‘Sunset’ throttles senses and fun into overdrive

By Austin Miller

Years of pop culture have taught gamers the zombie apocalypse is black, gray and dreary. “The Walking Dead,” “Last of Us” and “World War Z” have taken the broody color palette and worn it thin, along with the zombie genre as a whole.

“Sunset Overdrive,” created by Insomniac Games, creators of “Ratchet and Clank” and “Spyro the Dragon,” took the exhausted zombie concept and bombed it with Sunkist and punk rock.

The story takes place in the fictional world of Sunset City and puts the player in control of a lowly employee of FizzCo, an evil corporation that released a new energy drink called Overcharge Delirium XT. Instead of providing hours of energy, drinkers have been turned into monstrously mutated zombies, or OD. It is up to our nameless hero to band together with survivors and stop the sugar-charged savages.

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Players are free to customize their character with any assortment of clothes imaginable. Do you want to wear a luchador mask, tighty-whities and scuba shoes? You can! Do you want to wear a jester’s hat, a Girl Scout vest and armored pants? You can do that too!

If anything is overcharged from this game, it is your senses. Starting “Sunset Overdrive” for the first time, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed from the bright, lively color palette. The oranges, blues and greens automatically install a frenetic sense into the player. The backdrops create an energetic environment before you can even figure out the button layout.

Once your eyes have adjusted to the vibrancy of Sunset City, your ears are assaulted by the fast-paced angst from modern punk bands like Fidlar and the Bronx. The soundtrack reminds the player that he or she has been wronged by “the man” and to not stop moving. The aural and visual bombardment given by “Sunset Overdrive” fit the game mechanics perfectly.

The environment of Sunset City is completely traversable. Wires and rails allow players to grind across the streets and buildings and umbrellas, cars and air vents allow players to leap through the air like Michael Jordan.

Traversing the world is fun enough on its own, regardless of shooting or story.

Nearly every inch of the map can be crossed without touching the ground, which is controlled by herds of OD. Staying on the ground for more than 10 seconds almost promises the player certain death. The different enemies are much faster than our hero, so staying in motion through the air or on rails is the best strategy. This is not your typical stand and aim shooter.

The other strategy is to vary your arsenal. Throughout the campaign, many outrageous weapons can be unlocked or purchased.

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The TNTeddy fires exploding teddy bears that can exterminate groups of OD at once, and The Dude is named in honor of His Dudeness from “The Big Lebowski” because it launches a charged bowling ball.

Each new weapon is increasingly more ludicrous and powerful. Each weapon can also be paired with amps to make them even mightier.

Amps are power-ups that can be applied to guns or to the player. A weapon amp can fire rounds that cause enemies to catch fire, become frozen or stunned. A hero amp, like Roid Rage for example, causes enemies to explode when they are hit by a melee attack. The key is to find the right amps that suite your play style while doing the most damage.

The campaign feels a little short, and can be beaten in around seven or eight hours. But, there are many side missions and collectibles that can extend the life cycle of the game.

Another game mode, Chaos Squad, lets you play with seven other players online to fight back waves of OD. Chaos Squad is very enjoyable and intense, but doesn’t offer anything new from the campaign.

If only one word was available to describe “Sunset Overdrive,” it would be fun. This game is non-stop fun from beginning to end. It feels like a dream Tony Hawk had 10 years ago, but he never had the guts to turn it into “Pro Skater 6.”

The many inhabitants of Sunset City create tons of comic relief, pop culture references and breaks of the fourth wall to acknowledge video game clichés. They contribute to a story that, on the surface seems too preposterous, but ends having a lot of heart and witty writing.

“Sunset” provides a colorful presentation, full customization, tons of fun and many laughs that gamers should race out of their houses and feel for themselves.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AMiller_DE.

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