Sunset Overdrive–First Impressions: Laughter

Despite being able to tell you about many books, games, and movies that I think are funny, most of them don’t actually make me laugh all that much. Sometimes jokes are enough to make me smile without actually uttering anything. Other times, I might voice a quick chuckle that barely makes it past my throat. But it’s not often that I laugh in a sustained, semi-controllable way, and completely losing my mind to hysterical laughter is something that only happens once in a blue moon. It’s not that I’m hard to please, it’s just that my humor center is… muted.

That said, Sunset Overdrive is funny. This is a game that takes place during the apocalypse, which is caused when a massive soda company launches Overcharge, a new energy drink, without doing the proper testing. Everyone who drinks it turns into a mutated creature called an OD (get it?) and those that are left split into a variety of friendly and hostile factions. FizzCo, the aforementioned soda company, cuts off the city from the rest of civilization and sends in a cleanup crew to cover the whole mess up. If this all sounds familiar, well, it should. But don’t let that stop you from playing it.

This is not the usual drab, gray apocalypse
This is not the usual drab, gray apocalypse

The game has yet to completely double me over, but it’s consistently clever and more than once has made me laugh out loud (maybe the best gag so far involves a giant inflatable mascot and its attempt to murder me with its laser eyes). Even when it doesn’t cause a vocal reaction, it’s clear that such care has gone into the script, the staging and the voice acting that it’s hard not to be impressed.

It helps that it’s hard not to have fun.

When you die (which is fairly frequent in the early going), the game breaks out a series of jokes that vary enough that they’ve ceased to be funny after about 5 hours or so. The game also rarely punishes you for doing so. You might lose a little bit of progress, but more often you can jump right back into the middle of what you were doing, though you don’t get any ammo replenishment and your combo meter is reset.

Herkers are tough to take down and spawn regular OD. Expect to be overwhelmed occasionally
Herkers are tough to take down and spawn regular OD. Expect to be overwhelmed occasionally

Said combo meter is increased by killing things and traversing the environment, and if you want it to rise and give you access to the game’s amps, you’d better do both at once. Amps do all sorts of things to your melee attack, weapons and traversal techniques, and the higher the combo threshold for an amp, the wilder the results. One early amp causes a spray of explosions in every direction when you bounce. Another augments your melee attack with a fireball. Considering that there are lots of side missions and challenges currently waiting for me to tackle them, I have no doubt that there are even crazier amps in my near future.

Blowers are fairly easy to kill, but they have a way of disrupting your traversal, killing combos (and maybe you, too)
Blowers are fairly easy to kill, but they have a way of disrupting your traversal, killing combos (and maybe you, too)

I’m excited to play more, and if I’m being honest, the biggest reason why I stopped playing is so I can charge the controller’s batteries. The game’s inclusive, cel-shaded punk rock aesthetic makes it easy to like and hard to take it too seriously, which is good, because very little in the game is serious. Some of the most well-worn tropes of video games are called out even as your character pays homage to them, and since their execution tends to be pitch-perfect, you don’t really care that it’s being a little hypocritical. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to it.

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