Artists’ personalities often come out in the works they create. Whether it’s a sculpture, a song or something more abstract, art can be a window into its creator’s mind. As video games continue to define their place among the world’s great art forms, developers have consistently put their fingerprints on the games they create, crafting memorable experiences with styles unique to their studios. But every now and again, a game comes along that boasts a personality all its own, standing out among the sea of new releases. To say Sunset Overdrive fits that description would be an extreme understatement. While a typical game would walk in the door an announce itself, Sunset Overdrive careens into the room leading a veritable marching band, replete with a fireworks show and dancing elephants. It’s an in-your-face experience unlike anything else out there, confident, cocky and self-aware.
From moment one, Sunset Overdrive sets a frenetic pace that challenges gamers to try and keep up. The plot is that a contaminated energy drink called Overcharge has effectively turned most of Sunset City’s inhabitants into grotesque, murderous, ravening abominations called the “OD.” With little choice but to join a group of survivors, your character begins a quest to make it through the absurd situation alive.
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There’s a bit of a learning curve to Sunset Overdrive that may catch some players off guard. That’s because the primary objective of the game isn’t just to accomplish a set of missions, but to do so with style. To aid in that goal, almost every surface acts as a pseudo-trampoline or rail to grind on, a la Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
With a physics system that would have Sir Isaac Newton weeping, every action can be chained into another increasingly absurd motion. The more moves you chain together, the higher your style meter goes, activating special abilities. Linking different moves together is fluid, fast and, most importantly, a whole lot of fun.
Although it takes time to acclimate to the system, it eventually becomes second nature, which is a good thing because the easiest way to get killed in Sunset Overdrive is to stand still. Stay on the ground for more than a few seconds, and the one or two OD around you quickly become a swarm.
To compensate for the fact that you’re always on the move, the game slows down while using fine aim. It’s not a huge slowdown, but it’s enough to orient yourself to different targets. Additionally, most of the game’s weapons blast a large swathe of ground, often to humorous effect. The Kitty Canon, for instance, fires out an electronic cat that seemingly doesn’t do anything special – until a flying robotic dog zooms in, detonates a massive explosion and terrorizes any enemies in the area. And then sits there like it’s totally innocent.
That kind of absurdity is commonplace among Sunset Overdrive’s weapons selection, with everything from a teddy bear launcher (the teddy bears hold dynamite and looks positively adorable) to a gun that launches vinyl records. Every weapon provides varying degrees of effectiveness against the game’s mutant, human and robotic enemies, creating a strategic element that encourages players to change weapons often.
To aid in the rampant destruction of the game’s enemies, players can craft amps and power-ups that do everything from shooting fireballs when you jump to adding an electric shock to your guns. Each amp activates at a different style level, further encouraging the rapid parkour on steroids that Sunset Overdrive demands of its players.
With the psychotically fast pace, hundreds of enemies on screen and endless sea of explosions occurring at any one time, it’s a testament to both the game and Xbox One console itself that’s there’s absolutely no slowdown whatsoever. The game’s frame rate never dips, allowing every fluid motion to seamlessly blend into the next.
Traversing Sunset City’s endless system of rails and objects to bounce on is made all the more enjoyable by the game’s stunning art style. Every pixel of the city is positively gorgeous, with colors exploding on every inch of the screen. Striking a motif that overtly evokes a 90s punk-rock style, the game holds no reservations about using the full color spectrum, often in unexpected ways. Character models feature highly customizable designs, foregoing convention for eccentricity and genuine fun.
Sunset Overdrive’s sound is spot on too. The sound effects work perfectly, even for the wackiest weapons, and voice actors provide perfectly delivered performances for every caricature that comes your way.
Yet for the major technical accomplishment that Sunset Overdrive is, there are some issues with it that keep it from perfection. To start with, the need to stay in constant motion means that you’re constantly going to be readjusting your aim to find your target, which is particularly cumbersome when the game tells you to take out a specific enemy.
There are also times when the controls don’t feel as responsive as they could, meaning you may find yourself running the wrong way along a wall or grinding on a rail in the opposite direction you’d intended. And while shooting hordes of zombie-like creatures is fun, the game’s highly repetitive nature feels tedious from time to time.
One aspect of the game that doesn’t suffer repetition is its dialog. With writing that unashamedly breaks the fourth wall and pokes fun at popular culture whenever and wherever it can, the writing has received high praise in many circles. The thing is, it really isn’t funny. At all. Clever? At times, but with a liberal use of the f-word and overused tropes, the game’s attempts at humor often come off as trying too hard.
From a purely technical perspective, Sunset Overdrive is a masterstroke. It’s beautiful, smooth and does exactly what it sets out to do in every way. It is, however, a polarizing game. If you like the first few minutes of Sunset Overdrive, you’re going to love the rest of the game – and there’s a ton of content to sink your teeth into.
If, on the other hand, Sunset Overdrive doesn’t win you over after the first few missions, it’s not really going to do much to convince you otherwise.
It’s bright, fast and polished, but Sunset Overdrive just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, it’s as well-made of a video game as I’ve ever seen.
Sunset Overdrive earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems for outstanding design, uniqueness and overall fun.