The last console generation saw the release of approximately one metric bazillion games. Some were great, some not so great. Some were unforgettably remarkable, some remarkably forgettable. Some were Fortnite. We can debate such things until the heat death of the universe, and likely will. But one case is inarguable: Sunset Overdrive was awesome.
Insomniac’s open-world action game, released in October 2014 for the Xbox One, is a rip-roaring time. Sunset Overdrive kicks off in Sunset City, a metropolis that looks like any other metropolitan area in California but absolutely does not exist in the real world. It’s set during the post-apocalyptic future, but not one with shattered concrete and drab, muddy vistas. Instead, everything is done up in vivid color. The destruction isn’t the result of a nuclear explosion or zombie outbreak, but rather of an evil soda corporation (FizzCo) releasing a new energy drink, turning many Sunset City citizens into bloated, bright orange, venom-spewing monsters. FizzCo locks the city down, citing an outbreak, a quarantine, and other terms we’ve all become way too familiar with in 2020.
You play as a custodial employee of FizzCo. At first, your objective is simply to escape Sunset City without dying. That soon evolves into the broader, more altruistic goal of trying to take FizzCo down for good. To do so, you rally a cast of supporting characters. At one point, you fail at your first goal, dying in a massive explosion. Immediately after, you rise from the ashes in a record-scratch shattering of the fourth wall. Since we’re six years removed from release, and hereby released from the spoiler-warning statute of limitations, I feel comfortable saying that, yes, you succeed in tearing down FizzCo—but not before facing off against a Godzilla-sized robot.
An absurd premise is also matched by equally absurd gameplay. Survival in Sunset Overdrive was contingent on nonstop movement. Much ink has been spilled likening the traversal to a trigger-happy Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater—you’re constantly airborne or grinding on some sort of rail—but I’ve also thought of it as an SSX successor, in its ability to let you cover practical miles while grinding. The weapons, too, were a blast. One shot teddy bears strapped to dynamite; another, The Dude, fired flaming bowling balls, an unmistakable nod to The Big Lebowski. Like the rest of the studio’s oeuvre, the action is all at once tight, fluid, and responsive.
The soundtrack sounds like something you’d hear in a Portland—pick a Portland—garage. But Sunset Overdrive’s punk-rock bona fides run deeper than crunchy guitar riffs and denim cutoffs. For instance, one character, King Buzzo, is voiced by the lead singer of the Melvins, an ‘80s band that helped lay the foundation for hardcore music. (They’re still going strong, by the way, having released a 23rd album in 2018.)
No doubt, Sunset Overdrive is a gem. A shame that it quickly got left by the wayside.
Today, a search for “sunset overdrive” on social media shows countless users recommending the original or clamoring for a sequel. Those users are destined for disappointment, though. According to Green Man Gaming, Sunset Overdrive sold just over a million copies—a fine outing, but not the franchise-justifying numbers big publishers tend to seek. Other games of the era quickly overshadowed it, both in terms of sales figures and cultural cachet.
Consider the sheer embarrassment of riches that released in the wake of Sunset Overdrive. A trio of Ubisoft mega-games (Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Assassin’s Creed Unity) hit shelves in the span of a week. Halo: The Master Chief Collection landed hard, then started its long climb to redemption. Grand Theft Auto V, that zeitgeisty titan, received a port for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Dragon Age: Inquisition sated fantasy buffs and sold like hotcakes. Super Smash Bros. for WiiU needs no explanation. Sunset Overdrive just didn’t stick the way those games did. Maybe it lacked the franchise recognition.
Following Sony’s 2019 purchase of Insomniac, the mega-corp was clear: A sequel wasn’t officially ruled out, but it wasn’t exactly in the works, either.
“We like what [Insomniac has] been doing in the Spider-Man franchise, and things like Ratchet & Clank are certainly vital series in the present and future,” Shawn Layden, then the chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment, told The Hollywood Reporter last year. “That’s what we’re concentrating on.”
At the end of Sunset Overdrive, if you stuck around, you’d have seen a sequel-setting stinger to rival those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a 30-second cutscene, a FizzCo jet flies off into the sunset, carrying a batch of the energy drink that sent Sunset City to hell. If that doesn’t scream “sequel some day!,” I don’t know what does. Oh well.
Fortunately, the original hasn’t gone anywhere. Sunset Overdrive is playable on the Xbox Series X (and S) via backward compatibility, and still works just fine on the Xbox One. For all three machines, it’s available as part of the Game Pass library. If you missed it the first time around—and you’re not quite ready to bid adieu to the last generation—it’s well worth checking out. Just don’t hold your breath for a follow-up.