The release of Sunset Overdrive on PC in 2018 came as a pleasant surprise, injecting some much needed over the top fun into a relatively tame gaming year. While blockbuster releases certainly delivered hundreds of hours of quality content, nothing in the past year especially grabbed me as an experience purely aimed at unwinding after a long day. With complex storytelling arcs and heavy exposition, the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Shadow of the Tomb Raider offered engaging narratives and superb gameplay design, yet didn’t manage to grab as much of my attention as some of Insomniac Games’ best work. Sunset Overdrive is an exciting and colorful adventure, unhindered by much story development, and takes full advantage of its quirky tropes to deliver a non-stop action experience. It’s a game you could lose hours in simply exploring its vibrant open world, engaging in random events, and come back with far more memorable reflections than any major release of the past fall.
Developer: Insomniac Games; Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: November 16, 2018; Reviewed on: PC
Testing specs: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070
Available via: Steam
Traversal plays a crucial role in Sunset Overdrive, emphasizing constant player mobility in the environment, and reminds me a lot of Saints Row 4. It isn’t quite the superpower feast of Volition’s open world mayhem, but you may as well have the magic ability to propel yourself along rails with nothing but sneakers, and take no fall damage among other things. Then again, most of Sunset City’s population is also infected by an energy drink, so the game’s intentions about its tone are clear from the very start. Any surface around the player can be used to move around, with grinding on power cables and leaping high in the air from AC units making for much more appealing traversal options than casual walking. Being on the ground further works to player detriment with the game slowing you down, which surprisingly took time to get used to, but subsequently lets you discover creative ways to dispose of enemies. While you’re not Rambo, and can be easily overwhelmed by a large group, Sunset Overdrive’s excellent movement system allows for some spectacular executions on the fly, and paired with silly weapon choices it lets players create their own fun. This shows a strong world-building design, where players are seldom driven down a linear path, and it is when all gameplay systems come together that Sunset Overdrive shines in a spectacular fashion.
Foregoing the dark themes of post-apocalyptic settings, Sunset Overdrive takes an entirely different route in expressing its end-of-the-world premise through a pumping rock soundtrack, vibrant color palettes and more humor than you’d expect from a game unbothered by plot development. Apart from hordes of mutated OD (Overdrive drinkers) spread throughout its streets, Sunset city feels like a spot you’d genuinely want to live in, full of bright neon lights, collectibles and a virtually endless supply of surfaces to grind along. It hooks players in through very simplistic controls at the start, and by further unlocking additional moves such as air dash and super bounce, invites players to go mad in this bright playground. The NPCs you meet throughout the world all have their own quirky personalities backed by funny dialogue, and their introductions look like those from Borderlands turned up to eleven. Character customization is extremely extensive as well, allowing for almost unlimited combinations of wacky looks. Just take a look at the screenshots to see how much fun one can have creating hilarious combinations. With all aspects combined, Sunset Overdrive features some of the best and most fun world design I’ve seen in gaming, which also makes its experience relevant on PC way past its initial launch in 2014.
If you’ve played the venerable Ratchet & Clank series, you’d know exactly what to expect from Sunset Overdrive’s combat. It appears a total mess at the start, loading you up with silly weapons and character “amps”, yet once you get a hang of it, feels incredibly coherent and responsive. Every weapon is a hilarious take on its category, with dynamite teddy-bear launcher and the flaming compensator being most memorable tools I’ve also focused heavily on improving. Guns level up through your journey, so naturally the least fun ones are left behind, but the loadout is so vastly diverse that most players will find one or two to best suit their needs. Each can further be upgraded through acquiring amps that grand secondary attributes, such as spawning fireballs from melee attacks or additional functions from each of the guns. There’s no weapon reloading either, which ensures a consistently smooth pace, and tight controls enable switching guns on the fly with ease.
Sunset city wouldn’t impress you with the size of its sandbox map, yet its tight design and loads of traversal options also make it one of the best, where despite the size there’s more than enough content to enjoy. Some of the most fun to be had in the game is moving from one end of the map to another without hitting the ground, bouncing between buildings and grinding along the vast stretches of power cabling. In this sense, the sandbox couldn’t have been any bigger, and Insomniac games ultimately nailed just the right size for Sunset City that it never feels to long to get between places. There’s fast travel available if you so desire, but I’ve almost never used it. It is much more rewarding to instead move around the world, and navigation serves as one of the major gameplay parts. Take it away, and Sunset Overdrive loses some of its charm, as movement adds a lot to gameplay even if you’re avoiding it in between missions. With hundreds of collectibles to keep you further engaged in its world, simply exploring all over the city is just as exciting as the game’s diverse and over-the-top missions. And those quests can be truly spectacular in their execution.
Sunset Overdrive features the most bombastic missions I’ve seen in the longest time from sandbox gaming, with their focus on excessive colorful violence and placing you in over-the-top situation. There’s too many to mention all, and getting through them was a blast, but a few especially stand out as some of the best moments I’ve had throughout my gaming life. One had me fight a giant version of Fizzie, the in-game mascot for the Overdrive energy drink. It all happened on top of a tall radio tower, which had tons of floating satellite drums and spiralling rails around it, making it a fun challenge as I tried to avoid the enemy’s attacks. Another, with a much sillier premise, had me chase a floating “dragon” along power cables, then grinding on top of the creature to deliver powerful attacks. These are just few examples of over-the-top mission design Sunset Overdrive has, where even the basic missions are fun to do because of the stellar experience Insomniac Games are known for creating.
The game’s PC port has generally come out pretty solid, although would not impress with a myriad of customization options PC gamers are used to. Sunset Overdrive isn’t a bad looker even four years on, but shows a complete lack of advanced visual customization we’re so used to on the platform. You won’t find a broad range of sliders to improve every aspect of the world detail, neither will there be lots of AA options or visual enhancements. Most are confined to on/off toggles, which can extensively change the look of Sunset City, although the basic nature of the port also allows to run the game maxed out on almost any decent PC build. Thankfully there’s support for resolutions up to 5K, with Sunset Overdrive proving to scale pretty well to whatever your screen natively supports. Plus it finally has multiple framerate options, with 60 and unlimited frames-per-second freeing up the game from Xbox One’s miserable 30 fps cap. Recalling the time I tried this out on Xbox One, and the PC port is much superb despite its missteps. Just remember to change the setting right away, as by default the game is locked down to 30 frames.
What isn’t superb about the port, however, are its mouse and keyboard controls. While somewhat addressed since the game’s launch on PC, the game is still best played with a controller even if you’re not going to get most precision in shooting out of it. Mouse sensitivity at the start was horrendous, plagued by slow response and broken acceleration. Currently, though, you can actually enjoy the game using PC-native controls, but the abundance of weapons and equipment feels more convenient to do using a wheel selector. I could see players get lost in keyboard shortcuts once they’ve got a sizeable arsenal and for general controls to become confusing as well. You certainly get a much more responsive aiming system now that mouse controls have generally been fixed, but the combat is enough of a mess for it to rarely matter. With Sunset Overdrive spawning foes at you from every direction, who also show up in groups, my chief concern was often to keep moving and bash melee attack to dispose of the OD around me. Overall though, despite being a fairly basic port, Sunset Overdrive’s translation to PC has created the best version of the game to play, plus it is sold for a fairly reasonable $19.99. You might still want to play it with a gamepad, but a few updates since fixed the more annoying mouse control issues.
Sunset Overdrive is the most fun I’ve had gaming in 2018, which says a lot for a game that originally popped up four years ago. Its care-free experience doesn’t load you up with complex storytelling, instead setting you loose on a colorful playground. With over-the-top violence, customization and weapon selection, the game is full of character that sets it apart among the more serious titles. If you’ve yet to play the game, or missed it for not owning an Xbox, the PC release offers a pretty solid value proposition and fully unlocks the action experience players are meant to see with customizable resolution and framerate presets. Its mouse and keyboard controls may not be the best, and Sunset Overdrive is far more enjoyable with a gamepad anyway. So if you like your game fun to be turned up to eleven, or want to check out one of the greats in Insomniac Games’ extensive catalogue, Sunset Overdrive shouldn’t be overlooked by any means despite its visible age.