My favorite games – Mass Effect, Uncharted, Hungry, Hungry Hippos – tend to have strong stories, lead by memorable characters (you go, Pink Hippo!). But I can appreciate and often enjoy the mindless action of a multiplayer shooter or a sports game, etc. So when Microsoft celebrated Xbox One’s first birthday with some giveaways, starting with their unforgivingly colorful Sunset Overdrive, I was thrilled. It was only free for 24 hours, but it was the full game, complete with achievements and carry over save points. So best cases, I love the game and finish it before time runs out, or love it and decide to go out and buy the disk. Worst case, it sucks, and I saved myself a £50 experimental purchase.
Unfortunately, I’m writing to you with a crinkled £50 still in my pocket, looking for something worth the investment.
Somewhat fun, but limited. I’m one of those chumps who makes my avatar look at least a little like myself, and it wasn’t really possible here. Whether the game or my face is to blame, we’ll call it a draw. Failing my usual route, I was left to make the stupidest looking guy I could, and ended up with some sort of Wreck It Ralph/Raggedy Ann mashup with sharp teeth in place of irises (unfortunately forgot to get a screenshot before my trial expired). I was actually keen to play as the charismatic hipster chap in the trailer, as he seemed like the funny, adventurous type with whom I’d enjoy dodging death. Instead, multiplayer is going to be full of guys with ponytails and girls in skimpy outfits. So basically how I imagine Miami.
I probably did cool stuff like this. But I can’t be sure.
To the game’s benefit, we’re thrown straight into the action, dodging boil-covered enemies after a ten-second cutscene. Within 3 minutes, we’re halfway across the city shooting giant mutants from above. It’s quick and colourful, but it’s not pretty.
I can best describe Sunset as a teenage fantasy. It’s like a group of high schoolers gathering in their pimply groups and decide to starting a band, only everyone in the band plays the drums. If I had sat down with my old college friends and proclaimed that we should make a video game putting in ‘only the coolest things’, this might have been the result. Crude jokes, insane guns, explosions and zombie/mutants craving energy drinks, it’s all in there. It sounds fun in theory, but I’m dead certain whatever game our drunken gang came up with would have been pretty horrible. This is proof enough of that.
Having so many ingredients in the mix makes the fun, animated aesthetic fade into the background. If my focus is on changing to the right gun, or grinding on the right rail, or shooting the right beast, or selecting the right special power, I’m quickly lost in a mess of uncoordinated button bashing. When such a seemingly simple idea is burdened by complex gameplay, we’re left with an inconsistent game that’s impossible to fully enjoy. I’m forced to either admire the smoothness of my aerial manoeuvres and fail my objectives, or focus on my assault and miss out on the impressive level design.
As we knew from trailers, the game looks and feels cool. With practice, the smooth angles do allow for some joyful journeys as you grind and bounce your way around the city. And the new gen capabilities have been used well as countless enemies are thrown into the mix. Insomniac Studios, who spent their early days developing innocent games like Spyro and later the more mature Resistance and Fuse have done well to somewhat combine the styles into this kind of adult action.
Visuals aside, my favourite aspect of the game has to be the self-aware dialogue, which is almost enough to force a negative review to raise its thumb. The gameplay problems are addressed by a parodical voiceover, who basically runs out of breath explaining the extent of the special powers (of which you receive three or four at once). The clichés bounce and the pop culture references are a-plenty, and made me chuckle from time to time.
I don’t usually opt for star ratings, but if I was pressed, I’d be looking at something like 3 out of 10. 14 year old me with my brand new Xbox 360 may have loved it. I see high praise for the game around the internet, so I’d be keen to hear if I’ve missed something that would have made the experience more valuable. In the end, the best thing I can say is that it was worth the price I paid.
If you like the things I write about, we’d probably be good friends. You could find me in any random London cafe most days, or on Twitter if you prefer that kind of thing.