(But don't call it a sandbox)
I'm currently hard at work on our Sunset Overdrive review, and by hard at work I do of course mean "grinding, swinging and leaping across a vibrant colourful city while shooting a huge horde of crazy enemies with insane weaponry." I know, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
As such, I can't deliver any sort of value judgement until next week, and I don't plan to. We're a classy outfit here at Dealspwn.com. But based on the first two hours of gameplay, those official videos and previous contact time at preview events, I'd like to offer a purely descriptive preview of what Sunset Overdrive has to offer, and to point out a incredibly basic fact about what Sunset Overdrive is bringing to the table at this late hour. Or more accurately, what it actually is and what it definitely isn't.
See, there's a big difference between a "sandbox" and a "playground," and understanding the distinction will help you make the most out of Insomniac's high-velocity shooter.
As you doubtlessly already know, Sunset Overdrive hinges around mobility, as your avatar is thrown into a violently colourful metropolis after a soda-related apocalypse. You can grind on every rail, power line, or straight-line surface with an effortless tap of the X button, bounce on practically everything from cars to trees and umbrellas, run across any wall, boost, vault and even skim across water in incredibly fluid traversal. It's designed to make getting from A to B as fast and enjoyable as possible, and the mechanics hinge around chaining these traversal moves together.
Building increasingly complex combos makes your character more powerful as 'amps' power up at different combo levels, granting weapons extra abilities and your avatar extra ridiculous powers (fire, lightning, silly announcers... that sort of thing). As you progress through the game, you'll unlock and purchase more of these Amps with varied, often hilarious, effects so long as you can keep your combos going.
A huge selection of crazy armaments are all on hand, not limited to acid-spewing garden toys, exploding teddy bear launchers, freeze rays and the almighty Dirty Harry pistol, but once again, the shooting mechanics are based around movement and mobility. Generous auto aim and slow-mo weapon switching allow you to concentrate on your environment, surroundings and trajectory as opposed to lining up fiddly shots, ensuring that you keep moving whether you're whizzing through the metropolis or defending a specific point from hordes of snarling mutated soda addicts.
So Insomniac created an enormous playground to show off these mechanics in Sunset City, which appears to ensure that there's always a power line to grind. a train track to leap onto, a car to bounce on and an awning to link your combos together. It's a great big 3D space to mess about in.
A playground, but not a sandbox. The distinction is important.
GTA is a sandbox. Saints Row is a sandbox. These games, like an actual sandbox, just plonk you down in a massive systemic space with lots of different toys to enjoy at your own pace. Cars to drive. Pedestrians to antagonise. Police. Planes. Physics. Guns. Melee and more. The fun comes from using and abusing all of these myriad toys and seeing how the systems react.
But as you can see from the official videos, Sunset City's streets aren't full of panicking civilians or cars to drive. There's no heat system or squads of state troopers ready to hound you down. Sunset Overdrive is all about traversal and shooting, and everything is specifically designed to make the most of these two core toys, from the environment design to the challenges and enemies you'll face. Like the adventure playgrounds our parents once loosed us into, the fun comes from simply running, jumping, swinging and the raw satisfying physicality of blowing off steam. Knowing that, perhaps, will be important to fully appreciating the finished product.
Naturally there's more to look forward to, including comprehensive character customisation through unlockable outfits, story missions, sidequests, punk rock soundtrack and seriously anarchic punk rock personality. But for now, definitely check out Matt's previous coverage and stay tuned for our full review ahead of next week's launch.