When approaching Sunset Overdrive for the first time, it’s important to keep one thing at the front of your mind: it’s new. It’s not Call of Duty, and you haven’t really played anything like it before. Having to adjust from what you know about games to what Sunset Overdrive is, is about the only thing holding it back. Just how significant a hurdle that proves to be in the long run - well, it’s too soon to make a call on that.
Sunset Overdrive is the latest from long-time Sony-exclusive studio Insomniac (Spyro, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance). This time around, its game is exclusive to the Xbox One and, given the roller coaster fortunes of the platform, it’s likely Microsoft has been hoping a big win.
Attempts to pigeonhole Sunset Overdrive into one genre are misleading. It's a third-person shooter in the sense that you shoot things from a third-person perspective. However, if you approach it in that way, you’re going to die – a lot. Staying on the ground, no matter how much you use cover is going to lead to your very rapid demise. Instead, you’ll want to utilise wall running, Tony Hawk-style grinding, and spectacular hyper jumps to stay away from your formidable foes – all while still shooting them in the face.
It takes a while to get the hang of it.
Once you do, however, you’ll find yourself wondering just how you’re ever going to play anything else. Letting go of your preconceptions, your learned behaviours, and embracing the Overdrive experience is a revelation: here’s a game that knows it’s a game. There’s no attempt to recreate reality here, instead the world is simply familiar enough on the surface that, once you’re bouncing and grinding your way around it, you’ll have enough context to appreciate its playful personality without worrying about which real-world city it’s supposed to be similar to.
This cheeky persona is ably carried through the meta experience, too. Cut scenes and dialogue are delivered with plenty of fourth-wall breaking tongue in cheek, serving as a constant reminder that you’re playing a game - not some sort of interactive commentary on the human condition or whatever.
That doesn’t mean the story’s no good though. Sure, this isn’t gaming’s Citizen Kane moment, but there’s a story here and it’s true to itself, with a good combination of highs and lows, funny characters, and plenty of “WTF” moments that keep things ticking nicely along. There are shades of Saints Row here, albeit with a less serious tone.
It also looks great – the extremely bright colour palette and slightly exaggerated look of the characters are a perfect fit for the incredibly over-the-top weapons and effects. The zany weapons (an Insomniac signature) provide an substantial amount of on-screen madness that only escalates as you progress – all without ever dropping a frame. And you can customise your character just about anyway you want, without the usual constraints of gender being enforced; guy in a skirt? Girl with a goatee? Go for it!
Multiplayer is a similar treat, casting off the shackles of what you might expect for a "co-petitive" series of challenges in which you need to cooperate with your friends while also trying to beat their score.
There’s plenty of content, too, with more than ten hours of core campaign to play through, side quests galore, mini games (like the very good twist on tower defense you encounter during the campaign itself), in-game challenges, as well as downloadable individual and community challenges that Insomniac promises to release every week or so. You can even replay any of the missions you’ve previously completed too, at any point – there’s no need to start over just to ace that cool quest you particularly enjoyed that one time.
There’s no question Sunset Overdrive lives up to the hype. It takes a while to adjust to the style of play it demands but once you do, you discover the pure joy that comes from playing a brilliant game. Flitting about the tippy-top of Sunset City, alternating between grinds and wall-runs to blow away hordes of hilarious enemies is a thrill you won’t soon forget.
If you have an Xbox One, you need this in your life. If you don’t have Microsoft’s new box yet, it’s time to think about rectifying that. Sunset Overdrive’s the best game I’ve played all year and I’ll be surprised if anything tops it anytime soon.