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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sunset Overdrive.

Transcript Edit

You know, I don't think it's a valid complaint to decry something as "trying too hard". That was today's Zero Punctuation master class on indirectly giving your opinion away, but honestly, "trying too hard" is a criticism leveled by aloof, joyless wank-tanks who spend their days smirking dismissively at the inside of their own rectal passages. God forbid that someone try too hard! God forbid that they insert a little passion into the things they do, forcibly if necessary, spraying their passion all around the inside of- Sorry, that got weird on me. Well, if you're so concerned about looking cool and dignified you can't put the effort to meet something halfway, then maybe you're the one with the problem, mate!

Sunset Overdrive then, the new sandbox by Insomniac Games, a developer that's been up and down in my eyes. On the one hand, Resistance 3; on the other hand, Fuse. Don't shake that hand, it's covered in wee. I'm not gonna say Sunset Overdrive is trying too hard. I will, however, say that it's not trying hard enough - to avoid looking like it's trying too hard.

Of course, it was already making an uphill start, 'cos if you're going to make an anarchic punk fantasy about living free in defiance of the system, man, maybe check briefly over your shoulder to make sure you're not an Xbone exclusive. Which is not to say an Xbone exclusive necessarily has to be chugging on corporate cock so hard that its alveoli are tickling the bell-end, but the main character of Sunset Overdrive seems to be what a roomful of men in their thirties and forties think the kids are like these days; a snarky young punk who grinds through the town on an invisible skateboard, obviously does graffiti, and might as well have a slingshot sticking out of their back pocket.

I say "punk", I guess he could be a hipster depending on how you dress them, because you can fully customize appearance. Sadly, there's no option to fully customize personality into one that doesn't sorely deserve to have their vocal cords gouged out with the length of their own frozen smug.

The plot is, an evil corporation mistakenly releases a tainted energy drink that turns people into evil mutants and has now locked the city down to cover up their cock-up in the standard evil and corporate manner. Well, that's the alleged plot, anyway. The real plot is simply "It is a video game." Hoh yes, we're so fucking eye-rollingly self-conscious that if we rolled them any harder, they'd plop down through our internal organs like balls in a Pachinko machine.

  • Why can we grind infinitely along rails and wires with no apparent means of propulsion? "Because it is a video game!"
  • Why can we bounce three storeys up in the air off of potted bushes? "Because video game!"
  • Why are you winking to camera with every single line of dialogue? "Because I'm having a stroke!"

And you know what, it is quite a fun video game. It goes for superhero sandboxing on an InFamous kind of level, and pulls off creating that whole "The Floor is Lava" thing, where it's just fun to traverse the city trying to keep your style combo up as you switch from rail grind to wall run to bounce pad without touching the ground. You're encouraged to bounce around and grind to make yourself harder to hit in combat, and there's fun to be had in squatting on a grind rail and gunning enemies down as you slide slowly along, like a firing range target from the mirror universe.

Though having said that, the weapons are a mixed bag. For this kind of thing, they need to be punchy and cathartic, like the quality Painkiller has where you inadvertently hip-thrust with every pull of the trigger. My favourite weapon was the magnum, just because it had some punch to it. Most of the silly hilarious weapons get lost in the chaos. I'm not clear on why it's necessary for the grenades to have teddy bears strapped to them, although I know what the game would say: "To make them more awesome!" Because Sunset Overdrive uses the word "awesome" like a legal document uses the word "hereby".

I feel that if the game spent as much time making itself awesome as it did declaring itself to be awesome, then perhaps it wouldn't be a liar on top of everything else. There's an air of desperation to it. Saints Row 4, a game that is awesome, opens with the President fighting off an alien invasion at the White House. At no point do they turn to camera and go "Wow! I'm the President fighting aliens! How cool and random, right, viewers?"

I almost feel sorry for the protagonist of Sunset Overdrive. They're stuck playing this protracted game of "Awesomer than Thou" against no one in particular. I'm willing to bet they'll turn out to be in their mid to late thirties. "Whoo, look at me, all into youth culture and shit! Civil disobedience, FTW! I'm all about that rocking and rolling music."

As is the sandbox way, Sunset Overdrive introduces a number of NPC factions who give us our missions, and all of them seem to be nerds: engineering students and LARPers and the like. It's another thing that comes across as desperate. "Look at the nerds! We're not nerds, we're cool! Video games are cool and not nerdy!" I didn't say they were ner- "Good, 'cos they're not! Let's all laugh at the nerds and their funny nerdy ways! Fa ha ha ha ha ha!" Except let's not laugh, Sunset Overdrive.

And here we veer close to the crux of the issue: Sunset Overdrive is shooting to be a comedy game but it didn't make me laugh once, which, for a comedy game, is a bit of a stumble into the lion enclosure. Well, I tell a lie; I laughed once at the end credits when I noticed several names credited as "Humour Consultants"[1]. Fucking hell, those guys must have taken some long lunches!

The humour lies almost exclusively on sarcasm, pop culture references and fourth-wall breaking, which between them make up the comedy equivalent of the Third World, where entire families must subsist upon a single custard pie, and even that is ineptly handled. Every gag is drawn out to the point of agonized death (which is any length at all), and the "hilarious" dialogue wouldn't understand timing if you shoved an alarm clock up its... flagpole. After every open-quotes "funny moment", characters react like they're waiting for the laugh track to fade.

I think that "humour consultant" thing gives the game away. Comedy designed by committee, shrink-wrapped Microsoft-brand Fun® (registered trademark), all the individual elements that would, in theory, create fun but something was lost when they were strung together. It just doesn't have the energy as this sort of thing needs.

I mean, take Saints Row 4 again: madcap fun, but self-aware without being smugly self-referential. It's got plot that's more than just wacky setpieces, it's got characters that are more than just archetypes for the protagonist to roll his eyes at like he's playing lawn bowls. And most importantly, it's got a decent fucking soundtrack that's more than just the entirety of the Guitar Hero "Let's appear relevant to people born after 1995" section, that thinks all you need to do to rock out is switch idly back and forth between three or four chords while strumming like a chimp with itchy bollocks.

Addenda Edit

  • Overlong Sunday drive: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • In the comedy Third World people must walk for hours through silent audiences just to fill their water pistols
  • Nobody tries to make me have fun and gets away with it

Screenshots Edit

Notes Edit

  1. In the credits this is listed as "Additional Humor Input" under the Localization section
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2

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