Marcus Smith and Drew Murray both know a thing or two about grey-brown shooters. The two are creative director and game director respectively at Insomniac Games, where they worked on the Resistance series. The studio's new game could not be a bigger departure from that franchise. Where Resistance was a bleak struggle for human survival against an alien invasion, Sunset Overdrive is a punk frenzy of colour and noise.
In Sunset City, 2027, a new energy drink has been rushed to market by a malevolent corporation called Fizzco. Unfortunately for the citizens of Sunset, the highly addictive Overcharge Delirium XT turns anyone who slurps it down into a slavering mutant. You are a survivor, formerly a deadbeat in a dead end job, now an inheritor of the Earth in what Insomniac styles as "the awesomepocalypse". The story is pure schlock, but pretty quickly it gets out of the way.
The radical shift in tone for Murray and Smith is derived from their personal lives, says the latter. When the two dreamed up Resistance, they were both about to become fathers for the first time, something that Smith says gave the pair a sense of impending dread. After the two became parents and the world didn't end, the thought of doing another game with a dour palette no longer appealed, explained Smith.
Unsurprisingly, apocalypses are usually portrayed as terrifying and bleak, but Insomniac wanted to flip it on its head and take a new perspective: instead of being the end, they wanted to see it as a new beginning. The game's loud punk rock couture fits into that: in Insomniac's apocalypse, you can finally be who you want to be - as long as who you want to be looks like a Burning Man attendee.
To survive in the awesomepocalypse and take down Fizzco, players will need to work with other motley survivor enclaves such as the Troop Bushido, adult "adventure scouts" who barricaded themselves in the Japanese Heritage Museum when the mutants first appeared. In time they've come to fetishise Japanese culture and the Bushido warrior code. Then there's the Fargarths, emotionally damaged live-action roleplayers who believe the monsters are the materialisation of their roleplaying game.
Sunset Overdrive is all about velocity and aggression, says Murray. If the last generation was all about rooms full of waist high boxes to take cover behind, Insomniac hopes this generation will be about speed and ability. In Sunset City, players can grind run, jump wall run and pole swing almost indefinitely. Insomniac wants Sunset City to be a playground. Players who don't keep moving will quickly be overwhelmed by mutants.
The weapons are equally colourful. The "One-Handed Dragon" is a firework that explodes in dragon heads and sets mutants alight. Then there's the "High Fidelity", a gun that fires 12-inch vinyl records, which can themselves ricochet off surfaces.
The combination of these two facets creates Sunset Overdrive's core gameplay, and it's every bit as fun to play as it sounds. Think a skateboarding game in which you're also splattering mutants. A "Style Meter" is designed to reward successful run-and-gunning. By filling the meter, players will be able to unleash Amps, special abilities collected throughout the game. In Sunset Overdrive, fun trumps realism.
Sunset Overdrive is exclusive to Xbox One. It comes out on October 28.