thanks for the reply. Looks like I'll have to rent this one first before I buy. Wish there was a demo I could play.
Nice, this will be the game I get once I get a Xbox 1. I may just get the bundle.
If I buy a second xb1 can I use use the same gamertag at the same time and re download my purchased games? Similar to android phones and google.
@EternalDragonX tricky one. Im guessing it won't work because you'd then have two copies of the game on two separate consoles having only paid once. Im just guessing though and cant say for sure to be honest. Might be a good idea checking xbox website for something like that
@EternalDragonX You can, yes. One of your Xboxes will need to be set as your "home" console (there's a setting in the Settings app for it) and the second one will need to NOT be set as "home."
Once you have that setup, you can download the games you've purchased onto both consoles, yeah. Physical games will need the disc though, obviously. You can use the same gamertag, too - although I'm not sure if the same tag can be logged in to both consoles at exactly the same time, though.
@SuperKMx im guessing I could play the same game though just different tags right? The home console would have to a different gamertag and the other consoles HAS to have my gamertag signed in right?
@EternalDragonX Yeah, I think as long as you were signed in to your "main" Gamertag on the "Home" console at the point that you actually set it as your home console, any gamertag can then play your games on that console.
So then you'd sign into your "non-home" console with your main gamertag and use that to play on that one, while a secondary tag plays on your home console.
I haven't tried it - I'm just going on what I've read. Might give it a go this weekend with a friend's machine and see what happens.
Played this at my Bro'n'Laws since he was talking it up. Not impressed and there is still no games on XB1 that I want. Will continue to wait, but at least I have Hyrule Warriors, and Bayonetta 2 to keep me occupied.
Great review! cant wait to get some proper game time with this! Just waiting on my postman to deliver it with my shiny white xbox one 👍 in the meantime I'm off for some Evolve .....so many great games coming out at the minute,loving it!!
I'm glad to see this game has been well received across so many sites. I'm looking forward to enjoying it on my recently purchased Xbox One. I'm right now waiting for the console to do it's initial system update.
All in all, a lovely review which seems to be in line with the positives expressed by both footage seen of the game and with what others have noted as great about the game. I hope it does well.
@DRL @SuperKMx Just noticed Purexbox made it onto metacritic. Not sure if you were always on it but congrats if I missed it.
@EternalDragonX Why, thank you. It happened very recently. Both Metacritic and GameRankings.
@EternalDragonX Thank you
a well deserved score - the game is absolutely great and the gameplay is highly addicting fun, love all those black humor and sarcasm and the overall crazyness of the game
the only real complaint is that sometimes it gets too hectic/the controls are sometimes not precise enough/the camera gets confused
but I agree - SunsetOverdrive is a must-own for every Xbox Action Fan
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