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Sunset Overdrive

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2014


Xbox One Preview - 'Sunset Overdrive'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 11, 2014 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Set in the not-so-distant future, Sunset Overdrive is a stylized open-world shooter filled with overpowered weapons, crazed mutants and a sprawling city full of carnage.

Sunset Overdrive is one of the titles that Microsoft has been promoting for the Xbox One since the system was officially announced in the first half of 2013. It is bright, flashy and looks good in motion, but is there any depth behind that high-gloss finish?

The game begins with a character creation exercise, allowing you to craft your in-game persona as you see fit. Options include four different body types, editable eyes, faces, and hair color. After the intro/tutorial level, you're allowed further customization to clothing (or lack thereof). The flexibility is nice, as not everyone wants to play as the same, generic-looking hero.

As the story goes, you are a lowly janitor at an energy drink-sponsored concert/rave/party when something goes horribly wrong. It seems that the new energy drink, OverCharge, turns whoever drinks it into a horribly disfigured mutant. Said mutants want to kill, maim and destroy anyone who gets in the way of more OverCharge. Since you're still normal, that puts you right in the line of fire.

Sunset Overdrive starts off with the aforementioned tutorial level that introduces the basic mechanics. You can move around anywhere, but if you're just running and gunning on the ground, you're going to get swarmed. The game is designed around grinding on rails and shooting enemies while in motion. You can slow down your grind for fine aiming or blast away like a maniac thanks to a liberal aim assist.

All of the game's characters appear as extreme caricatures/stereotypes of genre tropes. For example, Walter, the grizzled old white dude who saves you in the beginning of the game, is introduced as the "Master of Badass Entrances." Then there's the Floyd, the smartass black dude who mixes up chemicals to make you performance enhancing drugs, or Amps, as the game calls them. The caricatures extend to other factions, such as opposing gangs vying for control.

In a departure from most games, the characters in Sunset Overdrive aren't afraid to break the fourth wall, though it seems to be done as an attempt at humor to help make players feel as though they are "in" on the joke.

Enemies fall into three major camps in Sunset Overdrive. There are the OD (Overdrive) mutants, the competing gangs and the corporate forces. The OD feel like neon-enhanced zombies more than anything else. There is the standard form that just runs and attacks, as well as specialized forms like the Popper — shoot its enlarged head to make it pop. Larger OD also appear, such as the Herker, an oversized OD that has incorporated a bulldozer into its body as an arm.

Missions during our gameplay time covered collecting items and defending various locations. A prime example was collecting Amp ingredients for Floyd and then defending the base (tower defense style) from the OD while the Amps cooked. In another mission, we defended Walter from gang attacks as he worked on an ultralight plane.

Throughout it all, the visuals were the one aspect of Sunset Overdrive that stood out. Everything was bright, cheery and vibrant. Color saturation is also on the high end, to the point that clips from the game would be right at home in an episode of "CSI: Miami." The cheery visuals are a stark contrast to the darker story undertones in the game. It's a welcome departure from the drab, brownish/gray look that permeates so many zombie games.

We only played in a small section of the world, but the first 90 minutes of gameplay centered on grinding and shooting. Additionally, you can upgrade your character and your weapons via the Amp system. This is the kind of thing that could be fun in short bursts but runs the risk of getting tedious if things don't open up down the line.

Sunset Overdrive looks like it has the potential to be a bad-ass version of Jet Set Radio, but the early sections didn't quite feel that way. Mix in all the over-the-top characters, and the only thing missing is a big X-TREME subtitle in the name.

At this point, we haven't seen enough to make a final verdict, but there are enough questions to make us wonder if later sections of Sunset Overdrive will kick it up to the next level or simply fizzle out.

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