The fictional world of Sunset City might seem like a nice place to grab a drink with friends, but it most certainly is not. In fact, as home to the world’s largest beverage producer, Fizzco, it’s the epicenter of the apocalypse. The disaster begins when a bad batch of the company’s energy drink, Overcharge Delirium XT, infects those attending a party to celebrate its launch. It turns them into zombie mutants of various shapes and sizes, which leaves you with two jobs: killing zombies, and having plenty of fun doing it.
See, while video game apocalypses are often slow slogs through miserable wastelands, the one which Insomniac Games has devised to overwhelm Sunset City is anything but. “Sunset Overdrive” revels in color and motion, trading dilapidated old buildings for elaborate urban palaces, built with multiple traversable levels in mind. Players can run, grind, zip-line, wall-run, and bounce off the hoods of cars at pretty much all times, using the environment to their advantage in this one-man war against the odds (no pun intended).
“Sunset Overdrive” is indeed a lot of things, but “slow” is not one of them. During the game’s lengthy initial design stages, leads Marcus Smith and Drew Murray decided that the game needed a strong sense of momentum at its base. So they tried littering props like oil slicks and mattresses around the city to let the player slide and bounce around it, but it felt silly. So they started removing: “At some point, we decided there would be no ladders in the game — that was another big one for us,” says Smith. The entire city was re-imagined, with an emphasis on speed; they turned fence-climbing into fence-vaulting, threw in some grindable rails and power lines, and effectively transformed the feel of the game.
“Sunset Overdrive” borrows elements from the likes of “Prince of Persia,” “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater,” and “Jet Set Radio” (among others) to create its vision of the apocalypse: the “awesomepocalypse.” Laws and social norms are tossed out the window, and Sunset City becomes your playground. Traversal and gunplay are the name of the game, and you’ll be doing them simultaneously. The more impressive your performance — shooting enemies while grinding, taking out groups of them at once, maintaining a constant state of motion — the heavier your damage capabilities become.
The game’s customization systems are expansive as well. Not only can you precisely tailor your character from a huge number of body parts and clothing pieces, but an Amps system lets you craft weapons and other tools to help you along the way. Recipes scattered around Sunset City require cans of Overcharge to be combined with other items to craft Amps; weapons each have Amp slots, which serve to upgrade them with powers that go well beyond simple stat buffs (though you get those, too).
Like “Dead Rising 3,” “Sunset Overdrive” features boatloads of enemies, which attempt to swarm you en masse while you escape using your exceptional sleight of foot. Your ultimate goal is to topple the Fizzco empire — but along the way, you’ll be offered a great number of side missions and other diversions by everyone from comic book collectors to fortune tellers. This is an open world game through and through, and you’ll want to explore every crack of it when it launches for Xbox One later this year. Just remember: No matter how thirsty you are, don’t drink the soda.