Sunset Overdrive: How Insomniac got its groove back

November 3, 2014


If there’s anything Insomniac Games, the studio behind the Ratchet and Clank series, is known for, it’s bringing together a handful of small, yet vital mechanics to create slick and entertaining package. While its last major release, Fuse, fell short of almost everyone’s expectations due to its lack of, well, everything that makes an Insomniac game stand out, the same can’t be said of Sunset Overdrive. It’s a breath of fresh air from a studio that seemed to be losing its way.

Sunset Overdrive puts you into the role of an unnamed (and very customizable) character and thrusts you into a city ravaged by monstrous beasts known as ODs. This basic premise alone may sound like its straight out of a survival-horror title, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, Sunset Overdrive is visually resplendent and chock full of attitude, which may or may not appeal you.

If you love fourth-wall-breaking writing and constant jokes about the structure of open-world games, you’ll be right at home here. It’s not the most sophisticated humor, but it presents you with a colorful set of characters and some surprisingly clever jokes that you’ll be hard-pressed not to enjoy, even if its approach is occasionally grating.


The real draw is the mobility. Typically, open-world games come in two flavors. There’s the Grand Theft Auto-style titles with a wide variety of vehicles to drive, making it less about traversal and more about grounded exploration of a city. The second is your inFamous approach, allowing you to leap across buildings and glide around with few limitations. Sunset Overdrive falls into the latter category, but the way it handles movement is more akin to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than something like Crackdown.

Once you get the hang of the movement, which does take some adjustment, you’ll be grinding along power lines and bouncing off just about everything in no time. Simply running and jumping around at great speeds is undeniably the game’s greatest strength as it makes the simple task of running from one objective to another a treat. I found myself ignoring the fast-travel simply because it was more fun to get around on foot, something even the best open-world titles rarely inspire.

It actively encourages staying mobile as well, even while taking on floods of enemies. I found myself playing this like a traditional third-person shooter at first, sticking to the ground and picking enemies off as best I could, but that is the wrong way to approach it. Not only will you be killed quickly (there is no regenerating health and even the smallest bits of damage can take you down), you’ll also be missing out on some fulfilling and varied combat encounters.


Bouncing, gliding and grinding around the city while shooting down foes is when Sunset Overdrive is at its peak. As you do this, your combo meter goes up and allows you to use a set of equippable abilities called amps. The more enemies you kill while hopping around like a maniac, the more your amp meter will fill, awarding you various benefits that will make combat even more chaotic and downright fun. The amps, which you equip to both your weapons and your character, add bonuses like higher damage with certain weapon types, faster grinding speed and special melee abilities, such as launching a tornado when you attack, that can turn the tide of battle quickly.

The mission variety also helps. Not only do these missions encourage constant movement, they provide you with plenty of opportunities to utilize it whenever possible. While almost all of the story missions lead to you mowing down waves of enemies, the ways in which you go about doing that and the situations the game puts you in are diverse. One quest will have you slowly making your way up a giant tower, and others will have you chasing down a large creature while it rampages through the city. Both of these examples, and plenty of others, go above and beyond to make sure you’re moving around as much as possible.


The one recurring mission type is base defense. Here you’ll set up traps, many of which will unlock as you progress through the story, and do your best to fend off hordes of enemies for a set amount of time. I’m generally never a huge fan of these mission types, mostly because they can become overwhelming, but Sunset Overdrive’s mobility allows you to get around your base with ease, making them less of a chore than you might typically expect. They are still tough, but if you use your abilities well, you’ll always have control of the situation.

And, of course, there is plenty of side content to keep you busy. There are collectibles, each of which is used towards creating new amps, and challenges, awarding you bonuses based on how well you perform. The big standouts are the side quests, which feature more of the game’s infectious sense of humor, but tend to get a little tedious after a while. Most of them boil down to glorified treasure hunts and fetch quests, even if the situations you find yourself in are slightly different. This is disappointing considering how varied the main missions are, but they are easy enough to ignore if you find yourself getting tired of them.

It wouldn’t be an Insomniac game without crazy weapons, and Sunset Overdrive has more than enough. Many of them are takes on standard weapon types, like a firecracker launcher which is essentially a machine gun, but often they all serve unique purposes. Find yourself facing down a large group of OD? Use The Dude, a weapon that launches bowling balls to knock them down and keep them back. There’s also The Shocker, which shoots electricity and, if used on an enemy cluster, will also electrify nearby enemies. And each gun levels up and gains new abilities, encouraging you to switch out old favorites.


All of this adds up to a relentlessly enjoyable experience. Just when I thought I was getting a little tired of the writing or combat, something unexpected is thrown my way, giving me plenty reason to stick with it. It highlights all of Insomniac’s strengths as a developer and presents you with one of the most addictive and charming open-world games I’ve played in a while. If any of this sounds remotely enjoyable, Sunset Overdrive will not disappoint.

Pros: Speedy traversal is a blast, incredible mission and weapon variety, colorful visuals
Cons: Some repetitive side content

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.