Sunset Overdrive First Impressions

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I don’t exactly remember when I learned about Sunset Overdrive, but I remember being incredibly bummed out when I saw the reveal trailer. I wasn’t bummed out because I thought the game looked bad, in fact I felt quite the opposite, I was bummed because the game was an Xbox One exclusive.

When I began to consider buying into the new console generation, I decided I would buy a PS4, maybe a Wii U eventually, and probably an Xbox One sometime way down the road. I bought my PS4 in May, and then I picked up a Wii U in July after going through a pretty serious Nintendo bender, but I was adamant that I was going to wait until at least Halo 5 to buy an Xbox One.

I caved and bought one two months later, in September.

I caved because in my opinion, Xbox has the best exclusives in 2014. I was sold on the thought of playing Forza Horizon 2, The Master Chief Collection, heck I even enjoyed Ryse: Son of Rome (I know, it came out last November, whatever), but I was most excited for Sunset Overdrive. Sunset Overdrive sold me on the Xbox One, and I’ve grown to love the console, but Sunset was what I was pining for.

Sunset Overdrive’s pitch was that it wasn’t similar to other games. It’s wacky, over the top, and humor driven. I like humor. It’s colorful and alluring. I like colorful. It’s largely an unstructured sandbox. I like that too! It’s also big on customization. I FREAKING LOVE CUSTOMIZATION!!!

Then, back in June, rival developer Ubisoft fell under fire for the lack of playable female characters in their newest game, Assassins Creed: Unity. It was a PR nightmare, with officials from the company stumbling over themselves trying to give a politically correct answer tiptoeing for fear they might say they wrong thing… which they usually did. At this point, Insomniac Games, developer of Sunset Overdrive saw this as a chance to get ahead. They quickly released an episode of their video series “Sunset TV” which, as you can probably guess, is about Sunset Overdrive. In this episode they revealed that personalization is everything in this game. You can be a female, a male, whoever you want to be. Does your guy want to wear a skirt? Whatever you want! They even slyly placed imagery of a female character wearing an outfit incredibly similar to those worn by the assassins in Assassins Creed.

I thought this was awesome. I love when companies have the tenacity to call one another out, especially in the highly competitive world of video games. Better competition means better games right?

Well, customization is the first thing that disappointed me in Sunset Overdrive. With all the hype surrounding being whoever you want to be, and a bunch of comparisons being made to a Tony Hawk Pro Skater game, I figured the customization had to be on par with THPS’ “Create-A-Skater” mode. Well, as it got closer and closer to release, it was revealed that there would only be two different body types for each gender. There’s skinny and bulky. You know, the two body types we normally see in games. A little disappointing, sure, but I figured the game would still probably feature a ton of customization. I was wrong.

I picked the game up on Tuesday, and left myself relatively in the dark about it so I didn’t spoil anything. I came home from the mall, popped it in, and got ready to create a character. At first, you’re just creating a base character for the opening tutorial, so there aren’t many options. That’s fine, but when the game opened up and I got to dive into the customization, I was severely disappointed.

There are multiple skin shades to use, which is great, but only three pre-set face types you can use. Uh, okay. So I went on to hair. You can pick from a decent bit of hairstyles, but you only really have two choices: super wacky, or bald. Okay, whatever. I guess I have to lighten up and embrace the cartoony style of the game. Well, you see, clothes are unlocked throughout the game, so the initial selections are a bit paltry, and your only options are pretty much extremely wacky, or stuff with Vans logos on it. This was all really disappointing to me. I thought I could be anyone I wanted in the game? Instead I’m stuck with a skinny guy with a generic face, a three foot high faux-hawk, and covered in Vans merchandise. Maybe this changes as I unlock things, but right now, at about five hours in, I’m really disappointed.

After exiting customization, I expected to be let loose on Sunset City. Eh, not so much. After about an hour of basic fetch quests, I realized that this game is very different than what I expected. Outside of boss battles, every mission is a fetch quest or tower defense. I’m not kidding, every mission I’ve run has been one of the two. Characters are funny at first, but become hollow stereotypes quickly, and the humor wears on you. Some jokes are genuinely funny. I’ve laughed out loud quite a bit at this game, but when every other word is a punchline, it gets exhausting. One thing I can appreciate though is their take on video game tropes. They often make inexplicable events like talking to another character on the phone while not actually holding a phone funny and lighthearted. This holds up as a redeeming quality for the dialogue outweighing the constant “below the belt” humor.

Traversal was touted as another feather in the cap for Sunset, and while it is simple and fun, the camera can often make it frustrating. Furthermore, it’s been pretty repetitious from what I’ve played thus far, though I did get the ability to boost in the air before calling it quits earlier today. That addition seemed to spice things up a bit, but it’s largely jump, bounce, grind, rinse, and repeat. It doesn’t help that there is only one controller setup to choose from, and it seems slightly over-encumbered, using “X” to grind, and roll, and wall run, and switch from grinding to sliding.

Gunplay and weapons, yet another aspect of the game that was highly marketed, are fun and arcade-like. This aspect I’ve enjoyed a lot, and it’s clear that Insomniac didn’t want to let the comabt get bogged down too much by reality and complex systems. That’s okay, as it’s easy to pick and get firing. My only complaint is that even with the use of power-ups and a pseudo-leveling system, old weapons quickly become obsolete.

When I started seeing reviews for the game come back with scores that were largely positive, I expected a lot. Many have compared this to a Dreamcast style game akin to a Jet Grind Radio or Crazy Taxi, and it isn’t hard to see how those comparisons are made. Sadly, this game feels like it is a Dreamcast era game. Nothing less, and nothing more. It will certainly take quite a bit more from the rest of my time with this game to have me lumping the survivors of Sunset City in with the classic GG’s of Neo-Tokyo.

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