LOS ANGELES — Usually, dumb video games don’t know they’re dumb video games. That’s not the case with the ludicrously self-aware “Sunset Overdrive” (Microsoft, for the Xbox One, $59.99), a vibrant open-world action game set in a doomed metropolis that’s been overrun by mutants, robots and mercenaries after the release of a toxic energy drink.
While pop culture typically depicts the apocalypse in various shades of brown and gray, the designers at Insomniac Games have created an over-the-top, end-of-the-world setup that looks more like an amusement park than a prison. It’s basically one big playground to blow up stuff while zipping around a colorful cross between Miami and Tokyo.
The developers have masterfully designed a frenetic transversal system that provides the nameless superpowered hero with the ability to grind along power lines, bounce off cars, run across skyscrapers and skim along canals. There’s also a way to teleport around Sunset City, but it’s always more entertaining to take the scenic route.
That sense of freedom extends to the creation of the protagonist himself. At any point, players can make him black or white, big or small, shaggy or smooth. He can be a she — and she can wear a jester’s hat with a marching band uniform while armed with a genital-shaped shotgun and a hairspray-powered rocket launcher, if she wants.
Indeed, “Sunset Overdrive” features many options. The mind-boggling array of customization extends beyond wacky weapons and costumes to bonuses and power-ups that can increase the ammo capacity of guns, weaken specific enemy types or melt the ground you walk on.
The ultimate goal is to take down the evil corporation that unleased the orange-colored swill on citizens and escape the city. Along the way, there are spoiled brats, killer balloons, ninja cheerleaders and an outrageously awesome appearance by Buzz Osborne of the rock band the Melvins. Yep, “Sunset Overdrive” is basically an interactive Troma film.
The game is laced with quips that break the fourth wall, calling out tired conventions of video games, such as repetitive fetch quests and disembodied narrators. Unfortunately, it’s only for humor’s sake because “Sunset Overdrive” never attempts to overcome its own mindlessness as it simultaneously skewers and celebrates so-called gamer culture.
Despite its refreshingly ridiculous take on an apocalypse and an exhilarating new way to traipse across a virtual city, there’s not much that’s original. It wouldn’t be all that shocking if “Sunset Overdrive” was actually just “Saints Row V” in disguise. It’s such wild fun, though, it would be dumb for Xbox One owners not to take a sip.