The dialogue in Sunset Overdrive may be peppered with profanity, but there’s one word conspicuously absent from its vocabulary: restraint. Insomniac’s noisy, boisterous Xbox One exclusive turns everything up to 11, starting with its hyper-saturated colours. Its gaudy sandbox is strewn with clutter – there are no fewer than seven collectible types, each of which functions as a different form of currency. Indeed, it’s so densely stuffed with things to do, see, shoot and pick up, its map pockmarked with icons and waypoints, that Ubisoft will surely be taking notes.
By genre standards, it gets down to business in satisfyingly brisk fashion. An energy drink, Overcharge Delirium XT, has transformed Sunset City’s population into pustular mutants, and its maker, Fizzco, has locked down the city in a massive cover-up, erecting energy barriers to prevent people from escaping. A clutch of survivors remain alongside a larger group of scavengers and Fizzco’s own robotic cabal, which use electric-blue blades and bullets to deal with troublemakers.
The regular freaks, AKA OD, lollop after you, lunging forward and attacking with vicious melee swipes. Should they slurp down any more Overcharge, they’ll metamorphose into Poppers, creatures covered in tartrazine growths. These must be burst from a safe distance lest they get too close and explode in your face. The giant Herkers, meanwhile, throw large objects and smaller mutants from excavator scoops embedded in their swollen arms. All will shear large chunks from your health gauge if you’re not careful, and given that your unnamed avatar is incapable of breaking into anything more than a gentle jog on foot, you’re strongly encouraged to stay off the ground.
Initially, at least, that’s quite the challenge. From the outset, you’re able to grind across just about any horizontal edge, whether it’s railings, the side of a truck, or a rooftop, plus you can ride on overhead wires, or dangle beneath them from a hook. Alternatively, you can bounce upon cars, parasols, awnings and bushes, though you’ll most often use these to reach a higher place from which to grind. Changing direction is a simple matter of pushing the analogue stick and pressing X; a tap alone enough to flip from over- to undergrinds and vice versa.
For the most part, then, you’ll be aiming downward while in constant motion. Sniper rifles are obviously out of the question, while area-of-effect munitions are in. You’d expect an inventive arsenal from a studio that made its name crafting unusual ordnance for the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance games, and you’d be right to, though most are analogous to familiar firearms. The TNTeddy, which fires explosive soft toys, is a grenade launcher in all but name, while Insomniac is careful to assuage the fears of any Xbox owners unaccustomed to such an outlandish arsenal, amusingly likening a weapon that shoots fireworks to an assault rifle.
Meanwhile, successful traversals between grinds and bounces build a Style meter, which allows you to augment your moves courtesy of equippable buffs, here termed Amps. Hit the first tier and your dodge-rolls will damage enemies you collide with, or you might opt for a forcefield that prevents mutant swipes from connecting. The second tier may see your melee attacks produce a fireball or tornado, while the third could result in a spray of shrapnel from divebomb attacks. Some Amps are purely cosmetic, however, with one causing foes to explode into glittering confetti.
You could cut a decent trailer from the highlights of the first few hours, but it would create a misleading impression of the awkward, messy opening. Chaining moves is straightforward enough, but when you’re facing a group of mutants capable of leaping to your level and assaulting you from multiple directions, you’ll spend a lot of time wrestling desperately with the camera, often grinding back and forth across the same edge or in a circle while regularly pulling up the radial weapon menu because you’re out of ammo. Some would argue limiting supplies encourages experimentation, but at times it’s dispiritingly disempowering. It hardly helps that Insomniac is so desperately keen to ensure you’re not missing anything that it assails you with information, all but overwhelming you in the process. Then, of course, you’ve got all those collectibles to contend with: money for clothes, hats and accessories; drinks cans for weapons, ammunition and maps that show you the locations of the other five object types. You’ll need the latter, too: the pace is so relentless and the aesthetic so bright and busy that it’s easy to miss items. More often than not, we collected them accidentally, gliding backwards over a pair of shoes trailing from a wire while escaping a horde of OD.
Soon you’ll be told that certain activities will earn you badges that convey additional perks, and in case you’d forgotten about any of this, text overlays will remind you that it’s been five minutes since you last hit the menu button. Occasionally, your avatar will even chip in that you haven’t purchased a new gun for a while. About six hours in, we were presented with a tutorial for the wall-run mechanic, arriving at least three hours after we’d mastered it.
Still, the simple joy of locomotion is enough to compensate for this aggressive handholding. Movement is sharp and responsive, with a generous degree of freedom when airborne and just the right amount of stickiness for grinding. Once you’ve unlocked a high bounce and an air dash, which perhaps should be available earlier, you’ll be racing between objectives without ever touching down. Sunset City is quite the sprawl, but while a fast-travel option between key locations is available, by hour seven you’ll never feel