Microsoft’s console exclusives are arguably what it needs to make up ground on PlayStation, despite its continued hold on the beloved Halo series. Its brand new Xbox One game, Sunset Overdrive, looks in part to be an answer to Sony’s fan favorite Infamous series, since both offer a lot of grinding, wall-climbing and parkour-ish behavior. And despite a quirky face that takes some getting used to, and definitely could polarize some of the consumer response to the game, this Xbox exclusive largely manages to charm with its play mechanics and general irreverence.
Sunset Overdrive is developed by Insomniac Games, a studio that previously worked on Resistance, as well as Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet and Clank. It fuses elements of all its past success, with a light-hearted, yet also dark storyline, bright and colorful visuals and cartoonish physics, but also a dabble of ultra violence, third-person shooter weapons and techniques, and ample vulgarity to try to net some easy laughs and shock response.
Sometimes, the posturing can reach cringeworthy levels. Sunset Overdrive’s desperation to paint itself as ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ is palpable, and can occasionally dampen my enthusiasm as a player. On the other hand, the degree to which the game’s story doesn’t take itself seriously is one of its biggest strengths, and should allow most players to overlook things like its overwhelming self-referentiality.
The story also doesn’t manage to dampen the fun of its gameplay, which is rewarding and addictive despite the ridiculous set dressing (key word being despite, and note not ‘because of’). The bounce and grind mechanics that make up your best ability to navigate and negotiate your surroundings while also fending off hordes of enemies are simple enough to grasp, and the no-risk approach to character death means that you can learn the subtleties of the system (or not) at your own pace.
Overall, the pace and insanity level of Sunset Overdrive, combined with its open world map and non-linear collection of side missions, challenges and collectible-hunting are perfect for the modern video game attention span, in that it can still provide an engrossing distraction for those with longer attention spans, or work on a pop-in, pop-out basis for the crop of younger gamers who are more used to mobile-style experiences that reward short bursts of gameplay.
Sunset Overdrive’s character customization is also fairly engaging, despite similar try-hard failings when it comes to the options available. And while multiplayer is available, my favourite part of the game may be that you’ll suffer no great loss playing the whole thing by yourself, which is an increasingly rare treat in a world where multiplayer options are not only valued, but often become the central conceit of the game.
My feelings on Sunset Overdrive can be summed up as follows: It’s kind of like a Hummer in that it’s completely impractical, embarrassing to be seen driving, and probably designed by a 13-year old with an authority problem. But for all its failings, it’s still a lot of fun once you get behind the wheel.