‘Sunset Overdrive’ Marries Extreme Sports And Ridiculous Guns To Mediocre EffectFiled inside: Games
I let myself get excited perhaps a tad too early for Sunset Overdrive. The trailer was hilarious, and the idea behind it seemed to meld well.
Over-the-top action, ridiculous weapons, crazy mutants. It’s a match made in gaming Nirvana. The execution, however, feels oddly lacking.
Developer Insomniac is a powerhouse player in the industry, too, delivering rock-solid titles on a fairly regular basis like the Spyro series, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance: Fall of Man. Certainly, not every entry in these series was top-shelf product, but there’s an established pattern of quality there.
It’s clear that the love for wacky weaponry that we saw in the Ratchet & Clank games is alive an well in Sunset Overdrive, bringing weapons that fling vinyl records at high speeds that bounce off of walls, a Chinese-inspired red dragon gun with a low fire rate that shoots erratic fireworks to obliterate enemies, and other weird implements alongside more traditional firearms like a blunderbuss and an AK-47.
We got to partake in in the “Chaos Squad” mode, an eight-player romp tasking players with achieving various objectives within a given map. In this particular instance, we were locked to a single area with only one job: defend two tanks from mutant attacks. The whole thing was laid out as more of a tutorial than an actual example of gameplay.
Before the first wave, the game politely informs us that the mutants will be attacking from only one direction, and then tells us to “KEEP MOVING”, apparently mobility is kind in Sunset Overdrive, and that fact is made apparent with great speed.
The gameplay videos of the game so far haven’t shied to this fact, either, you character zips across power lines, gutters, strung up lights, and any other worthy surface to traverse spaces quickly, and you can freely aim and shoot while doing it.
The shooting—wonky weapons aside—is fairly generic. Basic third-person mechanics reign here, point at something, shoot it. Hold the other trigger to zoom in and garner a bit more precision.
Killing enemies yields points based on difficulty and how much damage you dealt relative to other players. Stringing quick kills together multiplies these points, and while all players in this case were working toward the same goal, in the end, there is still a declared winner.
One aspect of the game I really did like was that ammunition felt surprisingly limited on a per weapon basis. I gravitated toward the record thrower and the blunderbuss, and reserves of ammo for the was quickly depleted, forcing me to swap over to other weapons and adjust my tactics accordingly.
While I understand that this was a very concise view of the game, I would imagine you’d want your ten minutes to leave a great initial impression, and in the end, Sunset Overdrive did leave me with something: a distinct lack of satisfaction.
There’s no impact in the game. There are large explosions and fancy lighting effects, but all your actions feel so empty. You grind across rails quickly, but it feels like there’s no speed. Your weapons have wide areas of effect, but there’s no oomph behind them. You spend all this time watching mutants get sliced up in traps and filled full of bullets, but you come out the other end empty and bitter.
The game has essentially been one of the flagship exclusive titles for Microsoft’s Xbox One for some time now, but the title exuded almost no sense of exclusivity at all. Traditionally, exclusive titles are big blockbuster affairs, intrinsically designed to take advantage of a system’s unique characteristics. The often manifests as hyper-responsive control and most noticeably enhanced visual fidelity, often with a great framerate (this is less of an issue these days, with all games seeking to run at 60 FPS all the time always).
So why, then, does Sunset Overdrive seem to collapse so easily? As soon as more than a few characters and mutants appeared on screen, the frame rate dropped to nigh intolerable levels, even reaching the point where actually playing the game became more of a chore than anything else.
While the game’s aesthetic is certainly engaging and is a large draw of the game, I wonder if the cost is too great. With an October release date looming, it might be difficult to enact any significant changes to smooth the game out.
And as I said before, this was only one game mode, and as I only had one chance to get my hands on the game, it could have been a one-off problem, but considering how pervasive the technical issues were throughout, I’m having trouble thinking this was just a coincidence.
The HUD was similarly kind of difficult to piece together. It felt difficult to sort out where enemies were at any given time, the initial top-down view used to indicate where enemies were attacking from was generally unhelpful as there wasn’t any good indicator for finding a proper facing to make use of the original map.
While it’s cool to have eight weapons available at any given time, swapping weapons seemed like it took too long, especially with the constant looming thought that your combo is ending makes it feel even longer. This would be less of an issue if the low ammo supply for weapons weren’t forcing such a high frequency of weapon swaps per match.
So far, it feels like Sunset Overdrive is a strong example of style over substance. The game is so focused on delivering a bombastic experience, that it forgot how to actually do just that, instead functioning as a painted doll with some rudimentary machinery to make it seem as realistic as it can be. You can just tell that something is…wrong with it.
Still, this is only one end of the game. Perhaps the single player campaign is immensely gratifying. Maybe there will be more variety and longevity that I’m not properly factoring in. Until I get a chance to look into it more, I’ll resign myself to caution with this one.
In the event that I’m mistaken or that you’re already sold on the game, you’ll be able to satisfy your urge to slay come October 28th, 2014 exclusively on the Xbox One.