Underrated Games: Sunset Overdrive

Let me refresh your memory. It's 2013 and Microsoft's brand new flagship console, the Xbox One, was revealed at E3. It would be an understatement to say the whole thing was anything short of an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft's reveal went as follows:

Must be turned on and connected to the internet at all times.
Users must use Kinect.
No borrowing your friend’s games because of DRM.
Major Nelson acting like a complete tosser.

Gamers were pissed, and longtime Xbox fans deserted the Xbox One in favour of the much more player-friendly PS4 (anyone remember this little zinger?), but the sad truth about the whole situation was that this anger drew our attention away from what really mattered: the games. When they weren't barraging us with information about how the Xbox One could play TV (you know, like a TV already can), the trailers Microsoft did show for Xbox One exclusive games at their press conference went mostly ignored. One of these games was Insomniac's new game, Sunset Overdrive. In all honesty, even with its excess 'tude and cartoony visuals, the trailer felt bland, and by the time it was released in October 2014, gamers were too busy playing their PS4s to care. Those who did own an Xbox One probably just picked it up because they needed an exclusive to make the purchase of their VCR-looking monstrosity worthwhile. Those who probably wished they had The Last of Us Remastered got the total opposite, and probably ended up trading it in. But if there was ever a game that got unjustly swept under the rug, it's Sunset Overdrive.

Let me cut to the chase. I adore Sunset Overdrive. I want to scream it from the rooftops as I grind along them, firing explosive teddy bears at energy drink-addicted zombies: Woooo! Sunset overdrive is fucking awesome! I resent that crappy trailer I saw back at E3 for completely underselling the energy, wit and charm contained within this game. Oh and did I mentioned that the gameplay is like a mix of Tony Hawk meets Jet Set Radio meets InFamous? That, my friends, is what I call an awesome recipe.

After creating a character using a character creation system not dissimilar from that of the Tony Hawk games (I picked the female character, because why not), you are thrown head first into the colour-soaked world of Sunset Overdrive. Your character is busy working, picking up empty cans at a launch event for in-universe drink company Fizzco's new energy drink OverCharge Delirium XT. Suddenly the new drink starts turning the customers drinking it into mutant zombie creatures (known in the game as OverCharge Drinkers, or simply OD). Naturally your in-game avatar runs for their life. This is where the gameplay starts. Sunset Overdrive is a third-person shooter game with extremely ridiculous traversal elements that defy the law of gravity. You make your way around Sunset City by wall running, air-dashing, zip lining, performing parkour, acrobatics, and water traversal, all whilst shooting down ODs in your wake. Controls are smooth, and there's always something to move you to your next destination, whether it be a wire to grind on, or a car to bounce on. This means you can move from one side of the map to the other, chaining moves together Tony Hawk-style, without touching the ground, and nothing stopping your momentum. Movement is always fluid, and stylish as hell, no matter how you want to mix up the route to your next destination. If the traversal in Insomniac's upcoming Spiderman game for PS4 is anything like Sunset Overdrive, then you Spidey fans should prepare yourselves for the best. Spiderman. Game. Ever.

Your character, after making their way to safety, joins up with various friendly characters across Sunset City to become part of the "awesomepocalypse", and fight the OD hordes, enemy factions know as SCABs and even killer Fizzco bots. These friendly characters send you all over Sunset City, running errands, and fixing what is broke, all whilst chattering back and forth with your avatar over radio. All of the non-playable characters in Sunset Overdrive are brilliantly eccentric in their own individual ways, and your main character's interactions with them always find a way to tickle your funny bone. Never once while playing this game did I find myself cringing at a joke that missed the spot — every joke had me smiling or laughing out loud. The sense of humour Insomniac implanted into Sunset Overdrive is an absolute treat to behold. While your character has the same lines regardless of their gender, I do recommend choosing the female character, as there's just something extra special about the sass the voice actress delivers her retorts and one liners with. Your main character is constantly ragging on everyone, and it's hilarious. When they're not doing that, they're also breaking the fourth wall, announcing things during missions like "I didn't even have to check GameFAQs" when the game teaches them a button combination for a new move or commending the fact that the game puts them back where they just were if they fall off a tall building during a mission.

But it's not just the characters that make this game, but the scenarios your avatar finds themself in. Scenarios range from hilariously bizarre (finding a preppy kid's robot dog or tripping on prescription medicine whilst covered in leeches) to epic as fuck (chasing a train armed with missile launchers down the tracks of an elevated railway), or a mix of the two combined (fighting Fizzco's sweary, murderous flying blimp mascot Fizzie in the sky). Even though it is an absolute joy to zoom across the giant sandbox of Sunset City between missions, I was often doing so to get to the next part of the story. Sunset Overdrive has so many creative surprises up its sleeves, and never feels repetitive, mixing in new characters, areas, tasks and enemies. It oozes charm, and it'll have you grinning from ear-to-ear from the beginning of its campaign all the way to the very end. What's more, Sunset Overdrive trades difficulty in favour of enjoyment. Of course, you'll probably still die sometimes when the enemies start to swamp you, but it's no biggie, because even dying is a treat in this game. When your character respawns, they re-enter the action in a number of different ways; such as exiting the DeLorean or Egyptian walking out of a sarcophagus. After getting my ass kicked, these charming respawn animations would never fail to turn my frown upside down. Basically, Insomniac even found a way to make dying fun. Bravo, chaps. 

To aid you in your OD killing spree, you have an arsenal of wacky weapons at your disposal, ranging from a vinyl record gun to the aforementioned gun that shoots explosive teddy bears. You can also unlock traps, that are put to use when you're asked to do tower defence style missions, that involve fighting off huge hordes of OD. Examples of traps include a bounce pad that shoots out flames, and a valiant robot knight that mauls enemies with death-dealing tennis balls.
You can also give your weapons, as well as your character, awesome extra abilities using Amps, which are unlocked by completing certain story missions or by trading in crap you find dotted around the map, such as shoes hanging from telephone lines or Fizzie balloons. You can also unlock Overdrives by performing certain actions numerous times, which upgrade your combat and traversal moves, making them more effective, or so you take less damage from certain enemies, etc. Overall, the more badass your character gets, the more fun the game becomes, and that's saying a lot, considering it was already an absolute blast to begin with.

In my opinion, the biggest thing holding Sunset Overdrive back is its Xbox One exclusivity. Perhaps if it had found its home on the much more popular (and less controversial) PS4, its fate might have been a little different. While I don't believe a single game can sell a system, if you do have plans to buy an Xbox One (or get one donated to you, like I did) with a list of games in mind, add this to your list. It's practically being given away these days - I spent a grand total of £3.50 at CeX for my copy. While it's sad that the game has fallen so deep into obscurity that it's being sold at such a low price, it's great news for any of you lot who might want to give it a try... I mean, what have you got to lose? I gave it a try, and what an absolutely stunning surprise for me it was. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite gaming experiences in recent memory. My only complaint is that it all eventually had to come to an end.

Have you played Sunset Overdrive? Do you, like me, shake your head at the passage of time because this game deserved way more attention that it received? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

Alt:Mag © Kaizo Minds Collective 2023 | Layout designed by Rumah Dijual and Lewis Cox.