Open world games and I are not on good terms these days. Rewind time to 2012 and you’ll find a 19-year-old who just couldn’t get enough of open world shenanigans. So what happened between us two? Maybe I grew out of that phase like a person getting past his fear of spiders. Wait…I don’t think that’s the way it works chief. No one grows out of Arachnophobia. Then, has my relatively-new career as a gaming journalist resulted in good ol’ Jay becoming a pompous sceptic?
All work and no play makes Jay a dull boy
Jokes aside, I think the real reason open-world games and I had a falling out was that I just don’t have the time for them. I considered myself a completionist til some time ago. That claim was literally put to the test when I played games where there’s a lot to see, do and achieve (damn you, Steam achievements). Time is not something that is freely thrown around in our field of work. I could write up an editorial like this, or explore new games in the time It’d have taken me to find that one last collectable or hidden item in these massive open-world games.
I remember spending an awful lot of time exploring the world of New Bordeaux in Mafia III to find all the Playboy magazines and being forced to quit the game halfway through the campaign because it wasn’t the only thing on my plate. It also didn’t help the fact that pretty much all the open-world games today are filled with busywork and filler content to forcibly extend the playtime. This triggers the completionist in me so damn hard. Bigger isn’t always better chief. I’d much rather spent my time in games with a smaller play-area but one that is filled with handcrafted content worth exploring. Yakuza 0 is a perfect example of this. For an open-world game to demand an investment of my time, it must really have something unique and no, I don’t mean a ginormous game world filled with repetitive busywork.
Bigger isn’t always better chief.
So, what is the point of this incoherent rambling, you may ask. Well chief, I finally found myself an open-world game I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Sunset Overdrive, you have truly surprised me. For that my friend, you are getting your own piece of the action in this weekly series.
I remember Sunset Overdrive to be one of the most hyped third-party exclusives for the Xbox One. Even though the game garnered a positive reception during its OG release in 2014, you’d be hard pressed to find someone talking about it in 2018. Well, that was the case before the PC release last month. There wasn’t much of marketing or hype surrounding the PC release since it was a 4-year-old game but those who tried it out for the first time were pleasantly surprised. Dang it Microsoft! It should have come to the PC earlier.
Sunset Overdrive is what you get when you boil Jet Set Radio, Ratchet and Clank and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in a pot and pour an unhealthy amount of pop-cultural references and adrenaline. It’s visually striking, runs like butter and a pure joy to play. Knowing Insomniac, you can rest assured that the setting of Sunset OD is something truly unique when compared to its open-world peers. The story takes place in a colorful dystopian world undergoing a mutant apocalypse or “awesomepocalypse“, according to the developers. The energy drink FizzCo has turned its consumers to violent mutants known as an Overcharge Drinker (OD) and has quarantined the city of ‘Sunset’ to cover-up this screw-up. You play as a FizzCo employee, an everyman (or woman) rising up to the occasion and expose this whole conspiracy. It’s up to you to discover the hero within, team up with goofy surviving factions and kick some colorful mutant butt.
Apocalypse Eye Candy
The first thing that comes into my mind when booting up Sunset OD is how colorful and vivid everything is. It’s not like it’s written in the Holy Bible of video games that every apocalyptic game should be “brown and grey and realistic”. There are lots of red, blue, green and yellow and orange in Sunset OD which contributes to the game feeling like an extended comic strip at times. Enemies turn into bright orange droplets when blown up, explosions are accompanied by fireworks and lots of comic book-style visual sound effects appear throughout the game, such as a “POP” or “KRAK” being displayed in the screen when you blow up mutants or pound the ground. The city of Sunset looks as if its ripped straight out of a fairytale with locations resembling rainbow junctions and lollipop boulevards. Sunset OD is even better if you experience it on a weekend with a glass of beer and a bag of shrooms. Not that I know what I’m talking about…..Drugs are bad….m’kay?
Dynamic and Chaotic
Aside from the vibrant visual style, the most standout feature of Sunset OD is the traversal system: the predominant reason why it has hooked me in for so long. The traversal system is basically Ratchet and Clank mixed with Jet Set Radio. In Sunset OD, you are highly encouraged, to run on walls, grind on rails, and use various objects to hurtle yourself into the air. Don’t be fooled. This is not a single button gimmicky parkour. There is a bit of skill and precise input involved in pulling off some of the high-octane stunts in Sunset OD. As the game progresses, you unlock more of these moves such as air dashing and skating on water. Don’t think you can skip out on these and play the game like a generic third person shooter. Sunset OD requires you to be on the move during combat as standing around is a surefire way of getting yourself swarmed. The traversal mechanic makes the exploration so damn satisfying as the city is littered with objects you can interact with. Trust me, it feels better than my half-assed way of conveying it in words. Now I see where the inspirations for their Spiderman game came from.
Then there is the plethora of crazy weaponry and multiple upgrade systems. From vinyl record gun to teddy bears strapped with dynamite, everything you expect from an Insomniac game is here. You can also pimp yourself with a bunch of superpowers called amps, through which you can summon lightning storms, mini-tornadoes, spikes, dive bombs etc. What’s cool is that these powers can be attached to your character as well as both ranged and melee weapons. Then there are the passive upgrades which literally takes up an entire screen and over-the-top traps which can be used in the several tower defence events. None of these systems feels like arbitrary afterthoughts or half-baked. Like other open-world games, there are plenty of challenges to do and collectibles to….collect. But all of them reward you by unlocking costumes and amps and hardly feel like busywork. Even if you don’t go actively looking for them, you’ll run into them eventually just by traversing through the environment. Man, there are lots of meaningful content to be had here.
Breaking Down the Walls
If it’s not apparent already, Sunset OD does not take itself very seriously. You’ll be hard-pressed to go 30 minutes in the game without someone breaking down the Fourth Wall as if it had done something horrible to them in a previous life. The characters in the game, including the hero, are fully self-conscious and frequently makes remarks about them being in a game, poking fun at respawning, HUD elements, item placements, checkpoints, invisible walls and literally every video game trope ever. The amount of lampshading in Sunset OD makes Deadpool look like an amateur. I’m not kidding chief.
The tongue-in-cheek humor also extends to the denizens of Sunset OD. From spoiled trust fund kiddies inattentive to the awesomepocalypse, to a bunch of LARPers living out their now-realised fantasy, the city of Sunset is filled with comical, over-the-top characters you just can’t say no to. You know what they say, “one man’s apocalypse is another man’s tabletop campaign.” Quote me on that.
Sunset OD is not entirely free of the open-world syndrome. But it brings several fresh ideas to the table that doesn’t overstay its welcome (unless you’re the kind of filth who hates pop cultural references. If that is the case, then I don’t want to have anything to do with you). Sunset Overdrive is beautiful, chaotic and well aware that it’s a video game. If you’re a man of culture like me, then head on to the Steam store and buy the game at a 20% discount. You won’t regret it.