The open world of Sunset City lets you toy with crazy weapons and dispose of mutated energy drink addicts while playing the part of a hero capable of grinding any rail from here to the end of the Earth on his or her sneakers.
It's a bit of a change from the shitty job we find ourselves in at the game's start, mopping up discarded drink cans and shuttling them to the nearest dumpster as the rest of the city parties in a festival organised by the makers of a new energy drink.
Our shitty job gets even worse as the dancing mob turn into mutants, the energy drinks obviously containing something more than just a sugar high. Mutants who'll chase us down on sight. At least that's our shitty job taken care of. In fact, we've now got a much bigger job on our hands now Sunset City has descended into chaos. Evil corporation Fizzco have managed to mix something highly toxic into their Overcharge Delirium XT cans. Anyone who drinks it has turned mutant and most of the city is overrun with energy drink craving freaks.
But there are a few normal people still hanging around. A gruff senior
named Walter saves our asses from one particular nasty with a few well aimed bullets from his assault rifle, and becomes our early guide through the city. This bearded elderly gentleman introduces us to Floyd, whose shop works as a hub where you pick up new missions. Even more importantly, Floyd cooks up Amps in an oven in front of his store. Amps offer ability perks, augment melee attacks with fireballs or unlock additional combat moves, and can also be installed into weapon slots to upgrade them.
Speaking of weapons, they're clearly the key feature in Sunset Overdrive. There is quite a lot of them, and they all tap into that special brand of gun crazy Insomniac Games have developed over the years. If you opt to Amp them up then the likes of the already insane vinyl firing gun gets the added bonus of electrical charges, while something like TNTeddy (a grenade launcher that shots explosive teddy bears) gets even more explosive. And we'll just have to leave the description of what the game's shotgun looks like to your imagination.
The art style is pure eye candy. Soft cel-shaded visuals make everything pop off the screen, from your flamboyant outfits to orange mutants exploding when you shoot them.
There is plenty of cannon fodder to dispose of, but every now and then there is a more difficult boss encounter or the odd mission in which specific mutants need taking out. At its core, the gameplay revolves around two simple things - endless grinding on rails, power lines and such much like in Tony Hawk and Jet Set Radio and lots of shooting reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank and Left 4 Dead. You will need to find higher ground and grind well above the ground level. Sticking to the streets and playing this like a traditional run and gun shooter will ultimately result in your untimely demise.
You gradually unlock and earn new weapons. A guy named Two-Hat Jack sells guns, ammunition and apparently as of yet unannounced DLC content. Enemies spit out cans of Overcharge as they're vanquished, and these can be used as currency. You can also buy clothes with them, including licensed Vans sneakers and such. It's the only real-life brand found in the game, but it's introduced in a natural and non-intrusive way. A developer informs us that there was no money involved with the licensing - it was simply a deal made between friends.
Much like digital skateboarding, Sunset Overdrive's big on style. Pull off some skills with flair, and you'll gradually fill your on-screen Style meter, which will allow your chosen Amps to come into effect. In order to keep the meter ticking over, you need to keep moving. Jump, grind, shoot and keep the variation up. Amps, however, don't fall from the sky - you need to earn them by providing Floyd with materials. Stinky skate sneakers, toilet paper, balloons, neon signs and surveillance cameras are waiting to be collected in and around Sunset City and handed over for Floyd to cook up something good.
There are main story missions and a whole range of challenges to complete, and pretty much everything has a weird twist to it. One examples is Sam, a nerd we save from the mutant mob. He and his friends hold up in pizzeria between tasty pies and arcade machines and asks us to "liberate" them. This leads us to having to procure some outrageously expensive Bora Bora water for an astronaut's son who will drink nothing else. As it turns out the factory that fills the bottles is completely flooded so it needs draining first. One strange thing after another.
It's hard to gage whether Sunset Overdrive will keep us smiling after just an hour worth of playtime. But there certainly appears to be a lot yet to unlock in the game, and the challenges keep piling up. Hopefully it's enough to keep us going. If you come across a photo booth in-game you can drop into some co-op multiplayer for up to eight players. This mode, Chaos Squad, has various scenarios such as Night Defense, in which waves of enemies attack Overcharge Vats that we must defend. Survive and we're provided with plenty of cans to buy new upgrades and weapons with.
Sunset Overdrive isn't a game that will be immeditately accessible to everyone. The art style may turn some off, but it's a plus in our book. The punk attitude and the sheer wackiness is also rather appealing. It's also nice to see Microsoft invest in something that isn't a sure thing or well established formula. So if you've got an Xbox One and you're a fan of over-the-top action this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.