In the vast years I’ve spent playing video games, I’ve come to realise just how hard it is to really nail a new franchise. Blending new ideas with classic tropes to make something that’s fresh yet familiar is a complex task, but like Ernest Rutherford attempting to split the atom, Microsoft and Insomniac Games have attempted this mammoth task and by the beard of Zeus, I think they've cracked it!
You’ll have no doubt seen the hype slowly swirling around Sunset Overdrive, all those ads giving the fourth wall a true kicking, but what shocked me after putting down my controller for mere moments to swab my brow and take a moment to reflect on just what I've been experiencing, is just how spot on the ads were.
Yes, the story is crazy and makes sense in a nonsense way, yes there are explosions and acrobatics everywhere, yes there’s swearing at every available opportunity (something which can be turned off if you're a tad sheltered in that sense) but it’s all in great fun!
With such a brash and brave style, Sunset Overdrive looks like an acid trip in toy town during half term! Thankfully, you’ll have the chance to put your own stamp on the world as customisation is king, with Sunset Overdrive proudly allowing you to create the player you want to be seeing on screen from sex (hooray! Women can be heroines for once!), body size and all that standard lark to the very underwear you’ll be sporting as you glide around town. I chose a slight young man with a punk rock leather jacket, a skirt and topped it all off with a deathly robot helmet. Every boy’s dream!
It’s clear that the key ingredient to Sunset Overdrives success, is the games core traversal system which, for fans of Jet Set Radio, will feel as familiar as a mug of tea served with some biscuits for dunking or fish and chips scoffed on the sea side. JSR is one of a handful of games that I not only loved, but identify as a key component to my make up as a gamer, everything about it resonated with me and now I can happily say the same for Sunset Overdrive.
Beginning with the basic grinding on every cubic edge available, you’re able to move around the floor at a decent speed from the get go. Jumping from rail tracks to phone lines all while swinging your chosen bat, fork or golf club at the squishy heads of ODs. Wall running is an obvious next and of course, fans offer a nice air boost while almost every other surface available from cars to awnings and boxes will send you bouncing like that trampoline you've always wanted, or bought for the kids and only use in secret.
As the game steadily progresses you’ll master all the little tricks in your arsenal of moves allowing you to keep the momentum up and having you flying around the city in mere moments. This alone was silly amounts of fun, mastering flips from under grinds to over grinds, giving me a boost of air space which I could push into a wall run before flipping into a car bonnet and timing it just right to super jump back into the air and speeding off down a telephone line.
Exploring the city while listening to some decent punk rock and flowing around every obstacle the city could throw at me was an experience that I’ve only enjoyed during my first moments with JSR and the ever popular Tony Hawks series. It was like being served a slice of my childhood, all packaged and backed in a truly next-gen package!
It's not all about movement though. While yes, it is utterly key to survival as more than a few seconds spent stationary will cost you your life, guns are just as vital but not quite the ones you’d expect. Clearly taking nods from Dead Rising 3, and perhaps some tips from its developers, Insomniac have created an arsenal of tools that are as utterly ridiculous as you’d expect them to be!
From the classic ‘High Fidelity’ which throws vinyl records all over the shop that bounce back and forth between foes before finally cracking, to the TNTeddy which finally combines my love of plush toys with explosives the most ‘standard’ weapon I got my hands on was the ‘Dirty Harry’ which made this punk feel utterly lucky with its ridiculous stopping power, but perhaps less jovial with its lack of wacky functions, Sunset Overdrive will sait your needs for crazy.
Just like moving around the map, variation is utterly key in combat, so thinking fast and switching your weapons at the same pace is a skill you’ll have to sharpen. I quickly found myself creating really exciting combos in battle, starting with a generous sprinkling of TNTeddys, followed by a few vinyl bullets bouncing around the course and ending on a ground slam from the sky, raining hell fire and records as far as the eye could see.
While you may think you've got all you need from the vague list of basics I’ve offered up, a time will come when you’ll have to amp it up, literally amp it up. With amps.
Of course I don't mean those leather clad beasts filled with electronically wizardry and devilish magic, designed to make teens jump and old people melt through fear. No, Amps are essentially add ons which can be applied to weapons and yourself to give damage boosts and unique abilities. The game will be generous at first and kit you out with a nice set of moves, including a dash roll that stuns enemies as you tumble around the floor and fire that will emblazon your melee weapon, allowing it to fire shots of molten lava at your foes, as well as looking totally bad ass!
After that, you're on your own kid!
Well, not entirely, but you’ll have to do some work if you want to be the best of the best!
After collecting a somewhat random stream of items ranging from balloons of Fizzie, Fizcos mascot, toilet paper and stinky trainers, you’ll need to throw these to your pal and science wiz Floyd, who'll work his magic and create some awesome amps. Playing Jessie to his Heisenberg, once the cook starts be prepared to pull your weight as the fumes will attract waves and waves of OD, so if you want what you've worked so hard to gather, you’ll need to get into tower defence mode and defend Floyd’s huge science vat type thingy to get those Amps!
After entering the ring in a style that would fit int the running man with ease, you’ll have the hideouts energy at your disposal to power as many traps as you can muster. Again, you’ll start out small with spinning blades and spring boards, but as you progress you’ll unlock all sorts of tools for destruction, including the Grind Cooker, which does exactly what it says on the tin and my personal favourite, the Death by Decibel, for the music consider who can’t help but share his passion in a way that'll make peoples ears bleed! Literally!
Aside from the games main story and the night time defence in order to gain those all important amps, you’ll find tasks dotted all around town from time trials to climb buildings or challenges to slaughter floods of OD in imaginative ways all for the wonderful world of television and by that I mean this guy’s YouTube channel. He sits in a tower and has lots of guns.
Multiplayer is very much a thing in Sunset Overdrive, with Chaos Mode offering you exactly that, a chance for you and 8 people to cause utter mayhem on the battleground as you play a larger version of the tower defence you’ll experience when creating amps. It’s a simple idea, but works amazingly well and something which I can easily see players spending hours grinding at, just for another chance to see some more blood exploding to spell the words ‘sploosh’.
Sunset Overdrive is truly a jewel in the Xbox One’s crown, offering a title that is hilarious, fun, addictive and completely unique. It has a style all of its own and if you have an Xbox One, you need to play this game. It’s as simple as that!