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Top 9 Things I want to experience in Sunset Overdrive
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't spending his evenings storing his best friend's boxer shorts in picture frames, he likes to rest under cars while the engine is still hot.
The last time John drank an experimental concoction it was to find the depths man would go to obtain a fizzy drink. One day after the tragic effects of drinking the potion, a short film was made called "The Strange Can of Doctor Pepper and Mister Cider".
Take me down to the Sunset City
I have two problems with the games industry, one is something I hope is nothing more than a trend and the other a long term problem. The first problem is I cannot recommend any next generation console to anyone because out of most of its titles I've played only two have astonished me. The second problem is that nearly every title out is bland. Not dark, gritty, hyper-realistic or noire, just bland. So when a game that has so much potential to fail has made me reconsider detonating C4 around the entire games industry just to see this one lead by example, it's not doing something good: it's doing something right.
If you haven't twigged it yet and you ought to seeing as it's in the title I am referring to Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac Games' open world shooter that puts a spin on the third person shooter's head. But not only does it put a spin on it, it also decapitates it, stuffs sticks of dynamite in its ears, mouth and nostrils before being sent down a bowling alley filled with lights that make Las Vegas look like a gaslamp in comparison. To put it bluntly, Sunset Overdrive brings colour, craziness and.... carbo...hydrates(?) back to video games!
Sunset Overdrive however has had split reactions. On the one hand many claim it's trying to be another Dead Rising and Infamous (because there can be only one right?), whereas others say it seems to be a pretty fun game. I'm with both sides, saying that it is another Crackdown but when I didn't like DR or Infamous, what's wrong with an alternative? I also think video games need to tone down the seriousness and let loose the wackiness that so many of us have craved since the release of Duke Nukem. The good one, that is. Sunset Overdrive could be a flop because of the scale of the world, lack of length and replay value, too little customisation, boring weapons, sluggish gameplay and tacked on multiplayer. But if SSOD plans on flipping the shooter on its head, I reckon it'll flip my worries on their head and send them down the same alley that the undetonated dynamite-filled skull went, before unleashing the spectacular display I'd expect from an Insomniac title.
That didn't make any sense, I know.
So without further ado (because people aren't going to let me get away with saying "adieux"), let's look at my Top 9 Things I want to experience in Sunset Overdrive!
Number 9: A dynamic open world
And I do mean dynamic. SSOD takes place in Sunset City, a once-poverty ridden cesspit before Fizzco came along to clean everything and everyone up. Sure people had jobs and better living conditions, it wasn't long before the city plundered back into chaos.... but hey, it's a lot more colourful. Because most of the game's population has been mutated by Fizzco's energy drink Overcharge Delirium XT, it's now become the survivors' playground - it's called the Awesomepocalypse for a reason!
So while that sounds fine and dandy I'm worried that Sunset City won't be able to deliver on what it plans to be. If it's going to be open world there have to be things to do, and for next gen I expect constant entertainment. In recent titles open world has just become a bullet point on the blurb, a mere obstacle to split up missions and make it sound like an interesting game. While what little footage we've seen at the time of writing this is astounding, I'm not entirely convinced that on my way to the next mission I'll stop about three times to do something nobody else is at that time.
What is a dynamic open world, and why do I want so much emphasis on it? What separates a dynamic open world game from a bland one is spontaneousness or randomness, a need to do something different because it's fun and not because it's really a train track with lots of scenery. Only recently have MMOs embraced the idea of having something else to do in the open world besides questing, and it's quickly becoming fleshed out with each release and patch. So what would I suggest? How about helping other survivors out because they're being mauled by mutants? How about races, both single and multiplayer? How about parkour challenges such as making it to a particular destination in [x] amount of jumps, or killing [y] amount of enemies in a certain area under an allotted time? As long as it doesn't feel like Watch Dog's spontaneous and chokingly restrictive "hack in, hack out" gameplay, I reckon Sunset City can be the kind of apocalypse I want to be stuck in.
Number 8: Slaying a wide variety of monsters!
So far there have only been three monsters revealed, all OD (overdosed, the mutants): the standard grunts, the blower who spews toxic goo everywhere and "the tank-like one" whose name I can't remember. While I care for quality over quantity and don't want to face shoehorned in monsters for the sake of having variety, I feel right now we simply don't have enough. In SSOD strength comes in numbers and that applies to the players you group with and the monsters, but that's not going to make the world feel overly threatening once you've got their strategies down. It's said enemies will be random, or at least the leafblowers and "the tank-like one" will be but the sooner I accidentally or intentionally find their Achille's Heel the game will become just as quickly. Insomniac doesn't just need super sophisticated AI though, it still needs the variety.
Thankfully there's human enemies also and there's different factions you'll be facing off with, one of which was shown at E3 called the Scabs. From what I saw they didn't seem all that threatening as they used mostly melee, and the threat of guns didn't seem all that great. Because Sunset Overdrive is designed to make sure you don't just stop, take aim and fire when you see the whites of their eyes, enemies with ranged capabilities may either be overpowered because spraying and praying will work for them, or so useless there'd be no point to them being human and may as well be OD.
Insomniac Games, I want you to prove me wrong. If they can deliver more factions, more monsters and have them challenge you despite so many advantages, I'm going to be a very happy survivor!
Number 7: Overwhelming Weapons
Something Sunset Overdrive wants to do is look pretty and it does that, but you can put lipstick on a goat and it'll still be a goat. The TNTeddy is essentially a grenade; the helicopturrets are just sentry guns (I still like them though), the vinyl record gun just has ricochet abilities, The Dude being a grenade launcher and so on. Add to that the basic weapons like the AKFU and the shotgun and it makes you wonder what the aliens did with the weapon designers of Ratchet and Clank.
So what would I like them to do? Crowd Control - often referred to as CC - is a great way of making weapons interesting but at the same time effective. Crowd control can be used to stun, slow, freeze, trap, charm, knock up/down and turn the target into something completely different for a short time. It's common to see this in MMOs and it's quite an important aspect of R&C. Wouldn't it be cool to have the current weapons halt enemies in sticky napalm, or bat a giant ice-cube into them to freeze them? How about a gun that fires bananas at enemies, while the ejected peels make for a slippery defensive tool for would-be melee attackers? Who wouldn't want to have a throwable kitten to distract human enemies as they take pictures of it to put on the internet? And how can we forget the famous airstrike that drops a piano?
But if CC isn't your thing, how about weapon augmentations? I don't know about you but I'd love to fire a flarethat - upon exploding an OD - sends his hot sticky residue (ooh-err!) to nearby enemies and melt them? How about TNTeddy attracting enemies saying "Tickle teddy!" before sending foes around the map and knocking others down? How about some extra jump with a shotgun pogo upgrade? How about a riot shield that can be used as a melee weapon and a board used on rails to fill up the amp meter faster? These are just a handful of suggestions because based on what I've seen Sunset Overdrive's weapons are just that: weapons.
This game is bursting with potential for weird and wonderful firearms and punchy-range weapons, so I can't wait to see Insomniac liberate the bodysnatcher platoon that invaded their towers and bring us what both we and they want.
Number 6: Heavy, Heavy Hits
Sunset Overdrive's art style was inspired by a huge array of musical genres and there's no denying it: punk, rock, heavy metal, pop and rap have all had some impact on the general design and it'd be a shame to see this potential go completely untapped. Now sure we can play our own tracks be it on a stereo or the console, but what I love about in-game radios is that I can be introduced to so many different bands. Tony Hawk titles, SSX, Grand Theft Auto and Saint's Row brought innumerable artists to my attention and have listened to their music since.... provided I liked them. SSOD cannot just get all the rights to a single genre and leave others out if it's going for balls to the walls action - if you neglect your punk or your speed metal, you're going to make the game feel sluggish. When I boot up Sunset Overdrive I don't want to be greeted by silence, but absolute auditory chaos. Don't worry guys, I won't sue if I die from you making my heart explode or my face melt to your soundtrack.
If you can make original music as well as get some from other artists, I reckon credit won't go ignored where it's due.
Number 5: Memorable Factions
It's been said multiple times that Sunset City will contain multiple factions, one of which we have seen at the E3 gameplay show at the Xbox One press conference. But the Scabs are just one, and the other two we've heard of are some kind of urban samurai (five bucks says they're called the Ronin), and roleplayers. Yes, we have LARPERs in SSOD but I'm not complaining because the potential is ripe for the picking.
But this won't mean anything if they're not interesting and will only be additional flavour to a game that might just give you a cold so bad you can't taste it. Factions seems like a great idea but will it work like Saint's Row where it's required to kill them before a finale, or Far Cry 2 where it's one or the other? Are they at war with each other, and if so, why? Can we resolve or fuel their conflicts? What are the benefits of doing each faction's missions, and are they part of the main story or completely optional? In a game that could easily last less than 12 hours this is important: if I'm not going to be around them long enough, at least let them have an impact on me so I can carry that to other games - you've done it before, Insomniac!
Number 4: Challenge
Watch_Dogs is the only open world game that has challenged me and even frustrated me since I was playing Vice City's "helicopter mission" near it's initial release, but SSOD may prove people right about it being a children's game. When no game has you moving as fast as this not stopping for anything there has to be something to slow you down; if there's no punishment the joy of zooming around like a human Sonic won't last very long. Speaking of Sonic, the rush of speed was brilliant even to this day not just because it was new at the time, but because it felt rewarding. You had to be careful, and when you got back into the sprint it was ecstatic! The latest Sonic game, Lost Worlds, relies on being careful too much making unfair challenge a lot of the time especially when the protagonist is known for going ape.
It's hard to balance on the line of too rewarding and too obstructive. We can't be taken off the rails and ziplines if the OD hits us once, but we can't be immortal either. Keeping ammo to a minimum so we "place shots carefully" because the design suggests complete and utter craziness, and that can't be achieved by limiting player resources. Having player health low might be a good trade off, as fast characters in video games with multiple archtypes (see Team Fortress 2) usually have low health, whereas healthier characters can be slower or larger targets. Keep in mind we're the fastest people in the game, so being bad should be punished.
What we have seen is the higher up you go, the less OD you'll be against, whereas on ground level and perhaps one floor up you'll get overwhelmed. But was the footage where characters get swamped staged? I believe so, because many players looked like they weren't even trying when ganged upon against the new dominant species. As I wasn't at E3 I can't say for myself what it was like, but judging by how powerful players are and how quickly one can get bored of being titanic like in SSOD, its important to hit that balance of speed versus strength.
Number 3: A Good Laugh
Insomniac Games didn't start getting their funny funk until around Ratchet & Clank, a kind of humour that appeals to both children and adults with subtle innuendo and well told wisecracks. So with this in mind it'd be unfortunate if the game wasn't funny, not just giving the characters witty dialogue but perhaps putting a spin on the characters. Perhaps making Fizzco's director a mad scientist while the assistant is hunched yet smooth talking yes-man, almost comparable to Skylanders' Kaos and Glunmshanks? Or the samurai clan afraid of seppuku, the larpers experienced in the military before the Awesomepocalypse? Irony and twists make a game entertaining, and can even redeem other flaws in storytelling; if we take a look at Saint's Row it's not loved entirely for the extremities but also its brilliant cast and tales told. Saint's Row the Third missed the point entirely, but with the fourth title the main villain was a suave, well spoken alien warlord who quoted Jane Austin novels and sang along to pop songs. This was a game changer and brought many fans back to the series, as well has having a lasting impact on those who cared about the series' story.
We're right to expect our sides being torn apart with maniacal laughter when the trailers alone were hilarious. Not only that, but I've never quoted a trailer quite as much as I have here.
Number 2: Real Cooperative Multiplayer
Since I'd played Payday 2 that is the game I will often compare coop shooters to, because teamwork is mandatory not just for the best results, but for basic survival. SSOD brings promise with its 8-player cooperative with multiple modes, but only one has been shown and played so far and that's horde mode/wave defence. Seeing other players' wacky character designs is going to be a lot of fun, there's no doubt about that, but interacting with them can vary from the best experience where it's all about having fun to a tacky addition for the sake of being there.
Horde mode is usually the go-to mode for cheap multiplayer and because it's often done poorly it's received a low reputation as the years have gone by. While I have no games design experience whatsoever, it's easy to understand why it looks tacked on because it's just programming AI to attack players and/or an objective with increasing numbers, damage and health. I would like to see eight players with friendly fire options in the open world for some sandbox fun, or to help each other in missions with scaling difficulty depending on how many are in the group. Horde mode might be entertaining, but it's called coop for a reason: players need to cooperate, not bottom feed and only team up because it's the only way to experience the mode. I don't have much hope at the moment, but if there is a sandbox mode I reckon my heavy worries will be lifted from my shoulders.
Number 1: Limitless Customisation
We've seen videos of the art teams and programmers at work, and one thing I noticed very briefly was one person scrolling through a huge list of clothing items for a lanky female character. What little I saw told me so much about what to expect from Sunset Overdrive's customisation, and this is something that has to make it past Alpha. It's a shame that art is the first thing to suffer when the game is getting ready to be shipped out.
Whenever questioned about customisation Insomniac Games have been passionate about it, even if it's not displayed in the best of ways such as Sunset TV or passing comments. They've spoken about it in blogs and interviews where they can elaborate on what they have planned, and from the sounds of it SSOD is going to bring us far more than most games. Not only will players be able to make male and female characters, but they'll also be able to change facial details, hair styles and colours, height, weight and every single item of clothing. Well, when it comes to the final one I hope that's the case. It's becoming more and more common to have customisation in games but limit it to either reskins or very few brand new clothing items. The latest and in my opinion laziest of which is Watch_Dogs, which merely changed the colour and texture - sorry, but you have to live with the cap, mask and trench coat kept together by a Band Aid.
Sunset Overdrive doesn't just aim to go balls to the wall with its design, it plans to put its most intimate areas in an electric outlet (don't try this at home) for maximum efficiency, and I hope this applies to character customisation too. Loads of suggestions are being made on the SSOD forums and thanks to what I've seen I can add my own to this thread! And I this is the first time I've said this, and it may be the last but if any of the designs that couldn't make it in originally and are sold as DLC I'm OK with that, because these artists deserve their works to be seen one way or another!
Oh don't you please take me home!
If you've seen my recent reviews you can easily tell I'm tired and playing next generation titles feels like a full time chore. It doesn't help that I don't monetise my works, but this isn't about me: this is about wanting a different game, because I'm tired of slogging through adequate title after adequate title. I want my eyes to pop out, my tongue to roll out like a red carpet, my heart pound three feet from my chest with every beat and just scream "AWOOGA!" and I cannot wait for Sunset Overdrive to deliver the goods!
But this isn't everyone's game and that I'm totally fine with. I don't expect this to have a large fan base which would be a shame as it deserves a lot of support for its ideas alone, and dares to tread where others are too afraid or not wealthy enough. It's clear this truly is the game Insomniac wanted to make when they didn't want Sony to own the license or when they had to perform all kinds of acrobatics to convince Microsoft to put it on their machine. But not only is this the game they wanted to make, this is exactly the kind of game I want to make. If only this game was revealed four years ago when I was still in college: I wouldn't have turned my back to a career in video games design.
I hope to see you guys in Sunset City on 28th October and if not, you and your crate are safe!
Thanks for reading and have a pleasant day!