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Sunset Overdrive

(Microsoft for Xbox One)
By Mike Delano

Amidst a Fall release schedule filled mostly with dark, stone-faced titles -  Shadow of Mordor, Alien Isolation, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty - it's nice to see something different, something that recalls the big, fun, full-color games of years past, like Jet Set Radio, Jak & Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank. Sunset Overdrive isn't shy about its goal - it loudly proclaims that it's the outsider, the game with a sense of humor and tons of color and even some retro-feeling '90s video game 'tude.

That counterculture stance isn't uncommon in the indie space, but in that realm it's too often used as a wrapper around defiantly old school or half-baked game mechanics. That's why it's the perfect match when a developer like Insomniac - a studio renowned for the airtight gameplay and overall polish of its games - brings its strengths to bear on a concept so intriguing and wacky. Not the actual plot of the game, wherein a tainted energy drink infects the masses and brings out the mutant apocalypse - that's always been kind of an eye-roller. I'm talking about the intriguing concept of a big, bright open world that you traverse via Jet Set or Tony Hawk-style grinding, all the while putting on a fireworks show with a Ratchet-style arsenal of creative weaponry.

It's a great concept, and the final game definitely delivers. It's a blast to simply zip around the distinctive world, which is thick with varied terrain, and it's frequently gorgeous, like the sleek modern aesthetic of the Little Tokyo region. And while it may seem at times like the overall visual approach is adhering to a standard punk template, it's actually very considered and bursting with cool little flourishes, and it's quite a feat that all of the many customization combinations seem to work well inside the game's snarly style. For some reason, every time I play I'm imagining that the album art for Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts has come to life.

Maybe the most endearing thing about the game is how much of a playground it feels like. Acid sprinklers, mutants with bulldozer arms, samurai girl scouts - it doesn't seem as if many ideas were off the table, and it makes everything feel lively. The characters happily look on the bright side of the apocalypse and, rather than view it as a civilization-destroying extinction event, see it as an opportunity for rebirth and a shot at having the freedom to be who they really want to be. It sounds like a metaphor for the state of Insomniac in 2014, and if Sunset Overdrive is their true soul shining through, then they'll always be welcome at my apocalypse party.


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