E3 2014: How Sunset Overdrive Returns to the Golden Age of Video Games

It gives you wings.

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When I first saw Sunset Overdrive in motion, the game's hyper-saturated combination of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater-like rail grinding with Dead Rising 3-like weaponry reminded me of the kinds of games you see someone playing on a TV show. You know, something that's not actually a game, but a collection of random nonsense on the screen--what people who don't play games vaguely think games actually are. "That's us!" laughs Marcus Smith, creative director at Insomniac. "That's totally us."

Smith went on to explain how I could have arrived at such a conclusion. "I think the game is a huge mashup. This is mashup culture, we're in it," he says, as the main character respawned by falling through a couple of orange and blue portals. "If you look back to the golden age of video games, when they were just...fun; the Sega days, the Dreamcast days, Nintendo--it made no god damn sense. There are mushrooms, there are things...I had no idea what was going on, but it was fun as hell. As we started to focus more on technology, everybody started saying, 'I want to make this movie', more than an interactive thing. For us, this is going back to the roots of what video games are."

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Drew Murray, Sunset Overdrive's game director, agrees. "I think the roots of Insomiac are there too. The bones of Insomniac are in there. So much of this has nothing to do with the original idea we pitched, but just with people feeling free to express themselves."

But with so much happening on-screen--colourful explosions, spurts of orange energy drink erupting from mutant enemies, interface elements blasting onto the screen and away again just as quickly--I wanted to know how Insomniac made Sunset Overdrive at all coherent.

"This is totally toned back," says Murray. "One of our things was, 'Go too far, and we can always pull back.' It's easier to pull back than to inch forward."

For us, this is going back to the roots of what video games are.

Part of this toning back is limiting you to eight weapons at a time. Many more exist in the game; Murray wouldn't say how many, but explained that players would find themselves overwhelmed when having to choose between teddy bear rocket launchers, vinyl cannons and guns that shot fireworks--whilst grinding on rails.

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Murray hints at dynamic events and special objectives that will appear to keep you grinding onward outside of story missions, and adds that Insomniac wants to introduce at least one new gameplay mechanic with each main mission. We saw one of these in action--a firefight on a rollercoaster track, with a boss that appeared in his own special rollercoaster car. But if you want to get there before the mission, you'll be able to access the entire world map from the start of the game--and even be able to get from one end of it to the other without ever touching the ground.

Sunset Overdrive looks like complete nonsense, in the best possible sense. It appears to be an homage to the golden age of video games, as Insomniac claims--but, in keeping with the game's punk rock attitude, an homage that's turned up to 11.

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