Sunset Overdrive Critique

Punk was something else. As a cultural movement, it was characterized by a complete disregard for socially acceptable behaviour –or socially acceptable music– going as far as sometimes having an outright disdain for life. Call it nihilism or melancholy in its most violent form, life was often seen as only worth wasting, and autodestruction was the name of the game. Punk was a subversion of establishment, meant to destroy itself before politics and money could get to it — an anarchistic re-appropriation of our own identity.

The ironic thing is that the figurative marketing grinder can capitalize on absolutely everything, and punk (in the cultural sense) got caught in it. When a game like Sunset Overdrive says it is punk, it means it is post-grinder punk. On the surface, punk’s anti-establishment ideals are present —for example,  the game’s antagonist being an amorphous energy drink company and the empowering nature of the ideology are still there, but they are as far detached from the nihilism and disappointment felt through the punk ‘generation’ as they can be. In the game, punk and pop culture are eerily similar, often merging into each other without an ounce of self-awareness. Anti-establishment then become a backhanded way to sell you a product, here being the game itself.

You still have to give it credit: so Sunset Overdrive might fail –or not even try– to channel the Sex Pistols, but it does get Bikini Kill.  It might just be a detail for some, but it will be a total game changer for others. Some of this ideology can be seen in the game's character creation, which is a blast to fiddle with and curiously always has pretty great results.The best part of making your own protagonist though is that clothing isn’t gender specific. Have you always wanted to play a dude with a feminine face wearing a tie and a tutu? Well, the game is not there to judge you, and will play along with your choices wonderfully. Whatever you might think of how it treats punk culture, Sunset Overdrive still manages to give a window to a world where you don’t judge people by their looks or their apparent gender, and it is great.

Sunset Overdrive’s gameplay feels, in spite of all the options, one note.

There is also a lot of customization in how your character will interact with the world –a lot of weapons and a lot of upgrades you can swap between– but Sunset Overdrive’s gameplay feels, in spite of all the options, one note. It has you traversing an open world, grinding on rails, running on walls, and bounce-jumping on just about everything that is not just regular ground, all the while shooting a diverse group of enemies and collecting a plethora of random stuff. The traversal is great fun but the combat tends to revolve around shooting a mass of enemies without any thinking or finesse.

The game encourages you to always be in motion, first by making you extremely vulnerable if you are stationary, and also by giving you what is essentially a style meter for traversal. Keeping the latter at max makes you deadly in combat, so most combat amounts to you arbitrarily finding stuff to grind on and jump between so your meter stays up. Between style bonuses and the generous auto-aim, mindlessly shooting everywhere always feels more effective than using different weapons to play against enemy weaknesses.

And it gets worse because of the mission design. The traversal is at its best when you have to move forward, but most missions have you squaring off against waves of enemies in set areas — you cannot play with the terrain when you are stuck bouncing on the same pads and grinding on the same rails. Surprisingly enough, it is in the chase missions hat all the untapped potential of Sunset Overdrive is apparent. Not only are these exhilarating, but whereas chase sections in other games tend to be awful, they’re among the best moments in the game. It just goes to show what Sunset Overdrive could have been if it didn’t rely on the same old tricks too often.

If I sound extremely dismissive of the game, it is because it could have been so much more. Sunset Overdrive is still commendable as it stands now: bright and colourful, extremely pretty, and a joy in short bursts. But it is also shallow, and should be only taken at a surface level. It is the candy equivalent of a game; Sunset Overdrive feels like the best thing ever at first, but play too much of it and it then becomes insufferable.


Review Notes

  • I might be overly cynical at how the game treats punk culture. It always felt phoney to me. That being said, I doubt the developers were hypocritical in the pursuing of their ideas. The game has heart.
  • The draw distance is incredible, the colours are beautiful, and the animations are great. It’s a looker for sure.
  • There is a little respawn animations every time you die. They are funny, cute, and endearing in a way that the game rarely is because it is trying too hard to be Meta all the time.
  • There is still some pretty good jokes though.
  • And the bad ones are not that bad.
  • Getting all the collectables was one of the better part of the game for me. Just the traversal. No combat. I liked it a lot.
  • Raph and Anna said this game was the Poochie of videogames. It is. It’s the candy of videogames. It’s also the Poochie of videogames.
  • “I have to go now, my planet needs me”.