If you've seen Sunset Overdrive's teaser trailer, you may have noticed--at around the five-second mark--a large balloon animal hovering in the background. It looks innocent enough, right? It has those goofy eyes and a cheerful smile. As it turns out, it's one of the game's bosses. And it's pure evil. Those dinner plate eyes house horrible death beams, and its mouth is a not-too-cleverly-disguised flamethrower. Then there's the vulgarity: an unending stream of sugarcoated curses and death threats flowing endlessly from its animatronic core. This balloon is a mechanized wolf in mascot's clothing, and is a fitting example of the irreverent, two-faced humor of Sunset Overdrive.
I recently had an extended hands-on session with Sunset Overdrive at Insomniac Studios. The most I knew about the game before playing was that it has an extreme, punk rock aesthetic, the guy in the trailer likes running around, and the zombies here bleed some sort of orange drink. As it turns out, only two of those assumptions are true. Sunset Overdrive is a high-speed, open-world adventure with a devil-may-care attitude and a whole lot of mutated humans.
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Sunset Overdrive is a game about an energy drink: Overcharge Delirium XT. Don't ask why it's called that; just roll with it. This drink was engineered to be the most potent on the market, but instead, it accidentally transformed its consumers into hideous, Overcharge-infused mutants. As an unnamed (and fully customizable) hero, you must find the silver lining in this apocalypse. Sure, everyone you know and love is now dead or mutated, but on the flip side, Sunset City is your oyster to do with as you please.
I was able to bounce on car roofs, grind on handrails, and wall-run across buildings with ease. Sunset Overdrive felt like a game that wanted me in constant motion.
For me, that meant bouncing on cars. You normally wouldn't think of cars as being all that bouncy, but the satirical world of Sunset City isn't afraid to bend the rules in the name of fun. I was able to bounce on car roofs, grind on handrails, and wall-run across buildings with ease. Sunset Overdrive felt like a game that wanted me in constant motion. In that sense, it reminded me a bit of the older Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games. In those games, you wanted to find--or create--the perfect path through the world by mixing together different tricks and techniques. And while I wasn't popping any sweet tricks in Sunset Overdrive, the ways in which I moved through its city felt similar.
In lieu of popping said tricks, I had to make do with popping the bloated, Overcharge-infused remnants of humanity. When it came time to fight, the game didn't want me down in the trenches ducking in and out of cover. It wanted me up high, zipping across power lines and bouncing across the battlefield, all while dispatching enemies in style. In the split second between picking out priority targets and planning my next jump, there wasn't a lot of time left over for careful aiming. Thankfully, there are varying degrees of aim assist depending on your weapon that help guide the bullets/harpoons/teddy bears towards their intended targets.
Insomniac Studios is known for its guncraft, from the explosive weapons of Ratchet & Clank to the alien arsenal of Resistance. This developer prides itself on offering more than your everyday machine gun or rocket launcher. Sunset Overdrive is no different. The harpoon gun was first to bat for me. This weapon fires powerful harpoons laced with the Overcharge energy drink. It's great for taking out single targets, and the puddle of Overcharge each harpoon leaves behind also attracts nearby enemies (the mutants love their Overcharge). When that happened, it was time to switch to the teddy bear launcher. The teddy bear launcher fires off cute little teddy bears with alarm clocks strapped to their chests that cause massive explosions on impact. These teddy bears aren't rocket-propelled, however, so correctly arcing my shots was key.
As I stated earlier, Sunset Overdrive always wanted me in motion. It wasn't enough to simply fight off a horde of mutants; I needed to do it while hopping between grind rails and across buildings. Because of this, reloading was a nonissue. The weapons just kept on firing until I was out of ammo. As the developers explained it, you already have enough on your mind between lining up shots and timing your next jump without having to worry about ammo management. The game moves at a fast pace, the developer explained, so having to pause and reload simply created weird breaks in the action and was ultimately removed.
All the shooting, bouncing off of cars, and exploding of teddy bears feed into the game's Overcharge meter. For me, it helped to think of this as my style meter--or my totally sweet tricks meter, whichever you prefer. I could fill up the overcharge meter several times, and each time I gained access to a new amp. Amps are special modifiers you can apply to your weapons and character, and each provides its own bonus when unlocked.
It's important to stress that I did not get these bonuses simply by equipping the amp. I got the bonus only once I reached the appropriate level of overcharge, and even then it's only temporary, because the overcharge meter will eventually reset once the action dies down.
Sunset Overdrive is a strange bird, to be sure. But after spending so many years in the ruined world of Resistance and the industrial trenches of Fuse, the team at Insomniac says it's happy to be working on something as colorful and free-flowing as Sunset Overdrive. You can hear them explain as much next week when we take you inside Insomniac Studios and learn how the team is putting this game together. Until then, you can look forward to Sunset Overdrive exclusively on the Xbox One later this year.