SunSet Overdrive: needs another energy drink

A couple of years ago Insomniac Games showed off a brief trailer of a new game they were working on. The characters in the trailer were elongated and stylised, each had a crazy weapon and they were jumping, sliding and otherwise parkouring their way across rooftops. It looked rad. Somehow, in a bit over a year and a half, that game became Fuse, the horribly dull four player co-op shooter that carried none of the Insomniac hallmarks the company has a reputation for delivering. Sunset Overdrive seems to be the game Fuse was always meant to be, before someone at EA thought gamers would like it more if it was sucked of all joy and charm.


MONSTER CHILDREN
The plot behind the game is unbelievably ludicrous but so fitting to the action and the world that it transcends stupidity and all but becomes a meta commentary on how dumb  the justifications for action in games can be. Long story short, a evil multinational soft drink company, Fizzco, releases a new energy drink that has the unfortunate side effect of turning everyone that drinks it into mutated zombie monster things. So powerful is this soft drink company that rather than trying to fix the problem or call the CDC or government for help in the crisis, they instead quarantine the whole city and use their media presence to simply tell the world that everyone in Sunset City is dead from a horrible virus and that nobody should try to investigate. It’s a hilariously arbitrary excuse for an action game, which is fitting because most of the actual action is as nonsensical and arbitrary. In a good way.
the abilities are there for fun, not for any serious character or world building
Players create a character using some extremely robust customisation controls and launch into action, rail grinding, mantling and jumping on bouncy things to traverse the energy drink devastated city. There is no reason given for the character’s uncanny ability to rail slide on anything for a seemingly infinite amount of time, turn on the spot, use all manner of objects as springboards and have mastery of all manner of crazy ranged weapons, and there doesn’t need to be. Like the overall story, the abilities are there for fun, not for any serious character or world building. There is some neat visual cues to let players know what can or cannot be bounced upon, what surfaces are grindable and which walls can be mantled, climbed, jumped off and the like. It takes very little time to become accustomed to the controls and abilities of the character and from then on Sunset Overdrive is mostly an absolute joy.

OH, OH, DON’T BE SLOW
Everything in Sunset Overdrive is geared around the concept of mobility. It’s possible to face off against the mutants whilst standing on level ground, but the accuracy of enemies and the relative lack of health make this an extremely suboptimal tactic. Getting up high and keeping mobile is the order of the day. In the early proceedings there will inevitably be some ground based problems due to the mobility skills not quite being good enough to allow you to string together seamless combos of rail slides and bouncing off objects, but that makes unlocking the air dash so satisfying. Suddenly you go from missing your next jump or slide by a hair’s breadth and having to scramble to get back up high before you’re surrounded (not that it isn’t fun), to being able to leap and slide across Sunset City, avoiding the ground like it was made of lava.

Combat is best waged from on high. There are 20 weapons that have the Insomniac fingerprint all over them, from a fire shotgun with balls (the Flaming Compensator) to a lightning cannon (The Shocker) and pretty much any other nonsensical weaponised object or innuendo based pun they could come up with. Aiming is fairly lenient with most weapons but, for those that require a little more accuracy, a pull of a trigger can slow down time, enabling you to pull off tricky shots while zipping around on a rail. In addition to the arsenal of not particularly normal weapons, players also have special abilities called Amps. These are directly tied into the movement mechanics. Jumping and grinding around while shooting enemies builds up “style” points. Get enough and it triggers an Amp. These special abilities include Roid Rage, an Amp that causes enemies to explode if you kill them with a melee attack, to the ridiculously great Bear Force One, an ability that has a chance to turn any killed enemy into a TNTeddy. You can guess what that does.

AMPED UP
One area of the game that doesn’t work so well is the character upgrade system. There is one set up for active Amp upgrades that trigger when you get enough style points, and another full of passive abilities that slightly upgrade your character. The Amps don’t really feel like they have enough variation to warrant using any but those rewarded by the story, and the passives definitely don’t inspire. There are collectibles dotted across Sunset City that can be used to upgrade the Amps themselves, but the time and effort required to find them all isn’t rewarded enough to justify the hunt. The whole character upgrade system feels unfinished, as though Insomniac first decided to have a set upgrade path but decided to make it open at the last minute. Still, the flaws in the system aren’t nearly bad enough to detract from the overall fun of riding rails and shooting lolly-water mutants.

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