I bought ‘Sunset Overdrive’ in the New Year Steam sale of 2019. I played it for an hour and then didn’t think about it for over a year. I have no idea why but lately, I’m going my Steam library and finishing the games that I’ve started. Instead of talking about a film, I wanted to talk about ‘Sunset Overdrive’ and its place in crazy, madcap, sandbox games.
The plot follows an unnamed and totally customisable protagonist who lives in ‘Sunset City’ where the citizens suddenly turn into horrible monsters after drinking a tainted energy drink, ‘Overcharge’ by a shady company, ‘Fizzco’. In the days after, The Protagonist bands together with various factions to at first escape the city and then to take down Fizzco.
So, the first question should be, did I enjoy the game? Yes, I did. The gameplay is great for a Superhero sandbox as it combines movement skills with combat with fun weapons and a varying array of creatures. You can see the influences from other video games as the gameplay really feels like a combination of ‘inFAMOUS’ and ‘Saints Row IV’. From ‘inFAMOUS’ largely comes the movement such as grinding which will make up a lot of the travel time and climbing (or bouncing in this case) up buildings and from ‘Saints Row IV’ comes the fully customisable protagonist with a personality decided by the game and the numerous factions dotted around the city.
Another video game I feel has been ‘emulated’ is the ‘Dead Rising’ games as when the player is wandering the streets, they are constantly bombarded by enemies, a trait that I really don’t like because there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to return from a mission or complete a task and keep getting pushed around by a horde of enemies so wire-grinding and wall-running is highly encouraged. The difference of course is that in ‘Dead Rising’, the player is encouraged to kill zombies to gain more XP which unlocks more upgrades for gameplay but in ‘Sunset Overdrive’, there is a ‘kill counter’ which is kept for stats and it’s only benefit is for achievements.
The upgrade system is also kind of reminiscent of ‘inFAMOUS’ in that the player can gain upgrade points, or ‘badges’ by performing the act that they want to upgrade. For example, the player can upgrade their ‘grind’ stats by grinding along wires. Weapons are upgraded separately but again, the more you use a weapon, the faster and higher it levels up which is a good upgrade system since it encourages the player to use various weapons and not just find something they like and stick with it since a specific kind of weapon has various effects on different monsters. I found the Magnum, the AK and the teddy bear rocket launcher were a good combo but you get a good amount of slots in the weapon wheel to have some good back-ups in case you run out of ammo. Weapon badges are still awarded but by category (Single-shot, Automatic, etc). There are also collectables dotted around the city which the player is encouraged the collect because they’re used to create AMPs to upgrade weapons.
Another thing I like is that the side-quests are more of an extension of the story. They’re not entirely necessary to complete the story but it doesn’t feel like a ‘go here and kill everything’ or a ‘clear the area’ side quest like you’d find in other sandbox games. Usually, it’s a fetch quest but you can’t ask for everything.
I do like the boss fights which are varied and do require a certain amount of skill and precision (in my opinion). The encounters usually have a mix of grinding, jumping and shooting to make them an enjoyable experience. Having a dodge button that works is a nice addition to gameplay. It’s probably the only thing I liked about the newer ‘Tomb Raider’ games and I would marry the dodge button in the inFAMOUS games.
So, I think that’s enough of what I like. What don’t I like?
I’ve avoided talking about the characters and going too in depth into the story because all of the hinges on the fact that everyone in it is aware that they are in a video game. Nothing and no one involved, least of all the protagonist are given proper context because they’re all stereotypes of what and who is in a video game.
You could make the argument that ‘Saints Row IV’ was slightly self-aware because there are some ‘idle-comments’ where the protagonist will address the player and tell them to pick up the controller but ‘Sunset Overdrive’ has totally placed itself in the ‘100% self-aware’ camp. A lot of the dialogue reminds me of the unfunny ‘fourth wall breaking’ moments from Family Guy which I have already pointed out are super annoying and part of why that show is basically unwatchable for me these days.
Interestingly, the name of the energy drink was originally meant to be ‘Overdrive’ as then the title of the game would have made more sense but then it was discovered that there was already an energy drink with the name ‘Overdrive’ and so the name was changed to ‘Overcharge’. There is a line of dialogue referencing this, but I couldn’t find it to quote it.
The one character that I would say is the most ‘down to Earth’ and the closest to ‘relatable’ is Sam, the Oxford kid who the protagonist saves early on in the game. I say this only because he reminds a lot of Kinzie Kensington from the Saint’s Row games. He may very well have been created as an homage to her character but he is the ‘tech-savvy’ character and used for ‘plot convenient hacking’ which in a game like this and indeed, ‘Saints Row’ is expected and totally fine.
One thing that was a cute idea but eventually came back to bite me in the arse was numerous re-spawn animations. When the protagonist is killed, they come back in many ways involving beaming in using the Portal gun, coming down ‘Mission Impossible’ style on a rope, climbing out of a grave, and many more but these are especially annoying during timed missions. There are no checkpoints during timed missions, so if the protagonist dies, the timer doesn’t reset, it just keeps ticking down so when the player respawns with the animation of them showing up in the DeLorean, hopping out and having someone in Marty Mcfly’s costume hop in and drive off (an animation that takes 10 or more seconds), the mission timer is still ticking down.
Also, fast travelling.
I’m going to spoil the final boss fight now so just know that I do recommend this game and if you don’t want to know what happens, Bye. Having said that, I’m really not spoiling much, it’s not likes it’s a complicated story with a twist at the end and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably played the game anyway.
All the way through the main story, the player is free to fast travel to wherever, even in story missions and one thing that I didn’t know and found out to my at first detriment and then infinite frustration was that this feature is removed in the final boss fight with the gigantic city destroying Fizzco Robot.
This is how the mission is structured.
The protagonist meets with the leaders of all the factions that they’ve helped to prepare for the final assault on Fizzco. The protagonist and some other leaders keep the Fizzbots busy whilst the actual invading is going on off screen. The player has to survive 4 ‘stages’ which feels like forever and then is required to destroy the Fizzco building when Sam discovers a city-destroying device and is unable to stop it.
In an overlong and unskippable cutscene, the Protagonist rides a massive bottle of Overcharge into the tower, “dies”, then comes back to life and the Fizzco building turns into a giant robot and goes about destroying Sunset City. The player has a certain amount time to get to the robot, get to the top and shoot the core. This phase of the mission is in three stages (of course) in the last stage, the robot is really far away, and I thought I could cheat the system and fast travel to the area. I did accidentally skip a screen that said that any unsaved progress will be lost and sure enough, when I arrived at my destination, the mission had been cancelled and I had to spend another 20 – 30 minutes playing up to the point that I accidentally cancelled myself out of the mission. I will concede that it was my own fault but in my own defence, I thought it would be OK since the game had allowed me to fast travel at will. There wasn’t even any ‘fourth wall breaking’ piece of dialogue from the protagonist saying, ‘Shame I can’t fast travel’. If there is then it came after I already screwed up.
All in all, the stuff I don’t like doesn’t spoil the things that I do like which pretty much boils down to the gameplay. It’s a really fun game. It’s colourful and quirky and different and if a sequel gets made, I’d definitely play it. It’s clearly a game that’s driven by ideas, granted some of them are other people’s ideas and having them in your game as a parody is pretty clever although ‘Sunset Overdrive’ is not the first game to parody other video games in it’s content. I’m once again reminded of ‘Saints Row IV’ but then again, I’m pretty sure that ‘Saints Row IV’ wasn’t the first game to parody other video games. What if ‘Saints Row IV’ and ‘Sunset Overdrive’ are parodies of a parody?… Or is that too stupid?
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