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Crit Con: Sunset Overdrive brings the Xbox One a worthy exclusive

Colourful, brash and full of fun, Insomniac's shooter scores big with critics

With any generational transition, it takes a while for development to switch to the new track. Nearly all of the big releases in the year or so since the PS4 and Xbox One hit the shops have been cross-generational. Whilst that doesn't necessarily mean that they been hampered as a result, it does sometimes take a platform exclusive to fire up a platform's figures. For Microsoft, on the backfoot since launch, that couldn't come soon enough.

Luckily for the Xbox division, Insomniac's Sunset Overdrive may be that very game. Trailed hard and with considerable marketing, particularly at E3, it had big expectations. Luckily, it's currently clocking a Metacritic average of 83 per cent, with a few outlets showering unfiltered praise on the colourful third-person shooter.

Eurogamer's Chris Donlan awards an 8 for a game which he acknowledges takes great inspiration from titles like Tony Hawk, Jet Set Radio and Crackdown, but does such a charming job of imitating them that it's a pleasure to hear the echoes of those classics.

"As a game built around its traversal multiplier," says Donlan, "Sunset Overdrive lives or dies on the interaction of your moveset with the passing landscape. Happily, they clip together as if magnetised. Ratchet and Clank always had rail sections and jumping, but Sunset Overdrive's a sugary fusion of Crackdown and Jet Set Radio. The city comes alive at the rooftop level or when you're grinding along a telephone wire, and the true joy emerges as you chain moves together, turning the entire skyline into a gymnastic combo rendered in geometry."

"Comboing, on the other hand, is a trick Insomniac supports with some beautiful tech, rendering a city that feels solid and intricate, while handling dozens of swarming foes and millions of particle effects at 30 fps without skipping a frame."

Christian Donlan, Eurogamer

Despite noting some disappointment at slightly toothless, albeit inventive, weaponry, Donlan finds the game's sense of fun and impact rescued by the central traversal mechanic, which sees players building combos by flicking between obstacles and jumps whilst blasting away at the three factions of inter-warring enemies which litter the bright and detailed city.

"In forcing you to keep moving the right way," he writes, "Sunset Overdrive has you truly sluggish on foot, where you're quickly picked apart. Comboing, on the other hand, is a trick Insomniac supports with some beautiful tech, rendering a city that feels solid and intricate, while handling dozens of swarming foes and millions of particle effects at 30 fps without skipping a frame."

Sunset Overdrive is a game which tries very hard to seem effortlessly cool, and is often caught in the paradoxical nature of that effort, but for Eurogamer it's a contradiction which can easily be enjoyed if the player is willing to give it a little leeway. "At times, Sunset Overdrive's name-checking smugness can be easy to dislike," adds Donlan, "but what saves the tone in the long run is the effort with which it will throw any madness your way and the fact that its idea of what's cutting edge is charmingly out of date. This is clearly the product of a team in its mid-thirties, and I feel their pain as they parade their faded cultural touchstones."

Nonetheless, he concludes, the bright and shininess of it all is intoxicating enough to encourage some generosity of spirit: enjoy it for what it is, and not always what it tries to be.

Booking another 8/10 is GamesSpot's Peter Brown, who calls it an "absurd" game with a "rock and roll attitude" that results in "one of the best games on the Xbox One, and a refreshing shot of merriment."

"It's a liberating game that trades in rules and drama for freedom and pure unadulterated enjoyment," writes Brown. "Sunset Overdrive never pretends to be anything but an excuse to swear like a sailor, jump off of a skyscraper, and blow up a gang of monsters."

Embracing the game's sense of immaturity and fun is essential, he continues, for here is a game which is unashamedly game-like. No grit here, no dark origin story. This is a brightly-coloured lollipop of a project, full of irreverence and willful enjoyment, an approach which it pulls off by never deviating.

"Make no mistake, however: Sunset Overdrive is immature on all fronts. Nearly every character swears up a storm, dropping f-bombs like it's going out of style. Thankfully, unlike many games that take this approach, their foul language feels natural and it reinforces the brash attitude that permeates the game."

Not so impressed by Insomniac's efforts was Videogamer, whose Steven Burns plumped for a 6. Rather than being charmed by the gung-ho attitude and fourth wall breaking so prevalent here, Burns finds the constant self-aggrandisement and forced irony more than a little grating.

"In practice, it is hamstrung by an empty world, bizarre sound design, and an over-reliance on tired game mechanics that no amount of to-the-camera smirking can cover up"

Steven Burns, Videogamer

"It doesn't so much as break the fourth wall as obliterate it," writes Burns, "before getting in player's faces and screaming 'I AM A FUCKING VIDEO GAME, GET IT? DO YOU HEAR ME?'

"Sadly, while Sunset knows it's a game, it doesn't seem to know that it's not a very good one."

Appreciating the potential for the setup to produce a classic, Burns nonetheless finds Insomniac to have missed its mark, instead providing a game which tries to win its arguments by shouting rather than subtlety, force rather than finesse.

"Given this intriguing setup, and Insomniac's enviable past record with weapon design, Sunset Overdrive sounds like a winner. In practice, it is hamstrung by an empty world, bizarre sound design, and an over-reliance on tired game mechanics that no amount of to-the-camera smirking can cover up."

Finding a game's central character annoying is pretty much the deathknell to enjoyment, and Burns is clearly no fan of the dialogue of the hero here. Despite being deeply cosmetically customisable, and male or female, the script for the player character is very much of a certain taste - one which can easily infuriate rather than charm. That, he says, is mired even further by lazy mission design which relies far too much on enjoying the game's mechanics on the way to and from fetch quests.

"This grates to begin with," he continues. "After about two hours, it's almost rage-inducing, not helped by the lead's ultra-douche delivery and manner. It's around about this point where the game acknowledges that it's fucking you around: your created Fetch Quester literally exclaims his distaste of the situation, exasperated at having to go out and retrieve, say, a robot dog."

Some of Sunset Overdrive's highest praise comes from the often parsimonious Polygon, which sees Arthur Gies pasting a 9 to the end of his assessment.

Again, it's the gymnastic and free-flowing movement which really delights Gies, who uses the fast travel system only once thanks to the sheer enjoyment of moving around the city's large and complex environment. Unlike Burns, he's charmed by the acerbic excesses of the lead, particularly given the freedom which Insomniac offers players in controlling their appearance.

"In a world hell-bent on making the best out of the energy-drink mutant apocalypse, Sunset Overdrive smartly emphasizes a great, flexible character creation system. There's a significant variety of ethnicities on display, and a surprisingly forward-thinking non-gendered clothing system as well. There's not men's clothing or women's clothing, there's just stuff to wear, and even the body types available aren't labeled male or female. You'll probably be able to make a character you like and identify with regardless of how you self-classify."

The game's generous shooting mechanics and the varied and comical respawn animations also earn a mention, but in conclusion it's the self confidence of the game that really wins him, and many other reviewers over.

"Sunset Overdrive is an impressive evolution of things Insomniac has been doing for a long time," Gies summarises. "Every part of Sunset Overdrive hooks into every other part somehow, and often in multiple ways, and it makes the whole shooting, grinding, wall-running package better for it. But the best thing about Sunset Overdrive is how it's unabashedly enthusiastic about what it is, in just about every way. That enthusiasm, and the freedom behind it, is contagious."

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Dan Pearson