Sunset Overdrive review: grind, baby, grind


Sunset Overdrive is all about keeping on the move.

It’s about grinding, bouncing, flipping and jumping – and thankfully, the game world is full of rails, fences and wires to help you do that.

It’s also full of cars, canopies and other objects that let you bounce to reach the wires and fences that you’ll grind along. Sunset Overdrive is a game that encourages you to stay off the ground. The game’s disembodied voice announcer reminds you as much several times during the game.

Importantly, though, Sunset Overdrive is fun. Lots and lots of fun.

I mean, how can grinding along a power line, jumping off and bouncing off an umbrella then wall running the side of a building – all the while blowing up mutants with a toy teddy bear strapped with TNT not be fun?

Sunset Overdrive reminds me of lots of other games: Crackdown, the Tony Hawk series, Jet Set Radio, Bulletstorm, even the classic Tower Defence, but it’s tone is dramatically different from developer Insomniac’s last game, Resistance 3.

sunset-overdrive-blower-OD-jpgYeah, both have mutants that are out to get you in it but where Resistance 3’s setting was dark, brooding and scary at times, Sunset Overdrive’s locations are brightly coloured, almost playful environments, and, dear I say it, almost cheery despite the mutated humans taking over the city.

Set in 2027, the game’s mutants are called The OD (Over Dosed) after they consuming a bad batch of Fizzco’s new energy drink Overcharge at a launch party. The OD come in a variety of forms: Poppers have heads that expand then explode, like a pus-filled pimple, when they’re close to you; The Blower has an arm that fires out green acid; the Gunker can freeze its surrounds. There’s also other monsters (a giant one seems to have digger buckets for a left hand), as well as rival human gangs that survived the Overcharge incident, called Scabs.

Sunset Overdrive has a humourous tone to it – it doesn’t take itself too seriously – but it was a bit annoying that the game felt it had to remind me sometimes that it was a video game within a video game. I know that it’s an escape from reality so I don’t need the game’s makers to tell me that.

The weapons are inventive enough, too. The TNTeddy fires, well, teddy bears with explosives attached to them. There’s a weapon that fires old vinyl records. There’s another one that freezes enemies so you can drop down and smash them to tiny pieces. I got completely confused how to use the weapon upgrades called Amps but a nice touch is that sometimes when you blow up something, say a swollen-headed Popper,  the word “boom”or “pop” is spelled out in the orange explosion. It’s a nice touch.

Talking of nice touches, I really like the re-spawn sequences when you die. Insomniac weren’t content with just re-spawning you on the same spot, in the same way, no. When you die in Sunset Overdrive – and you will (whether it’s because you miss-timed the jump from one grind rail to another on an apartment building or you’re overwhelmed by OD) the re-spawn animations are different: One time you’ll pop out of a phone box doing a karate kick, another time you’ll be dropped from a UFO, yet another time you’ll rise from a sarcophagus and do a mummy walk. It just reinforces the light-hearted approach Insomniac have taken here.

sunset-overdrive-e3-amusement-jpgIf I have one fear for Sunset Overdrive it’s this: That its multitude of fetch quests and samey mission structure, could get tiresome after after a few hours. I mean, there’s only so much grinding, bouncing, and flipping you can do on the way to yet another fetch quest before you’ve had enough.

To be honest, it’s taken a while for decent exclusives to appear on the Xbox One, but just like the recently released Forza Horizon 2, it seems the Xbox One is now starting to come into its own as a games machine.

Owners of Microsoft’s machine now have something else to cheer about.

Xbox NZ kindly provided a digital copy of Sunset Overdrive for this review. 

Note: I haven’t had time to check out Sunset Overdrive’s Chaos Mode, an online mode for up to eight players but when I get the chance, I’ll give it a whirl. 

Sunset Overdrive launch trailer: Apocalypse in a multi-coloured world

Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive is set for release in a few days on the Xbox One console (yes, Insomniac once used to be a Sony-only developer) so Xbox have dropped the launch trailer for the game.

Taking place in a Sunset City, a brightly coloured world that has gone to hell in a handbasket after the launch of a new energy drink from Fizzco went horribly wrong (not really a spoiler alert: It turned those that drank it into orange mutants called the OD), the game stars you – yes, you – as hero, who can grind, jump, bounce, twirl and flip his way around the city as he gets to grips with what has happened.

Look, check out the launch trailer here to see for yourself.

Be warned, though, if your ears hurt when you hear anyone say the swear word that rhymes with Truck, then best you cover your lugs near the end. That word is said (but only once).

The game’s out next week, I think.

Shock confession: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a far better game than I was expecting

I’ve lost count of how many orc heads I’ve seen cascading – in slow motion – across my TV screen in Monolith’s Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

At a quick guesstimate, I’d say I’ve seen hundreds of green-skinned orc heads captured in glorious slow-motion.

The cascading heads come courtesy of the game’s brutal execution finishing moves, activated after you’ve caused enough damage to an orc. And they are brutal.

rollingheadmordorPicture this: Globules of blood spraying from a head that has been disconnected from a neck, slowly around. On more than one occasion I noticed that the unfortunate victims mouth was still open, clearly in shock with what has just happened.

Shadow of Mordor is also brutal in its killing, letting you not only stealthily kill orcs but brutalize them, often terrorising other orcs in the area, causing them to run off. Shadow of Mordor doesn’t pull any punches in the gore department.

And you know what? I just can’t get enough of the game. I love Shadow of Mordor – and I’m hardly a Lord of The Rings fan. In fact, if it had hobbits wandering around, I’d probably stop playing. It does have Gollum, though, but that’s fine by mean.

In fact, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – with a ranger hero who is stuck between the realms of the living and dead and is out to avenge the brutal murder of his family – has almost blindsided me with how good it is.

I bought it expecting a good game, one that I would enjoy (I based my purchase solely on what online friends had told me about it) . But what I wasn’t expecting was a game that captured my attention and cajoles me to do “just one more mission”before bedtime.

Shadow_of_MordorI’m not going to go in the intricacies of Shadow of Mordor, except to say that the game’s nemesis system is pure genius. In a nut shell, it works like this: Orcs are collected in a hierarchical system, each with its personality, strengths and weaknesses, but – here’s the interesting thing – orcs will “remember”if they’ve fought you before, whether you injured them, whether they ran away.  It’s an almost breathing eco-system. It’s fascinated.

It gets deeper.  When you die – and you don’t really die you just return to your spirit form briefly at one of the game’s forge towers – the orcs don’t stand still twiddling their thumbs. Power struggles erupt between the orcs: They squabble amongst themselves, fight each other, earn promotions.  So at some point when you face off against the same orc for the third time, he might be wearing an eye patch and have been promoted to captain.

It sounds silly to say but the game feels more alive because of the nemesis system.

I’m about half way through the campaign but I keep getting sidetracked: there’s so much other stuff to do, all of it helping Talion become stronger and more skilled so the tougher orcs aren’t so hard to deal with.

Sure, I’ve got other games to play, but I keep going back to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.  No doubt, I’ll play less and less as the weeks roll by, but right now, I really am enjoying hunting orcs.


Alien Isolation impressions: In space everyone can hear me scream

Arghhhhh: This is what I look like while playing horror games.

Arghhhhh: This is what I look like while playing horror games.

Horror games have a funny effect on me.

I know what I’m seeing isn’t real – that it’s just a collection of pixels on a screen – but I still can’t help but get a knot in my real stomach every time I cautiously put my on-screen character’s  virtual feet one in front of the other, fearful of what is going to jump out at it me. I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to horror games.

They say that horror games like Alien Isolation should be played at  night, with the lights off, while wearing headphones. They say that it heightens the experience. Bugger that: I play horror games during the day. Why makes things worse for myself?

From the very beginning of Alien Isolation, developer Creative Assembly has captured the feel of the movie Alien. From the scratchy, grainy 20th Century Fox logo  to the moody theme music in the front end to the environments, this game feels like it’s the Alien game we’d been hoping for.

Heroine: Amanda Ripley is the daughter of Ellen Ripley, the main character in Ridley Scott's Alien movie.

Heroine: Amanda Ripley is the daughter of Ellen Ripley, the main character in Ridley Scott’s Alien movie.

Set 15 years after the original Alien movie, the game’s heroine is Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Alien’s Ellen Ripley, who is asked to be part of a team that will pick up the flight recorder from Ellen Ripley’s escape. The recorder is being held on Sevastopol Station, an off-world mining colony.

Alien Isolation takes place in a world that pays homage to Ridley Scott’s movie, made in a time when analogue, switches and green-hued screens were common place and the world digital didn’t even exist. Computers take ages to warm up and boot, levers feels solid and weighted, doors take what seems like forever to open. Even the save stations fit with the time period, looking like an antiquated relic from a bygone era.

Even wandering around the spaceship Torrens, the ship that takes Ripley and her colleagues to the ill-fated Sevastopol Station, is Nostromo-like in its presentation, right down to that tipping bird thing that dips its beak into a glass. For someone like me who still has a copy of the original movie on DVD somewhere, it’s a trip down memory lane.

The first hour or so was surprising, with little scares or surprises but Alien Isolation builds the tension slowly before you actually see the alien: lights go out in corridors, swinging lights cast ominous shadows, creaks and moans from the Sevastopol hint at some unseen horror crawling about air ducts. The alien is also hinted at by survivors, one of them mentioning “something” is picking off the crew, one by one. For me, Alien Isolation succeeds because it hints at horrors, rather than having in your face blood and guts.

My, what big teeth: The Alien closes in for the kill.

My, what big teeth: The Alien closes in for the kill.

But when I first encountered the alien I was a little underwhelmed, to be honest.

It’d unfurled from an overhead vent,  it’s serpentine tail whipping perilously close to Ripley’s leg (at this point she’s cowering under a desk, which is probably what I would do in similar circumstances.) The alien disappeared almost as soon as it had appeared, but it had planted the seed in my mind so from that point on, as I guided Ripley further into the confines of Sevastopol,  I approached every door with caution and every junction with suspicion.

The alien isn’t the only danger onboard Sevastopol, though, (the station’s android can be just as deadly, but at least you can kill them, eventually) but developer Creative Assembly (which is more well known for its Total War strategy series) has apparently given the xenomorph an unscripted AI, meaning the creature doesn’t react based on pre-scripted cues, such as you passing a specific invisible line in a room or at a certain point. That’s a great idea as it makes the alien unpredictable, which is what a monster should be, right, and the clunking I often heard in the ceiling had me more cautious the further I progressed.

Blip, blip, blip: The motion tracker helps tell you where foes are but it can also tell the alien where you are.

Blip, blip, blip: The motion tracker helps tell you where foes are but it can also tell the alien where you are.

My teenage son, who’s also making his way through the game, experienced the unpredictability of the alien first hand when, just metres from the safety of an elevator and tracking the creatures movements meticulously with the motion tracker, the beast dropped from a ceiling vent and pounced.

I haven’t finished the game yet – I’m still making my way through Sevastopol Station, pausing behind corners more than perhaps I should, fearful the alien will be right behind me when I turn around – but I’m liking what I’ve played so far, although I am starting to feel as if there is a little bit of padding in missions to make the experience last longer.

Perhaps my biggest gripe is with Alien Isolation is with the save system, where you can manually save progress every time you come across a save station. Sometimes, though, you’ll get killed before the next save point, meaning you’ll sometimes have to (frustratingly) re-play from the most recent save to where you died. It would have been nice to have seen a checkpoint-style system in place.

Alien Isolation has atmosphere by the bucket loads and it’s meaning that I’m more cautious about how quickly I move through the environment. And that’s a good thing.

Besides, it hopefully won’t take me too long to finish, given that with Daylight Saving I’ve got more daylight hours to play it.

Update Number 1: Ridiculously, I forgot to mention the music in Alien Isolation. In a word:  It’s wonderful. The reason it’s so wonderful is because it’s atmospheric , just like the soundtrack of the original movie. The soundtrack really builds up the tension in all the right places and if you’ve seen the music, you’ll go all misty eyed over the haunting tones at the menu screen.

Thanks to Sega, which provided a copy of Alien Isolation on PlayStation 4.

Forza Horizon 2 review: Going on a road trip, baby

Off-road: Where we're going we don't need roads.

Off-road: Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2, a car game that has racing in it, has had an interesting effect on my car-mad teenage son. I’m bike-mad, he’s car-mad.

Anyway, after driving exotic sports cars around Italy – France and Italy are the  playground for this second Forza Horizon game –  during the game’s road trips, my teenage son proclaimed his future plans.

“When I’m older I want to go to Europe and rent a Lamborghini. How much would it cost to hire one of those?” he asked. “Probably quite a lot,”I told him. He contemplated for a little bit then said, “You’ll have to come with me then.” Good lad.

The original Forza Horizon never really connected with me: Maybe it was the North American setting but for some reason Horizon 2 has captured my attention and made me want to keep exploring, keep racing and keep gaining XP so I level up, win more championships and seek the final challenge. The basic premis is that you have to win the right amount of championship events to take place in the Horizon Festival’s final event.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

In-car view: Perhaps the best view to drive from.

As I write this, I’m sitting at level 26 (a low level compared to some of the people I’ve encountered), have raced in 32 championship events, and have had 53 collisions in one race.

Perhaps the appeal of a game like this is that I get to drive virtual representations of cars that I’ll never own, and there are 210 cars to unlock, ranging from luxury sports car, rugged 4WDs and American Muscle cars. I think, though, much of the appeal is that there is so much fun to be had outside of the racing. Just driving around brings its own rewards.

Everything you do in Forza Horizon 2 earns XP, and the more XP you earn, the faster you’ll level up: Do a nice drift around a tight corner, you earn XP; pass within a cat’s whisker of an oncoming car, you earn XP; smash a street light and take down a stop sig, you earn XP. Some  things earn small amounts of XP, others earn bigger amounts, and everytime you level up, you get to do a virtual Wheelspin which can reward you with credits or a new vehicle to add to the garage. Perks are the game’s skill tree, letting you tweak how you want XP to be earned doing different things.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

Race time: each race gets you closer to the championship finale.

As well as straight out race events – each championship event has four events to complete – there are also things called Showcase events, which add a bit of variety to the frequent A to B beat-the-other-car races. One of the Showcase events has you having to outrun 37 hot air balloons in a 1970s Lancia rally car. Another has you  having to sprint against a steam train. Another has you  having to beat a squadron of fighter jets to the finish line.  They add excitement to things and a touch of style.

The  game’s Bucket List, too, is a nice  diversion from all the racing, letting you do things like drive a luxury sports car like you stole it or have to gain the fastest speed through a speed zone.

Horizons 2 looks gorgeous, too, with the car’s appropriately shiny, European architecture and wide open fields, but I have to talk about the ambient weather effects and the day/night cycle. They are, in a word, amazing, adding immersion to the game. The sky goes dark and thunder booms overhead when a storm is approaching, clouds blackening with moisture. Rain drops splatter windscreens, streaked by wipers. Sunlight blooms and rainbows appear when the rain has gone. Playground Games has done an outstanding job.

The game’s makers say that Forza Horizon 2’s drivatars, which populate the game world, are based on the driving styles of real-life Forza Horizon players. All I can say is I pity those other FH2 players who have the misfortune of running into me on the roads of Europe, especially when I first started playing.

If you saw an Ariel Atom race car driving erratically through fields, slamming into trees, and generally slipping and sliding all over the roads, it was likely me.  In fact, I can probably guarantee it’s me.

Something that was frustrating about the drivatars, though, was that on the moments when you drove to the next region – the game’s road trips –  they turned it into a race, meaning at times several of them would collide with each other. I lost count the number of times a drivatar would race past me, pull in front then slam on its brakes, forcing me to crash into it. Perhaps  future DLC for the game should include a virtual insurance company to ring?

It’s testimony to how good a car game is – and Forza Horizon is an outstanding car game – when it grabs the attention of a gamer like me – one who isn’t a huge car game fan – and won’t let go. Forza Horizon 2 grabbed me after the first race – despite the cheesy, non-skippable intro sequence that just seemed a little forced – and I’m hooked.

And for Xbox owning car racing fans, this is a no brainer. It’s gorgeous, it’s huge, and it’s fun. Isn’t that what a car racing game should be?

Forza Horizons 2 is a game that will  capture your imagination, cajole you into racing one more event, and won’t let go. It’s set a very high bar for other car racing games to come close to. The challenge has been set.

It’s now up to other car racing games to accept the challenge.

Xbox NZ kindly supplied a digital copy of Forza Horizon 2  for this review.

Shit, COD Advanced Warfare, you’re impressing the pants off me

Activision have released a new trailer for COD Advanced Warfare and, man, it’s blowing my socks off (and impressing my pants). I haven’t really been interested in a COD game since Modern Warfare 2, which I consider the best of all time.

Anyway, here’s the trailer, called Power Changes Everything, which shows what looks like it’s a little of the campaign but focusses on the game’s exo-skeleton co-op mode, which looks like it’s like Gears of Wars’s Horde mode where you face off against rounds of increasingly tougher enemies.

I note that some online users are moaning about the game mode not having zombies. Even I know that zombies are something that Treyarch bring to the COD table. I’m pleased that Sledgehammer have bought something new.

COD: Advanced Warfare is out in November. If it keeps up the way it is, I might not have any pants left by then: They’ll have been blown to bits!

How two trailers have changed my mind (slightly) about MP games

I played the Destiny beta and enjoyed it but I didn’t enjoy it that much that I’m going to rush out on launch day and buy it (I like online gaming but if push came to shove, I’m more of a narrative-driven kind of guy – and Destiny’s story campaign doesn’t seem that good) but damn, this live action trailer Activision sent through is something else.

Watch it and tell me you’re not impressed? 

But is it so good that it’s convinced me to perhaps buy it at some point? Probably not but my interest is more for the game than it was a few weeks ago.

And sticking with Activision: I wasn’t that interested in COD: Advanced Warfare but after being hounded into watching game play by my COD-playing teenage son, I’m actually considering buying it (considering it: Not definitely buying it) but the latest trailer has me thinking that the multiplayer actually looks pretty good this time around.

Here, take a looksie:  

So much exoskeletons. So much jumping. So much explosions. So much future war stuff.

But then, I don’t really go for online games first and foremost, do I, so the chances of me picking Advanced Warfare up solely for MP is  unlikely but, still, who knows what will happen?