The rollicking “Sunset Overdrive” game launching today on Xbox One gives Microsoft’s console something entirely new: a PlayStation-style action game, built by a renown Sony game developer.
Burbank, Calif.-based Insomniac Games created hit franchises such as “Ratchet & Clank” for the Sony PS2 and “Resistance” for the PS3 before crossing the aisle and building an exclusive for the Xbox One.
“Sunset Overdrive” is an irreverent, skate-punk, adrenaline rush of a shooting game that’s set in a stylized version of Southern California.
Although built from the start for the Xbox One, “Sunset Overdrive” feels like a Sony action game with its over-the-top design, fast pacing and parkour navigation that can test players’ skills with a controller.
Insomniac calls it a “traversal-based shooter,” which means that you move through the game by sliding across power lines and gutters, walking along walls and making spectacular jumps — from a car hood to an awning to a roof, for instance, to escape the zombie hordes. The mechanics will be familiar to players of Sony’s “in Famous” superhero franchise, built by Bellevue’s Sucker Punch Productions.
Microsoft needed more offbeat, freewheeling and demanding games like “Sunset Overdrive” to broaden the console’s lineup and appeal, particularly for hardcore gamers at whom the $60, “mature” rated game is aimed.
Yet Insomniac founder Ted Price said the goal wasn’t to give the Xbox a PlayStation game. The developers mostly wanted to build a wild new game, he told me during an interview this summer at the E3 game conference in Los Angeles.
“From the very beginning Microsoft shared our vision for doing something different,” he said.
“Our intent was to change the rules for original shooters — to introduce a kind of agility you do not find in today’s shooters, to enable players to move through this giant city with hyper-agility — vaulting, grinding, bouncing on cars, doing on crazy stuff that just doesn’t exist,” he explained. “We wanted to move away from cowering behind cover, popping up and firing then scuttling to the next burned-out car or barrier. By introducing this very agile gameplay — then laying on top of that a number of very unconventional weapons — we offer shooter fans a different way to play shooters.”
Here are edited excerpts from the rest of our conversation:
Q: Some of the mechanics remind me of Sony’s “inFamous” franchise — sliding down power lines, for instance.
A: One of the elements of the game we really enjoyed is letting players be who they want to be. When you start the game you choose your gender, you choose your race, you choose your body style, you choose your vanity, and any time in the game you can change that. You’re not locked into one particular hero.
Q: The name says California; it has a skater-punk aesthetic. It’s like Venice Beach and L.A., with lots of crazy stuff happening.
A: Absolutely. Our two creative directors grew up loving the punk culture and a lot of that is in the game, is this adherence to the anti-establishment vibe and this love of being different. You’ll hear that in the music and see it in the costumes that you wear. You’ll feel some of that California skater vibe.
Q: The industry is pretty conservative. Why does it a while for these offbeat concepts to get big and prominent?
A: As a company we’ve been in both areas. We’ve made realistic games and we’ve made games that are really on the fringe.
Q: “Resistance” and “Ratchet and Clank”?
A: “Spyro” is another really good example of us being stylized and taking a chance, doing a game that was very family friendly at a time when people were moving a different direction, especially on PlayStation. Back when we did that game, which became a series, Nintendo owned the family market. PlayStation had nothing family friendly and we just decided to go for it.
This game is just an example of us expressing ourselves and doing what we do best — having fun and letting loose.
Q: Will your style and fun with gaming tropes appeal to new players, or those who are tired of the existing genres and looking for something new?
A: I hope both.
Q: How far can you take the franchise? Will you go multimedia or create a mobile app?
A: At this point we’re focusing on making the best open-world shooter experience we can for players.
Q: Sony has a movie based on your “Ratchet and Clank” games. Will that happen to this one someday?
A: We’re very excited to see a franchise that we created making it to the big screen.
Q: Will that happen with “Sunset Overdrive” someday?
A: That would be awesome. We’d love that.
Q: Are you thinking about that sort of thing now when you start out with a new franchise (or intellectual property)? When you decide what to green light, are you thinking about the potential for it to go multi-platform like that?
A: We’ve been making IP for so long — 20 years — and we’ve realized that to take IP beyond a console or a PC is a wonderful opportunity, but it’s rare. We believe you have to build a critical mass of players who love what you’ve built and from that point, anything goes.