Sunset Overdrive Review (Xbox One)
"So explosion. Such killing. Wow!"
In the middle of a heated battle against gross orange mutants, my Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, mo-hawked muscleman blurts out a reference to Doge, the Shiba Inu internet sensation. Sunset Overdrive is loaded with references like this, from quick one-liners to respawn animations, and these quick spots of nostalgic delight buffer an over-the-top explosion fest right out of a 10-year-old boy's imagination... if that little boy was a foul-mouthed, hyperactive miscreant hopped up on energy drinks.
For those who haven't followed Sunset Overdrive, the game takes place in Sunset City, an urban landscape torn apart by a new energy drink that turns partakers into horrible mutants. My hero, simply known as "Player," must navigate these mutants and other enemies in order to discover the secret behind the disaster and try to escape the city.
Player fights these enemies with weaponry that I truly have never seen before, from the gun that shoot razor-sharp vinyl records to TNTeddy, which launches bomb-strapped teddy bears. As appealing as this crazy artillery sounds, I spent the majority of the campaign alternating between Dirty Harry, an over-powered pistol with a great name, the Flaming Compensator, a shotgun that shoots flaming shrapnel and looks like someone's manhood, and the aforementioned TNTeddy. I never felt the need to purchase let alone use some of the crazier weapons, which is a bit of a bummer. Why create all of these weird and unique weapons if I never have to actually use them?
Despite the disappointing lack of motivation to keep swapping my weaponry, actually fighting the hordes is anything but a letdown. Movement is key to success in Sunset Overdrive. In fact, the game basically mandates that I keep moving during firefights. To help encourage this, virtually everything I see in the game can be used in my travels. I can bounce on derelict parked cars and boats in the harbor, I can grind along power lines and roofs of tall buildings, I can swing on street lights to propel me forward, and I can even run along walls.
The ability to infinitely use the environment to my mobile advantage is super cool... when it works properly. There is nothing more frustrating than successfully reaching a far away car to bounce on only for Player to land in front of it and disrupt my combo. Plenty of times I've also tried to grind on a power line only to fall through it despite hitting the X button at the right time. I don't want to sound like traversal never works properly, because I've had my share of 65 to 70-move combos while jumping around the city, but the times where missing a jump or falling into water without skating on top of it really stick out.
Movement also contributes to buffing Player's abilities via Amps and Overdrives. Amps can be assigned to both leveled-up weapons and Player himself to give him certain perks that activate via a meter in the top-right corner of the screen. Successful traversal combos coupled with kills on enemies will fill the meter, and each of the four meter levels activates more and more Amps. My particular favorites were the Damage Dodge Roll amp, which allowed me to hurt enemies by dodging their attacks, and the Melee Fireball Amp, which turned melees into projectile attacks. Amps add even more weight to getting a handle on moving around, and unfortunately make missing a combo move even more painful.
Overdrives work a bit differently, as they are permanent buffs to Player purchased with badges earned by doing stuff. A number of Grinds will earn a Grind badge, killing mutants will earn a Mutant Killing badge, and so on. Those badges are used to purchase Overdrives giving health bumps, damage buffs, and more. While these aren't as fun as an Amp that can turn an enemy into an ally simply by shooting him, they're still important to making Player a total bad-ass and thus makes me want to keep earning badges.
All of this shooting, Amping and Overdriving comes in a package stuffed with a brazen balls-to-the-wall attitude that any longtime video game fan can appreciate. Here's bit of dialogue that's a perfect example:
NPC: "How do we communicate with Sam when neither of us is holding a phone?"
Player: "You know... technology. Let's not poke holes in our story by overthinking about how we deliver it."
NPC: "OK, I'm going to back to base and be magically gone by the time you regain control."
Player: "Good, that's not weird at all."
Little pokes at game development oddities like that are all over Sunset Overdrive, reducing the fourth wall to a pile of rubble. The game never takes itself seriously, even when Player dies and respawns. Instead of just re-appearing and taking up arms, Player will rise from a grave and pretend to be a zombie, or rise from the ground in a giant drill-like mechanism, or even emerge from a teleporting phone booth with a guitar riff playing in the background. If you understand those last two references, than there's a lot more to like in Sunset's presentation.
While I expected over-the-top explode-y action from the campaign, I did not expect how much fun I would have with Chaos Squad, Sunset Overdrive's online multiplayer mode. The easiest way to explain Chaos Squad is to cut it into three sections: the race between players to get to the mission location, the missions themselves, and the final tower defense section fighting hordes of mutants.
The mode starts with up to six players and one location they all have to reach. Points are awarded to the first, second, and third players to get there, so the competition starts right from the get-go. Once everyone arrives a mission begins, ranging from collecting points using parkour to killing a group of enemies not too far away. Whoever gets the most kills or points wins the mission, then players vote on the next mission and the race begins again. After four missions, the final tower defense style mission starts, and all six players must work together to defeat the disgusting mutant hordes.
It sounds complicated, but each play session progresses in a fast and fun way, seamlessly mixing competitive and cooperative elements into one really fun mode. A fellow player could have really made me angry by barely beating me to a mission, only for he or she to save my butt later on down the line. I hated and loved my fellow Chaos Squad mates the entire time we played together, but I never stopped having fun. It's a new and interesting take on multiplayer that I could see other players enjoying for a long time to come.
Sunset Overdrive is a lot of things: a third-person shooter with loads of a parkour, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on common video game mechanics, a pop culture powerhouse with loads of inside jokes, and a fresh new way to play with and against your friends. Most important of all, Sunset Overdrive is a ton of fun no matter how I decided to play. It has some issues, mostly with the parkour giving me fits at times, but the rest of the package more than makes up for it. Rock on, Sunset City.
This review was completed with a digital copy of Sunset Overdrive provided by the publisher for Xbox One.