After they finished designing Resistance 3 for the PlayStation 3, Insomniac Games designers Marcus Smith and Drew Murray were tired of the gray, depressing landscapes of the apocalypse. They were both about to become fathers, which meant that the responsibilities of parenthood were coming, and that made them think even more about the apocalypse.
So they created the zany, breezy, funny post-apocalyptic game Sunset Overdrive, an exclusive for the Xbox One that Microsoft is publishing later this year.
“We were thinking about the end times,” Smith told GamesBeat. “We had our kids. The world didn’t end. The thought of doing another dreary world was too much.”
Insomniac has been working on the Xbox One exclusive for 2.5 years, and the title looks like it’s coming this fall.
“We realized that there were some things about the end times that we really liked, like Charlton Heston cruising around in a giant board of a convertible in The Omega Man,” Smith said. “Or Will Smith hitting golf balls off an aircraft carrier in Independence Day. For some people, the end times are a new beginning. The laws of the land are gone. That was the first theme that we decided to go with in Sunset Overdrive: Fun in the end times.”
Smith also noted that his daughter loves to dress like a crazy person, but he and his wife don’t let her because “she will be judged.” But in the end times, social norms are gone. The third thing that drove the story was the rise of the Occupy movement and anticorporate sentiments. Insomniac figured that the apocalypse in its game would be caused by human error by someone at a giant corporation, which tries to cover it up. And this would be funny.
“Most brands you eat are controlled by a small number of corporations,” Smith said.
“And that’s not disturbing at all,” Murray said. “We stirred around those bits and came up with our story.”
Sunset Overdrive is set in the year 2027, when corporations control almost everything that happens in cities. Fizzco, one of the giants, is about to release a new energy soft drink called OverCharge Delirium XT in a place called Sunset City. There are elements of Los Angeles, the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, and the hills of San Francisco. But Smith says Sunset City is a fictional city.
To make its ship date, Fizzco skipped some Food and Drug Administration testing. It debuted the drink, and everyone who imbibed it turned into a hideous mutant. You play a temp worker who is so busy that he doesn’t get a chance to drink, and so he survives. But the city is overrun with mutants who want to kill him and get more OverCharge.
The mutants are known as the OD’d. As a survivor, you have to fend off the mutants. You also have to fight Fizzco’s private army that is trying to contain the mess and cover it up. That sucks, but after a while, you get used to it. You meet other survivors and learn how to live by swinging on the rooftops, telephone lines, and rails that run throughout the city. And you get good at blowing up the mutants.
“You realize after a while that this apocalypse is the awesomepocalypse,” Smith said. “You no longer have a boss. You no longer pay bills. You can shoot guns. You can turn on the rooftops. You can do all the crazy things that you weren’t allowed to do before. It’s like a video game dream come true.”
The city is colorful and inspired by amusement parks. There are silly places like the Wok You Want Chinese Food Restaurant with a sign that says, “now with real chicken.” You can stop by the Eazzy Pizzy Hot ‘n Greazzy diner or pass by the ruins of the Gilt Trip jewelry mart.
“Unlike the period of photorealistic video games we are in, with no HUD and immersive, this is aware that it’s a video game, dammit,” Smith said. “We’re going for all-out crazy effects, very much breaking the fourth wall in some places. We love being a video game.”
The actual demo started in the Japanese Heritage Museum in the Little Tokyo section of Sunset City. I hopped on a roof and started swinging around on the wires as Smith continued to describe the world to me. You’ll meet a bunch of different factions among the survivors. There’s one pack of people who dress up in sports memorabilia.
A bunch of adult scouts (modeled after the Boy Scouts) escaped the “horror night” and are among the survivors. Their troop leader disappears, and a new one comes forward. He is obsessed with Bushido code and arms his scouts with a bunch of samurai swords. They want you to take over a communication tower, which has been taken over by Fizzco and is running nothing but OverCharge ads. Those automated things in the city still work. The power is still on, and everything functions.
As you make your way to the tower, you can ride on rails like a skateboarder in a Tony Hawk game. You can jump onto cars to get a huge bounce that will take you up to the telephone wires or enable you to jump on a roof. These basic moves enable you to escape the mutants when you run into a big pack of them. And you can traverse huge parts of the city in a very short time.
In combat, I had the usual selection of weapons that you would expect from Insomniac, the maker of the Ratchet & Clank games. You can fire a machine gun at the mutants and mow them down as they run at you by the dozens. There are so many mutants on the screen that you can see how the game taxes the processing power of the next-generation console.
You can also lob balls that turn into grenades. The guns make a huge amount of noise, but they seem more like mechanical contraptions than high-tech weaponry. You can fire a “roman candle,” which sets the mutants afire and blows up with beautiful colors. You can distract ODs by firing an OverCharge bottle at them. They will drink it, and it distracts them from you. You have to be careful with it as it will power up the mutants. You can level up and become more and more powerful throughout the game. There’s a “vinyl gun” with bullets that bounce around and hit multiple enemies.
Among the enemies were humans, known as scabs, who try to rob you and take your loot. There is Fizzco security, who are there to eliminate the “evidence,” which includes you. And there are small mutants and some giant mutants. It’s really quite fun to splatter them to pieces.
Once you get up in the big tower, you have to face off against a boss, which is a giant flying balloon that is like a Fizzco advertising blimp. It fires laser beams at you while you pummel it with guns. If you hit it enough times, you can take it down. The whole mission is rather goofy.
You can take on side missions like destroying as many TVs as possible with your guns in a minute.
When you die, you come back in a different, funny way each time. You can respawn as a rocket comes crashing down to earth. Or you can crawl out of a car. Sometimes another vehicle will dump you into the street. It’s all in good fun. The game will very likely have a “mature” rating as the big blimp says, “I thought we were f****** friends,” and it is very violent.
And it looks like Sunset Overdrive will go over the top and out of its way to make you laugh in any way possible. In this game, anything goes.