There’s something a bit depressing about the end of the world, but, on the other hand, if the world is falling around your ears, then you may as well go out with a bang (or several). The latter is very much the mentality behind Sunset Overdrive, one of the killer exclusives Microsoft has bagged for the Xbox One.
As one of the developers aptly put in an interview shortly before release, the easiest way to sum up the experience of playing Sunset Overdrive is in one word - momentum. While you could amble about and shoot things, you’d find that you’re struggling to keep on top of the enemies, which spawn randomly across the city as you traverse between missions. The better plan is to bounce, grind and otherwise speed across the map in a fashion closer to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than the complex parkour of Assassin’s Creed. Almost everything can be manipulated in some way to keep you moving, and after just a few key upgrades, which you are gifted as part of the story, you’ll find you can get from A to B without touching the ground.
Insomniac have done well to establish a new IP with a clear sense of identity.
Journeying across the city in this way generates style, which is used to earn badges which can then be used to unlock overdrives. With us so far? Overdrives give permanent buffs to things like health, damage-dealing or style-generation, while Amps give your character certain abilities, which you can customise depending on your play style. For example, one amp gives your melee attack the chance to create lightning which strikes other enemies whenever you attack, while another creates a shower of fire behind you whenever you grind, dealing damage. Specific weapons can have amps too, to give them a chance to freeze targets for example. To keep all of this up though, you have to keep chaining kills and style together, but it’s not as complex as it seems.
Multiplayer generally comes in the form on the tower defence and Horde mode-inspired Chaos Squad, which sees you setting traps and defending a variety of locations around the city against an ever-increasing variety of OD, and the multiplayer angle adds a fun dimension without really relying on teamwork to succeed. There is also a score attack mode which only the most stylish will excel at, and, in fact, not progressing far enough in the campaign before jumping in can give you a serious disadvantage.
The story stays close to the game’s stereotypical style and is relatively obvious, but the characters you come across are entertaining enough to give a chuckle once in a while. One particularly unfortunate character ends up being trapped for an extended period of time and, instead of grumbling about it, proceeds to chew off his own limbs to keep himself alive, maintaining an unnaturally positive attitude. For an apocalypse though (or an awesome-pocalypse as the game would say), this is probably the most horrific thing which takes place, and even then its all off-screen and done in good humour.
The tone is certainly something which will divide people playing for the first time. It isn’t crude or low brow but it can come across as trying too hard, and if you don’t get the joke you can quickly find yourself judging it for being childish. In terms of gameplay though, the title stands up as one of the most unique, fun and interesting experiences on offer on the console.
Insomniac have done well to establish a new IP with a clear sense of identity, not too far from the release of the system. The fact that the game will remain a true exclusive, being published by Microsoft Studios, makes it, along with stablemate Titanfall a compelling reason to give the console a shot, but whether MS keep hold of the sequel remains to be seen.