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Sunset Overdrive: More is more in colorful shooter

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Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive is all about sensory overload. Everything is amped up to 11, and the characters, environments, weapons and plot of the game are all deliriously, gleefully over the top. The evil corporation Fizzco has rushed its latest energy drink, OverCharge Delirium XT, to market. Unfortunately, it has an unfortunate side effect: It turns consumers into rampaging mutants. You’re working as a janitor at the beverage’s launch party when the fizz hits the fan, and it’s up to you to clean up the mess. Fortunately, your cleaning tools of choice are an assortment of increasingly ridiculous guns.

Unlike the dark brown worlds and the-end-is-nigh dramatics of most apocalyptic shooters (including developer Insomniac Games’ own Resistance series), Sunset Overdrive’s world is hyper stylized and drenched in vibrant colors. The story doesn’t take itself even remotely seriously; it knows it’s a video game and absolutely revels in it, constantly breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at video game conventions. The tone of the game is very ‘90s dude-tude, which has been described by my colleague Darren Franich as leaning toward “Poochie.” And while it does at times try a bit too hard to be funny, a lot of the jokes land, and I ultimately found the game’s world and characters to be quite charming. It evokes the Dreamcast-era Sega in a lot of ways, particularly the punk-rock aesthetic and distinctive music of games like Crazy Taxi and Jet Grind Radio.

Even if the game had the most annoying characters in the world (cough, Far Cry 3), I’d still love Sunset Overdrive because the core gameplay is so enjoyable. It’s all about locomotion, and you’re encouraged to constantly stay in the air and on the move. (In fact, if you do stick to the ground, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by mutants and killed, which isn’t too bad because you can witness one of the game’s many fun respawn animations.)

Insomniac has created a huge playground; Sunset City is full of power lines and rails to grind on and cars, tents and umbrellas to bounce on. And the developer fully intends for you to play. The large open world offers fast travel so you can quickly teleport to a different part of the map—but when traversal is this much fun, you’ll likely choose to ignore that teleport function in favor of zipping around the levels and seeing how far you can get without ever touching the ground. Naturally, there’s an Achievement for chaining together 100 traversal moves without stopping, and earning that in itself is a blast—as are the various traversal challenges sprinkled across the map, which come complete with online leaderboards so you can compare times with friends.

Smartly, the game rewards you for how you like to play, and you can customize your character’s attributes based on your preferred methods of traversal. For instance, if you grind enough, eventually you’ll unlock a buff that will leave a trail of electricity in your wake, zapping any mutant in your path. This also extends to the game’s large variety of wacky guns, which you level up simply by using. After spending a decade crafting Ratchet & Clank games for Sony, Insomniac certainly knows how to create clever, unique weapons, and Sunset Overdrive’s guns don’t disappoint. From vinyl records to bowling balls to stuffed teddy bears, everything is ammo in the apocalypse. And in perhaps one of the most exciting additions to shooters ever, you never have to reload, and ammo refills are plentiful—so you can simply unload on hordes of baddies with everything you’ve got for glorious, nonstop mayhem.

In addition to the 10-12 hour campaign, the world is littered with side missions and collectibles, as well as an up-to-eight-player online mode in which players work together while also competing for high scores in various challenges. It culminates in a base defense against throngs of mutants. Dubbed Chaos Mode, it more than lives up to its name when eight players are jumping and grinding, unleashing a torrent of gunfire against waves of increasingly large enemies who explode in satisfying splats. Multiplayer works surprisingly well despite so much on-screen action, and I found myself returning to it long after I finished the campaign.

After years of creating three dark Resistance games for PS3 and last year’s bland multiplatform shooter Fuse, Insomniac Games clearly needed to inject some color into its products. The developer probably didn’t need to inject all the colors—but when the result is this much fun, who cares? Sunset Overdrive is the studio’s strongest, most confident game in years, and one of the Xbox One’s best exclusives.