Fun runs through everything in Sunset Overdrive. Every moment, every mechanic, every character and bit of scenery is designed to first and foremost be about establishing a fun factor developers Insomniac Games hope will set their Xbox One exclusive apart from the sequels and remasters of this year's release schedule.
Their relentless pursuit of entertainment value above all else is noble one in an industry often accused of being po-faced and bereft of self-awareness, but at the same time Sunset Overdrive runs the risk of being all vibrancy and knowing winks at the cost of sufficient gameplay depth.
Sunset Overdrive takes place in Sunset City, which has been overrun by people mutated by a new energy drink called Overcharge. FizzCo, the company behind it, rushed the drink to sale ignoring any sort of testing, and now having discovered its effects have shut the city off from the rest of world and left those inside to fend for themselves as they cover up their error.
Your character is a cleaner fed up with life, who now that the apocalypse has arrived, finds him or herself free of responsibility and able to live out the kind of exciting life they were living vicariously through video games.
Self-expression through customisation is a key part of Sunset Overdrive, but it only goes so far. Character creation isn't so deep that you can tweak the size of your nose or jaw with sliders, but there are enough set options for faces, skin tones, hair styles and clothing that you can create something unique.
Players are encouraged to just go wild as well. My character ended up sporting big boots, a yellow skirt, open Hawaiian shirt, and a luchador mask to compliment his enormous ginger beard. Surprisingly, it all worked together fairly well as an off-kilter ensemble, rather than coming off as the random mishmash gamers often get when being silly with such creation tools.
The level is customisation is perfectly fine – and in a nice touch you're able to change anything about your appearance throughout the game – but it's sad that this is the only semblance of input players have on their protagonist, whose actual character is already locked in.
Not every game needs to let the player define their character through decisions and dialogue trees a la Mass Effect, but not being able to here conflicts with your ability to differentiate him or her in other cosmetic ways.
Sunset Overdrive's protagonist will be interpreted by some as a whiny brat, but really they're just your typical video game smart-aleck hero. He or she is surrounded by caricatures, some of which work, some of which don't, each supported by a script which tries desperately to be funny at every turn. It doesn't work all the time but it's charming enough, and considering how forced comedy in video games can feel that's something of a success - but Portal 2 this ain't.
For all the window dressing however, it's the gameplay that will make or break Sunset Overdrive. Played from a third person perspective, your primary means of attack will be to shoot the undead – called OD'd – but this is blended with a combo system which rewards chaining attacks with stylish means of traversal.
You can bounce off car bonnets and parasols, grind along rails and telephone wires, and chain each with your attacks to rack up points and charge various abilities – called Amps – which you unlock and add to your repertoire of moves.
In practise this can be fun, but it didn't take long to grow a little repetitive. With time I found myself more willing to take risks, but it often didn't come off, leaving me stranded on the ground trying to find a rail or car to jump on so I could get started again. The weapons as well seem built for spraying and praying rather than precision, which when your moving freely and have a horde in front of you isn't a problem, but can be troublesome when there are individuals to take out.
Often I'd find the best way to dispatch of enemies was to grind between two ends of a small area - hitting the end of which immediately reverses your movement – and letting those animations cycle as I took out the OD'd.
The full game will add more variables, but these will have to be extensive and come fairly early on to alleviate the creeping sense that some missions might become grinds, and not in the Tony Hawk sense Sunset Overdrive encourages.
Pumping so much fun – or perceived fun depending on how individuals react to the game's tone – into Sunset Overdrive works for the most part in creating a game that feels just different enough to be a worthwhile new IP, and just engaging enough to keep players invested.
It does however feel born to be lumbered with accusations of being all style and not enough substance, a tired cliché perhaps, but a fitting one on this evidence.
Sunset Overdrive will be released on 31 October, 2014, for Xbox One.