Released: 28 October 2014
Developer: Insomniac Games
Also Available For: PC and Xbox Series S/X
Sunset Overdrive was developed by Insomniac Games, who were best known at the time for their work on the Ratchet & Clank series (ibid/Various, 2002 to present); seeking to expand their portfolio, the developers drew inspiration from videogames like Jet Set Radio (Smilebit, 2000) to create an unusually vibrant title that would be the biggest game they had ever worked on at the time. Sunset Overdrive aimed to encourage players to be more aggressive in the way they played by emphasising momentum and featured a unique punk rock aesthetic to its post-apocalyptic world. Upon release, Sunset Overdrive’s tone and unique comedy was highly praised; reviews also praised the gameplay and the fun of exploring its zany world, and art style, though its multiplayer and more repetitive mechanics were criticised. Still, Sunset Overdrive was the second-best selling game in the United Kingdom upon release and the game was expanded upon with a range of downloadable content (DLC) that added new weapons, costumes, and story-based content to the game, all of which are included in this “Deluxe Edition” of the game.
In the year 2027, megaconglomerate FizzCo hosts a massive pre-release party in Sunset City for its new energy drink, OverCharge Delirium XT; however, as they rushed through the testing phase, the drink transforms people into violent, boil-covered mutants known as “Overcharge Drinkers” (or “OD”) and it is up to the player character to join the remnants of society in fighting back against the OD and bring down FizzCo.
Sunset Overdrive is a third-person, open world action shooter with a heavy emphasise on parkour-style traversal; your avatar (named only as “Player” in the in-game subtitles) can grind, swing, bounce, and wall run all over Sunset City, easily chaining together different moves along with melee and projectile attacks to build up the “Style Meter” and amass greater kill combos.
The Player’s skill set is relatively diverse and tailored towards these mechanics; X allows you to perform a dodge roll and grind on wires, rails, roof edges, and almost everything across the city following a jump. A, as always, jumps; pressing it right as you land on certain surfaces (such as cars, solar panels, and nets) will allow you to bounce higher and you can double tap A to vault over lower walls. You’ll also eventually learn to perform an air boost with the Right Bumper and, at certain times, you can press Y to interact with the environment to open doors, pick up mission items, or grab explosive barrels and you can also swing your crowbar with B to melee attack (which can also be performing while grinding).
As essential as all of these traversal options are, though, a large chunk of the game is made up of weapons-based combat; you press (and/or hold) the Right Trigger to fire, use the Left Trigger to strafe, and can bring up your weapon wheel by holding down the Left Bumper. Similarly, you’ll be able to select from a series of traps using the directional pad but, while the game does slow down to a crawl when the weapon wheels are open, there is a risk of you being attacked when selecting weapons and, while you can hold multiple weapons at once, it can be a bit tricky to select the weapon you want as the selection wheel feels a bit slippery at times. Weapons come in all sorts of bizarre shapes and sizes, with some being more effective against certain enemies (those that shoot out fire are more effective against OD, for example, while shock-based weapons are better for dispatching FizzCo’s robots), but ammo can often be in short supply. While you never have to reload and you’ll find more ammo by smashing crates and killing enemies, I often found that I burned through a lot of my ammo very quickly even after upgrading their ammo capacity, which means it’s best to switch between weapons as often as possible.
Sunset Overdrive is a pretty massive game; a mini map on the heads-up display always keeps you on track towards your objective and points out any enemies, friendlies, and pick-ups and secrets in the area. The game’s main map is accessed from the pause menu and, right from the beginning, is packed full of things to see, do, and pick-up. The game’s map system and large, diverse city reminds me of Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North, 2013) and has many of the same options; you can toggle between different objectives and views, set custom waypoints, and purchase special maps to highlight even more secrets. Despite how big the game world is and the sheer amount of stuff that you can find and collect in any given area, I never found myself getting lost or turned around as both the mini map and main map (and in-game dialogue) constantly keep you pointed in the right direction. You can also fast travel to certain points on the map, which is always appreciated especially in a game this big but I found it was actually better to travel manually as I could veer off to grab collectibles along the way.
What does get a bit manic, however, are the sheer amount of enemies you’ll have to contend with. OD are literally everywhere in Sunset City, crawling out of sewers, dumpsters, and clambering around rooftops and alleyways and their numbers only increase as the game progresses. The game barely ever lets up on the onslaught and, even after clearing the immediate area of enemies, more will soon spawn in if you linger too long. This means that you need to constantly be on the move; it’s not really recommended to battle enemies at ground level, where your movement options are more limited, meaning you’ll be grinding and hopping between different traversal points and constantly switching directions on the fly, which can make aiming and seeing where your shots are going a bit difficult. In this regard, the game reminds me of Infamous (Sucker Punch Productions, 2009) in its emphasis on movement-based combat, though the shooting mechanics are noticeably more refined and useful here; the more you move and mix up your attacks, the more your Style Meter will grow to activate any amplifiers (“Amps”) you have attached to your character. The Player, however, can be a bit fragile; you’ll need to pick up Green Crosses to replenish your health, which can be whittled away extremely quickly, and certain weapons and upgrades will increase your health and durability, but dying is pretty easy in Sunset Overdrive. Thankfully, after dying, you’ll simply respawn (through a number of amusing pop-culture references) near to where you fell and be able to carry on with what you were doing but, other times (generally when in the middle of a side quest) you’ll have to restart your current mission from the beginning, which can be a bit inconsistent and annoying.
Gameplay is given a bit of variety from a number of non-playable characters (NPCs), all of whom are part of different factions and have a bunch of side quests for you to complete. These generally involve “busy work” such as clearing out OD, human Scabs, and/or FizzCo ‘bots, smashing certain machines or objects, collecting things, or dashing across the city completing errands. You’ll also find a number of challenges across the city which task you with racing through rings using your grinding, bouncing, and wall running skills, collecting points, battling swarms of enemies, smashing stuff up, or planting bombs. All of these have a time limit attached to them and will net you additional rewards based on your ranking (Bronze, Silver, or Gold), which can range from cash, Overcharge, and additional clothing items and it’s pretty easy to get sidetracked during your many missions to complete these tasks as you go.
All of these missions and side quests are highlighted on your map and can be replayed at any time from the main menu, allowing you to try for more points and rewards. You’ll also get to pilot a glider at various points both in the game’s story and in challenges; this is a pretty simple affair that sees you flying over air currents to keep your ship powered up, performing barrel rolls to avoid enemy fire, and blasting at enemies and targets with homing rockets. Sadly, while these sections are fun, there’s no way to call a glider to you at any time to help traverse the city and these sections are a bit limited in their scope. You can also perform a dash over bodies of water by pressing X and the Player is, thankfully, fully capable of swimming, which is always a plus. Easily the most prominent additional mechanic you’ll take part in, however, are the handful of times when you’re tasked with laying traps and holding out against waves of OD while cooking up additional Amps in Overcharge canisters. These sections can be tricky thanks to the sheer amount of enemies that you’ll face but placing a variety of traps at various points around the fort and staying on the move will increase your chances of survival and, even when you have to defend multiple targets across more complicated forts, these aren’t massively challenging and can be quite exhilarating. Barricades help keep enemies at bay and you’ll be awarded additional energy to lay more traps as the sections progress, which is helpful, and, while it can get very chaotic as more vicious and varied enemies spawn in, the rewards are worth the effort.
Graphics and Sound:
Sunset Overdrive utilises exaggerated, comic book style, semi-cel shaded graphics to bring its characters and world to life. While the city is mostly semi-realistic, characters are larger than life and this really helps to sell the game’s zany narrative. You avatar can be completely customised, allowing you to pick between two different male and female body types and buy and equip a range of clothing items to make them unique to you. Options for hair, faces, and body types may be a bit limited but there are a lot of wacky outfits to choose from and these are easily unlocked or purchased using in-game currency, meaning you can constantly switch up your appearance.
Sunset City is absolutely gigantic; cordoned off from the rest of the world by a convenient (and literal) invisible wall, the city is custom-built to take advantage of your traversal mechanics, meaning there are a lot of wires, lampposts, and walls to grind, swing, and run across. The city is full of different areas (such as Little Tokyo, high-rise apartments, bridges, a water treatment plant, a fairground, and shopping districts), all of which are crawling with seemingly-endless waves of enemies and full of things to collect. The downside, though, is that the game isn’t really built for vertical traversal; this means that if you fall or are knocked to ground level, it can be frustrating and difficult to work your way back up and out of the way because the Player is geared more towards horizontal movement.
The game’s story is absolutely bonkers and full of pop-culture references to movies and fourth wall breaking moments. It’s honestly one of the more unique and entertaining stories I’ve ever played through and really helps ease the frustration at the game’s more annoying moments; characters are all over the top and the humour is crude and self-referential, which is always fun, though you’re not always able to skip through cutscenes or certain moments and, while the soundtrack is suitably rocking and enjoyable, I did notice the music and sound effects cutting out abruptly at certain points. This was most noticeable when I was playing through the “Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machine” DLC, however, where the subtitles suddenly turned off and all music and most sound effects suddenly cut out completely and didn’t return until I quit and reloaded the game.
Enemies and Bosses:
The primary enemy of Sunset Overdrive are the OD, disgusting mutant humans who swarm all over the city and attack in large groups. Though easily dispatched, their sheer numbers, ferocity, and tenacity can be overwhelming as they’ll attack in hordes and rush at you, clawing and swiping and easily whittling your health down unless you stay on the move. You’ll also have to contend with different OD variants, such as “Poppers” (who charge at you and explode in a kamikaze attack), “Herkers” (larger OD who throw rocks and objects at you), “Gunkers” (who hop about from above and shoot gunk at you), and “Spawners” (who will continuously spawn more OD unless you put them down).
You’ll also have to contend with human enemies, the Scabs, who shoot at you and use cover-based mechanics to pick you off. Thanks to the sheer number of their projectiles, these can be incredibly annoying enemies and are easily able to overwhelm you. Similarly, FizzCo’s many different robots and mechs will also attack you throughout the story, even setting up little fortifications and turrets to cause you extra headaches. As the story progresses, you’ll battle groups of all of these enemies at once and, while they also attack each other, it can get a bit manic trying to take them all out as you have to constantly stay on the move and switch to different weapons to be at your most effective.
Still, these chaotic battles and the steady increase of different enemy variants aren’t to be sniffed at as traditional boss battles are few and far between in Sunset Overdrive. Rather than take on bigger, nastier bosses progressively to finish up a mission, you’ll encounter larger, more powerful enemies or new enemy variants as you perform missions or defend your forts. These include the “Wingers” (large, bat-like OD who fly around shooting fireballs at you), “Muggers” (bestial OD who leap about the place and aggressively pounce on you to attack with their claws), Blade Bots (who rush at you with electric swords), and Tank Bots (a heavily-armoured mech that bombards you with lasers, mines, and leaps about using hover jets). As you progress, you’ll have to battle swarms of regular enemies bolstered by these bigger forces or even two or more of them at once, which can be a real challenge at times, especially if you’re low on (or out of) the most appropriate ammunition.
That’s not to say there are no boss battles at all, though; You’ll frantically blast at the King Scab on a rollercoaster before derailing him with a massive dinosaur mask at one point and also battle a gigantic version of Fizzie, FizzCo’s annoying and enthusiastic mascot, twice during the game’s story. The first time you battle him, he’s a massive blimp and floats around blasting at you with his eye lasers and spitting out annoying explosive balloons. You must grind around high up in the air and bounce on pads to stun him, and then unload at his exposed weak point, but the battle becomes tougher as it progresses, with Fizzie shooting rockets at you at directly targeting your rails as you frantically try to keep from falling (which, thankfully, doesn’t deplete your health or result in failure) to blast his weak spot. Fizzie’s artificial intelligence also takes control of the FizzCo building for the game’s finale; before you can even reach this point, though, you must eradicate the FizzCo ‘bots alongside all of your colourful allies and then, when the fight begins, you’re given three minutes and thirty seconds to race across the city, avoiding devastating sky beams, and grind up the building’s tentacles while avoiding electrified currents, bouncing from pads, and trying not to be knocked away as you frantically blast at the building’s power core. You have to do this three times and each time the timer resets but Fizzie is a bit further away, a bit more heavily defended, and more aggressive in his attacks and defence strategies.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are a wide range of weapons on offer in Sunset Overdrive, each one unique and kind of crude in its design and often cobbled together by the most random of items. You can melee attack with a crowbar but will eventually be able to purchase a baseball bat with your cash and, as part of the story, will be tasked with forging a massive sword to chop enemies up but you can also toss or attack barrels to destroy groups of enemies and you’ll also purchase and acquire a number of different guns.
These range from amusing variants on standard weaponry from shooter games, such as pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and grenade launchers; one of the most reliable weapons is the first one you get, the Flaming Compensator, which is great for turning OD to ash. The High Fidelity and Nothin’ But the Hits weapons fire vinyl records at high speed and are great for crowd control, while the Shield Buddy is a must-have for blowing enemies away and protecting you in a temporary energy shield and the Dirty Harry is great for dealing heavy damage to bigger enemies. You can also grab explosive weapons like the One-Handed Dragon, TnTeddy, and Multi-Lock Rocket Launcher to dish out heavy damage, lure enemies into a frenzy with the Captain Ahab or Rager, freeze them in place, or slowly deal damage over time with some of FizzoCo’s own weapons.
As you use each weapon, it’ll gain experience points (XP) and level up to a capped level of five. This not only increases its damage output and effectiveness but also allows you to equip Amps to the weapon for additional effects; Amps can be unlocked and bought at forts and have a range of benefits, from cosmetic stuff like having enemies explode in a burst of flowers, to perks for the Player (causing enemies to drop additional health, money, Overcharge, or increasing the XP rate), and (my personal favourite) additional attacks (rockets, a small nuclear bomb, shock or fire damage, and many others) that can really help level the playing field when faced with swarms of enemies. Performing different tricks, moves, and killing certain enemies will also earn you Badges; Badges can then be cashed in from the main menu to buy Overdrives to equip to the Player. These will increase your health, ammo capacity, and allow you to deal (and take) more damage from certain enemies. You can also increase the damage output of your weapons, the effectiveness of your traversal mechanics and melee attacks, and many other little buffs that all add up to assist you during gameplay. There are also a number of different traps you can buy to place when defending your forts; some of these automatically activate but others require you to jump onto them (which you’ll get some practice with in certain missions) and you can purchase new Amps, weapons, and traps using Overcharge and by collecting the multitude of different collectibles and junk scattered all over the city.
There are sixty-four Achievements to earn in Sunset Overdrive, with the bulk of these popping when you complete various story-based missions. Many others are tied to combat and pop when you kill a certain number of OD, or when killing enemies in certain ways (grinding and bouncing, for example), spend a certain amount of money, upgrade your weapons, and equip Amps and Overdrives. By far the most time-consuming Achievements are those that involve completing certain side missions or collecting the game’s many different items and junk; scattered all throughout the city are Fizzie balloons, neon signs, toilet paper, and smelly sneakers for you to collect to purchase new Amps and you’ll need to find every single one of these (as well as deface FizzCo signs, smash their vending machines, eavesdrop on conversations, and view city landmarks) to nab every Achievement.
Each faction you encounter in the game has a number of side quests for you to complete; these include scouring the city for comic books, roasting pigeons, finding parts, rescuing or finding their allies, clearing out enemies, operating cranes, or smashing cars to cause a ruckus and it’s worth your while taking the time to complete as many (or all) of these side quests as it’ll net you more money and items. There’s honestly so much to do at any one time that it can be a little overwhelming but it definitely keeps the game from getting boring and you can easily begin or replay any mission at any time. Once you finish the game, your objectives automatically switch to any remaining side quests, which is really handy, and the game even comes with an online component (“Chaos Squad”) which you can activate at any time from convenient booths scattered across the city. While I wasn’t able to experience this, it is apparently an eight player co-operative mode that involves defending forts and completing missions and has a number of Achievements tied to it.
The game’s Achievements are further bolstered up to eighty-eight thanks to the game’s two story-based DLC missions, which introduce slight enemy variants, feature forty UFOS to collect, and bestow you with new weapons and items. In “Mystery of the Mooil Rig”, you’ll venture out to an oil rig, where you’ll have to battle oil-based OD and Scab workers while igniting oil to call for help. You’ll also have to make use of the game’s harpoon mechanic to bring a boat in safely, destroy egg clusters infecting the rig, and contend with the massive Cthulhu-like DL Sea Monster; to battle this monstrous creature, you must destroy its tentacles and then have your ally launch you into its gaping jaw so you can mash B to hurt it from the inside. The second story-based DLC, “Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machine”, is much trickier and more frustrating; this has you venture beyond the invisible wall and into the FizzCo robot factory, where you must find diaries to assemble a new weapon, impersonate a robot to access kill codes, and frantically roll around in an energy ball destroying certain ‘bots within a strict time limit. This culminates in a boss battle against B-WIN, the host of Sunset TV, who blasts at you with lasers and energy beams from behind multiple screens that protect his core. For this fight, you’ll need to make stringent use of cover and stay on the move to manoeuvre behind him to deal greater damage to his core before luring him over a pit of molten metal to finally finish him off.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sunset Overdrive; I’d heard of the game and that it was this fun, chaotic, action romp and it certainly delivered in that regard. There is so much to see and do in the game and, unlike some open world experiences, it never feels dull or repetitive because of the constant swarms of enemies and things to detour off and collect and side missions to complete. The game’s traversal mechanics can take a bit of getting used to but, before long, it’s pretty simple to chain together grinds and jumps with your shooting and to become more efficient at dispatching massive hoards of enemies with your various weapons, Amps, and Overdrives. While there are some frustrating elements to the game, such as how manic the action can be (the game literally never gives you a moment to pause and catch your breath) and how inconsistent and vague some of the mission objectives can be (made all the more annoying since the game largely holds your hand otherwise), the humour and over-the-top presentation is a massive stand out for me; also the gore and crude nature of the game, as well as its self-referential and pop-culture moments, made it a fun and exhilarating experience overall.
Are you a fan of Sunset Overdrive; if so, what did you think to it? Did you like the game’s over-the-top presentation and zany mechanics? What did you think to the parkour-style traversal system and the game’s many diverse weapons? Were you also a little overwhelmed by how many enemies attack at any one time and the sheer amount to do and collect or did you enjoy the experience of tracking down every last collectible? What did you think to the game’s story and selection of missions and bosses? Which faction or side mission was your favourite? Did you purchase the DLC and, if so, were you satisfied with the additional content or did you want more from the game? Would you like to see a sequel some time? Whatever you think about Sunset Overdrive, leave a comment down below.