Sunset Overdrive doesn’t hold your hand. There’s a gradual ramping up that happens during the game — though we didn’t get to see it during our E3 demo — but Insomniac Games created a complex traversal system for its post-apocalyptic open world adventure with the intent of challenging players to learn. This is a game in which indecisiveness is death.
If Dead Rising 3 was the dumb fun launch title for Xbox One, Sunset Overdrive seeks to be its brainy younger brother. Both games are defined by open spaces that swarm with deadly creatures, but there’s a sense of style in the fall 2014 release that’s meant to punish shameless button-mashers.
The best crappy job ever. Fizzco is ready to take the world by storm with its new energy drink, Overcharge Delirium XT. There’s just one problem: anyone who drinks it turns into a disgusting, misshapen mutant. As a janitor working at Fizzco’s Overcharge pre-launch party in Sunset City, you see this awful transformation firsthand. The city is quarantined, the company tries to cover up the mishap, and you — realizing that the bulk of the city’s population is made up of flesh-hungry monsters — come to treat the once-bustling metropolis as your own, personal, blood-soaked Garden of Eden.
There’s a larger story here that involves coming into contact with and working for an assortment of factions. Troop Bushido is a bunch of adult Adventure Scouts that holed up in a Japanese culture museum during “Horror Night” and came to embrace the code of the samurai. The Fargarths are a group of fantasy-loving LARPers who think the mutant uprising is evidence of their game coming to life. The city’s few, quirky survivors — friend and foe alike — help to drive the events of the as-yet-undiscussed plot, but “party in the post-apocalypse” is at the core of what drives this game.
Slip sliding away. Your playable protagonist is an agile sort, able to grind like a skateboarder along everything from power lines to the edges of building rooftops. You catch air by bouncing off of virtually everything in sight, and you scramble along on vertical walls like the swiftest parkour-loving assassin. The controls are more Tony Hawk than Assassin’s Creed, an elaborate symphony of button taps and holds that produce different effects depending on where and when you press them.
This is where the learning curve comes in. Pull it off right and you can watch as the nameless protagonist seamlessly transitions out of a bounding leap off of an umbrella and into a high-speed, high-wire grind. The challenge lies in dancing your fingers around the gamepad’s face buttons as you juggle the various traversal maneuvers. There are helpful visual indicators on the screen, such as an icon that always shows where you are in relation to the ground (and therefore where you’re going to land), but everything moves so quickly that ingraining each command into your muscle memory is a requirement.
Tons o’ guns. Insomniac has a demonstrated appreciation for large, diverse arsenals (as seen in Ratchet & Clank and Resistance), and Sunset Overdrive is no slouch. We only got to see a small sampling of the game’s outlandish lineup of firearms at E3, but they do their predecessors proud. The High Fidelity shoots 12-inch LPs that ricochet off walls, floors, and ceilings as they carve out a path of mutant death. The Captain Ahab is a harpoon rifle that’s powered by Fizzco’s Overcharge. The mutants are drawn to the pool of liquid an Ahab shot leaves behind — the only thing they crave more than human flesh is more Overcharge — which creates a great opportunity to blow them all up with a TnTeddy, an explosive launcher that fires teddy bears strapped with dynamite.
There’s a very satisfying feedback loop that develops as you dish out damage to larger and larger mobs of mutants, which splatter neon fluids in all directions as you take them down. As you kill more mutants, quickly and with a range of different weapons (all of which can be leveled up and further boosted with collectible “Amps”), your style meter fills. This powers you up even more, allowing you to fire off groups of mini-tornadoes and call forth spears of lightning from the skies. As challenging as Sunset Overdrive is to master, Insomniac appears to have invested heavily in making players who take the time to learn feel like unstoppable badasses.
Paradise city. The post-apocalypse envisioned in Sunset Overdrive is a colorful one. Even the monsters — from the loping “OD” grunts to the giant-sized, pustule-pocked Herker — inject the world with eye-catching flair, especially when they burst in a shower of neon orange Overcharge. The busy environments are packed with objects, almost all of which you can bounce off of or interact with in some way. An amusement park’s spinning comet ride is a deadly merry-go-round of mutant destruction; simply bouncing off of its circling rockets launches them into a nearby swarm.
As you explore deeper into Sunset City, it becomes clear just how self-consciously Insomniac built the urban space as a playground for Sunset Overdrive‘s unique traversal mechanics. It’s by necessity, of course, since the game punishes you for spending too much time running around in the streets, but there’s a sense after spending just a half-hour tooling around that there’s a thrilling open world to explore.
Sunset Overdrive has promise. There was a lot of talk coming out of E3 2014 that the best stuff won’t be playable until 2015 and beyond, but Insomniac has something here that’s worth paying attention to this fall. The complex traversal mechanics pair well with the sense of speed and wide assortment of firearms. There’s a whole lot more to dig into than what we’ve seen, but we’re excited to find out what other secrets are tucked away when Sunset Overdrive comes to Xbox One on October 28.