Sunset Overdrive: The Good Type of Grind

Some years ago, way back in the early days of my blogging exploits, I wrote about ‘Dying Light’; a first-person-zombie-blasting-open-world-free-running cocktail which, despite being good fun, carried with it a healthy dose of ingame annoyances that grated on my nerves given the extended playtime of this type of game. The article listed a handful of features that I felt were superfluous to the experience and could happily have been hacked away to create a more streamlined game.

In the weeks before festiveness ’18 I picked up ‘Sunset Overdrive’; freshly released on PC it dangled the temptation of some open-world exploration in front of those idle evenings when trying to digest too many mince pies with the added draw of being slightly reduced to entice in that PC market. In summary it is a third-person-zombie-blasting-open-world-free-running cocktail that comes with a chaser of not featuring any of those features that I found so annoying in Dying Light.

…ok…ok, so they’re actually humans that have been mutated by drinking a new type of energy drink, but fit all the criteria of zombies for these purposes. 

… aaaaand there’s a lighthouse

I guess that sets the tone for the entire experience; humans mutated by energy drink. It’s a cartoonish, funny, self aware game with plenty of cliched nods to pop-culture and other games. The protagonist must do the usual smattering of missions to win over the different factions that are in each area of the over-run Sunset City before teaming up to take out the evil Fizzco; a soft drink company responsible for the mutations, city lockdown, and most of the other evils of this sun-drenched apocalypse. Whilst this isn’t the type of game I’d want to play every day of the year, the humour, witty dialogue, and pop-culture references are exactly what I wanted to blow off some steam over the holiday period. Take the re-spawn animations for example; just had your ass handed to you by a group of Fizzco robots? No problem! The game gifts you a cute little respawn animation to dull the pain and get you back in the the action. These range from being dropped off in a DeLorean, clawing out of a grave, and my personal favourite materialising in a Bill & Ted style phone booth.

At its heart ‘Sunset Overdrive’ is just about fast frantic action driven by the free-running locomotion elements. Manoeuvring the protagonist through the city is a real joy to the point that I have barely touched the fast travel options, favouring instead a gentle jog through the skyline to reach that mission marker a few ingame kilometres away. The player can grind on a multitude of rail, bar, and wire like structures throughout the city – most notably power-lines that run everywhere and with a tap of a button can be zip-wired using a mystically stashed crowbar. These grinds can then by tied together with epic jumping, air dashing, wall running, bouncing (on a vast number of unlikely structures), and water running to provide a fluid stream of motion. Critically the necessity to time these actions, pick an appropriate path and think ahead holds just enough player engagement to feel awesome rather than the tired Assassin’s Creed model of “run toward thing and you’ll just free-run over it“.

Looks dangerous… 

Combat cultivates a further sense of spectacle over practicality by rewarding the gamer for grinding, bouncing, and otherwise flying through the air whilst either melee smashing, or unleashing some other ludicrous weapon on whatever flavour of enemy happens to be on the menu for that particular mission. Despite traditionally being a keyboard and mouse player, I opted for a gamepad (as I tend to if I know a game was originally a console release) which comes bundled with some generous autoaim. In short combat is about style rather than difficulty. The weapon options tend to encourage this and although there are some “sensible” options (such as machine guns, pistols etc), you’ll also be dispatching enemies with custom made LP launchers, acid sprinklers, exploding Teddy Bears and super charged bowling balls.

So yeah, 90% of my screenshots are just of grinding through the city

It’s a game that’s larger than life and if it sounds like I’m running through a list of tired phrases to hold this article together it’s because there’s really not that much more to say about it – yes, it gets a solid recommendation assuming you want something silly, action packed and easy to pick up and play but it wouldn’t be much of an article without some discussion of the minor negative baggage that comes with the Sunset Overdrive package. The RPG elements are refreshingly lite, but they still feel a little forced and when held up to the slickness of the rest of the game tend to put the brakes on the experience whenever I tried to reshuffle them. ‘Amps’ are the main upgrades; each weapon can be equipped with an Amp (and dang if the game loves to remind you if you happen to own a weapon that you haven’t equipped an amp to yet!) to provide some extra benefit to blasting away with it, but the player can also equip melee amps, hero amps, and epic amps (there may even be other amps) to add more perks and abilities. The amps themselves can be earned through missions, bought using collectables, or bought using OD (erm… cans of the aforementioned energy drink). On top of this the player can also equip various overdrives that add further perks, but these are unlocked using in-game badges for doing things; this kind of makes sense, for example you might earn automatic weapon badges for using machine guns which allows you to unlock an automatic weapon overdrive giving you a damage boost for that weapon type. It’s all a bit of a confusing mess of menus and remembering to upgrade, assign, and buy new things a more often than not I’ve found myself going in to the menu only to realise that I’m still pretty happy with the setup that compliments by style of play. On top of this weapons themselves level-up automatically as you use them. Minor rant aside, I was generally happy to just ignore these elements and get on with the free-running which makes me think they could probably have been left on the cutting room floor.

… and again… 

… of course there’s also another ingame currency (in addition to collectables and OD); cash. Cash can be used to buy cosmetic items to clothe your ingame protagonist however you want, and in the spirit of the game the wardrobe choices are all outlandish, fun, and speak to that part of me that just really enjoys the player customisation options in open world games. My final word of praise for Sunset Overdrive is that it’s a game that looks stunning. It’s pretty easy to miss when you’re grinding on a powerline, launching a teddy bear at a hurker, and picking up a pair of stinky sneakers with your free hand, but just take a moment to stop and survey the skyline or stroll through the shopping arcades and you’ll find an astounding level of detail to the architecture and world furnishings that add so much to making this a fun and immersive world.

Pretty impressive if you’re ever stood still for more than a few seconds

So I’ve completed the main story which is a healthy length without becoming monotonous, chipped away at all the side quests, and even picked up a gold rating on most of the challenges. It’s to the game’s credit that it managed to hold my attention past the end credits and although I’m not about to 100% it anytime soon I’m sure I’ll dip my toe back in from time to time when I want some of that guilty pleasure cable grinding monster blasting fun!

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