Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac Games is their first title since the multiplatform and co-op friendly FUSE hit a few years back. FUSE was the first Insomniac game to not be exclusive to a Sony platform and their next game, Sunset Overdrive is now an exclusive game on a Microsoft platform. How times have changed. The game is an open world action game set in Sunset City. Fizz Co have released their next great energy drink called Overcharged Delirium XXT and is throwing a huge party for the island town to celebrate. But there's just one problem; the energy drink wasn't properly lab tested and has now turned the entire population into crazy mutants called OD.
I've never been a fan of describing games by using other games as an example, but that's what I'm going to do anyway. Sunset Overdrive is a mixture of Crackdown's freedom of movement combined with Saints Row 3 and 4's over the top nature with just a splash of grunge and grind that Jet Set Radio series. Of course the final piece to that puzzle is Insomniac Games' own Ratchet and Clank, which fits the bill for both the zany weapons and some of the rails based gameplay.
Perhaps the thing I like best about Sunset Overdrive is its blatant self awareness. Fail the tutorial early on and the main character blames you as the reason a tutorial section even exists. There are constant callouts to cliches in gaming like plot devices, interface markers, respawns, and common player frustrations. In one section I climbed to the top of a tall tower only to fail and fall once I almost reached the peak of my ascent. The game warped me back to where I was before in Portal like fashion and the main character quipped - "You don't think we'd make you do that all over again, do you?" In another instance while grabbing a collectible the character made a quick call to being "one step closer to a pointless achievement."
Your goal in Sunset Overdrive is to survive the OD and escape the city. Along the way you'll be meeting a crazy cast of characters that include a curmudgeon old man, a group of LARPers, and a troop of survivalist scouts. There's plenty of clever dialog between your character and the supporting cast continuing on the theme of self awareness and of course, progressing the plot.
Being on the ground is death in Sunset Overdrive as you'll quickly become overwhelmed by the OD. Instead the game wants you to bounce on cars, umbrellas, and vents to stay airborne; grind on rails and wires to move forward width speed, and maybe even dash through the air and walk on water. Movement in Sunset Overdrive is best described as parkour in low gravity. As you move through the city and take out the OD you'll earn style for a meter which then activates your characters amps - it's basically a combo meter but only earned when you "kill with style." Of course there's more to do than just the main story, which in itself has a good variety of missions. You'll also be able to complete traversal challenges, mini-games and side missions given by supporting characters.
Throughout the city there are tons of collectibles to pick up including cell phones, security cameras, floating Fizzy Balloons, toilet paper, and smelly shoes. The last three of those items are used to create character and weapon upgrades called amps. Once you have the required number of collectibles you start to "brew" the amp in a survival style mission protecting vats. During these Night Defense missions you can lay out traps in a tower defense like manner to slow the incoming horde of OD. Because these amps offer more than just attack damage and defensive bonuses (there's a whole system for that too), players are required to work a little harder to gain them. Instead you'll be able to add flaming attacks to your melee abilities, call in lightning strikes based on your style meter, summon tornados and several other over the top upgrades. My one gripe here is the game is so busy visually it's incredibly difficult to see a lot of these required materials, especially the toilet paper and shoes which are required for the for the amp upgrades.
Killing enemies gives you cans of Overcharge which are used to purchase items from vendors. There's a lot of player customization available to purchase, which became evident when I played the game's online co-op mode and everyone looked so vastly different. Most of your money will be spent on the game's weapons, and there's quite a lot of these to choose from with a good variety of functionality. You have weapons that offer big explosions (TNTeddy) and weapons that are used to set OD on fire (Flaming Compensator). There are self sufficient weapons like the remote controlled helicopters or Acid Fizzie Sprinklers; and finally you have your standard damage dealing guns. All in all There's about 20 weapons to choose from and they are all inventive and serve a purpose for strategy of combat.
While you won't be playing any of the main story in co-op friends, you can launch into the Sunset Overdrive's co-op mode called "Chaos Squad" at any time by visiting phone booths littered around the map. Hit one up, start matchmaking and continue to play the campaign until a game is ready. Once in, the eight player co-op match begins with players choose between two mini-games. Players vote on which one they'd like to play based on the bonuses it provides to the end game which includes a more difficult survival and more power for your traps. There's a good variety of mini-games to play with friends too - defense missions, action sequences where you'll need to kill with style, collection missions, and bombing missions. Each one should take four to five minutes to complete and then it's on to vote for the next one. Players have free roam of the section of the city to complete the challenges so the traversal elements are still present here.
After a few mini games it's onto Night Defense which is scaled out for more players compared to its single player counterpart, and also a lot more chaotic. In fact, Chaos Squad is aptly named for what occurs during it - absolute chaos. Hundreds of OD of all shapes and sizes enter into those final battles and the game doesn't stutter or slow down. It's a cacophony of color and light that hasn't been seen since a holiday rave. Each player can lay out their own traps to protect the vats from their own pool of resources earned from the mini-games. Once it's all over you're team is ranked on just how well they did, earning multipliers for each mini-game and sub objective and finally the Night Defense mission itself. The more points you earn the more things you have a chance to unlock which includes character customization elements and weapon amps that you can bring back to single player.
If there's a downside to Chaos Squad it's that it doesn't seem to scale very well. While I had a blast with eight players, it almost seemed to easy to complete. When I played later on with just three players the challenge was almost too much. There was no healthy in between. In fact Insomniac has said the mode is balanced for six to eight players in the review guide, so we can only hope they can patch in some sort of scaling.
For me Sunset Overdrive is one of the few open world games that have been able to hold my attention for an extended period of time. Great writing, fun gameplay with excellent controls, and a good variety of things to do make this one of my favorite open world games since Crackdown. The co-op mode is a nice distraction and a great way to earn upgrades and other goodies, though we still would have loved to have the option for co-op in the campaign. Still like a can of Overcharged Delirium XXT this game packs a lot of fun and silliness into a tight package, and I drank the entire thing.