Shining a Light on Sunset Overdrive’s Many Pop Culture References

Games are so much bigger than… well, games.

“Sunset Overdrive,” Insomniac Games’ forthcoming 2014 open-world shooter and Xbox One exclusive, is at the forefront of big-budget titles—and perhaps the first title, period—that proudly acknowledges the deep roots and cultural firepower behind our favorite pastime. In other words: People who play games also watch movies, listen to music, and read books.

If you’re fan of
anything, you’ll find something to love about “Sunset Overdrive.”

The good-time vibe bleeds through into the development team’s mantra for this slidin’ and shootin’ game: “Fun trumps realism.” It’s a rabid, wild, and colorful game set in the apocalypse (devoid of that setting’s typical grays and browns, and instead bursting with every other bright color in your crayon box), and its take on the cataclysm is “fun in the end times.”

Part of that fun is picking apart what-likely-inspired-what in this frenetic, fast-paced run-and-jumper set in the not-so-distant future. Sure, we have the obvious gaming touchstones for “Sunset Overdrive,” like “Assassin’s Creed” (which also lets you climb, run, and jump over everything in the world), “The Elder Scrolls” (which always dangles something exciting just over the horizon), or even “Jet Set Radio” (the 2000 cult hit that also has you skateboarding around a dystopian backdrop). For the record, the game’s heart pumps strongly in a “Tony Hawk” meets “Prince of Persia” pulse—with all the acrobatics, action, and frenzied fun that implies.

But the reference base at play here is massive. The most obvious, most noticeable place this comes to bear is in the respawn animations. When you die, your character bounces back fairly quickly, but does so in a flourishing, pop-culture-referencing way: You’ll slide in from the side of the screen a la Tom Cruise in “Risky Business,” from the top a la Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible,” or even crawl through a TV (not like Tom Cruise) a la “The Ring.”

Similarly, the designers included a sly wink to the vampire deaths in “Blade.” It’s a nice blending of the game’s narrative (there’s an an evil beverage company and a nefarious conspiracy/cover-up in play)—when the baddies die, they burst like sodas. You’ll catch the reference, and also appreciate the fact that thousands of enemy corpses aren’t littering the world around you. That’s a win-win.

Of course, “Sunset Overdrive” features grinning nods to other games, too. John Paquette, the game’s writer, said that one of his favorite parodies of game logic is a sequence where you’re on the phone with another character as you’re running and jumping around. That’s basically impossible in the real world, right? Well, the other character you’re talking to points this out to your character, who just shrugs and says, “Let’s not poke holes in it.”

All in all, there’s plenty here to spot and pride yourself for recognizing—which is the best part of being a fan of anything. When “Sunset Overdrive” comes to Xbox One this fall, get ready to be a fan right there with the Insomniac team.