I didn't pay much attention to Sunset Overdrive when it initially released in 2014. Part of this is to prevent me from buying consoles just to play one game, and part of it was the fact that all the promo material managed to show off the tamest possible screenshots of a game about wacky shit.
Naturally, the game had completely left my brain by the time it was released on PC in 2018. I vaguely remember Kotaku's non-article
about its PC release but managed to forget about that as well. By the time I decided to pick it up during the 2019 Steam Summer Sale, I was well aware of the fact that I had repeatedly been reminded about this game, only to forget moments later each time -- I think this is what led to the assumption that the game wouldn't actually be any good.
I was pleasantly surprised. The game feels fresh but familiar, like Saints Row developed a fascination with extreme sports and replaced all the dick jokes with characters yanking parts of the HUD off the screen. Obviously, doing the "wacky shooter" thing isn't new -- I just mentioned Saints Row -- but the introduction of Sunset Overdrive's totally-not-skateboarding mechanic keeps the game engaging through some patches where the script gets pretty rough.
That's not to say the game isn't funny. The game falls back a lot
on breaking the fourth wall or pointing out its own plot contrivances, but does it just sparsely and cleverly enough that you'll find yourself chuckling at a few of them. That being said, there are also moments where the game's attempts to be funny fall way short of the mark. While I wouldn't really bat an eye at making fun of activities typically considered nerdy, the game starts to feel like it's routinely punching down when those "cosplaying nerds" are its best follow-up to "weeaboo boy scouts", "lol an amputee!" and "dorky Asian kid can't get laid".
When you're doing your best to ignore the story -- something the game itself is already doing -- that's when the game shines the brightest. The navigation is the clear highlight, with moves that admittedly felt a bit clunky at first ultimately feeling much more satisfying once you start to master them. And once you hit that level of mastery where you feel like you've got the movement down, it'll throw a new trick at you to further limit those already rare circumstances where you have to bring the faux-skating to a halt. It does this 3 or 4 times and every time it does a good job of keeping things interesting, but it's still kneecapped by the rest of the game begging for your attention.
I suppose it's also important to mention that Sunset Overdrive's goal is to get you shooting while you're skating. While this is pretty badass -- I appreciate the attempt at making this gameplay idea the core of a new IP -- it's arguably the worst part of the game. The game has a plethora of unique guns, none of which feel particularly satisfying to use. This is perhaps related to the fact that you're meant to be skating while doing all this -- this either requires you to be an aimgod and play with mouse and keyboard, or you play with game with auto-targeting enabled which puts the game on rails and has it play itself. There's no in-between, and perhaps the worst part is that even if you're willing to allow the aimbot to play the game for you, you still have to bring the skating to a near-halt if you want to know what's going on around you. The most effective gameplay solution seems to always be some variant of weakly grinding on some powerlines in a large circle, using your "strongest" guns on the handful of enemies that actually stand a chance of knocking you off your perch.
To its credit, the game does encourage you to avoid this strategy with the use of "amps," earned through a meter filled by performing tricks, jumps, grinds, etc. Unless I've completely missed an entire gameplay mechanic related to this, though, the amps feel beyond
useless. They're intended to provide a little extra power to your character in combat accompanied by flashy effects (explosions when bouncing off objects, for example) but they end up being little novelty fireworks that -- like your guns -- also
do no damage.
I know writing all this makes the game sound much worse than the score I've paired it with, and I wish the emotion I most associated with Sunset Overdrive wasn't frustration over wasted potential (despite it still being a good game!). The points I've given it are there largely due to the tremendous potential the game has -- the skating is the best part of the game and is still pretty engaging when the rest of the game gets out of its way. Even five years after its initial release it feels like a fresh game. With a few slight tweaks, this could be a real standout game -- higher damage on the guns so combat requires less time away from skating, fewer fetch quests (being self-aware doesn't make it less boring), and bringing that co-op to the PC version would each do wonders for this game's quality and popularity.
Sunset Overdrive certainly has a charm to it, combining satisfying navigation with shooter combat in a way that works for players of any skill level, but it has a way of tripping over its own feet. It's a shame that the game may never see a sequel. but it's still impressive that this new IP ended up being such a solid game -- much better than it has any right to be.
It's decent but really wish it was less same-y