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Parkour-inspired ‘Sunset Overdrive’ delivers action, plenty of zombie-slaying fun

Leap off buildings, run along walls and grind power lines and rails to destroy your zombie foes from every angle in “Sunset Overdrive.” Collect and upgrade an arsenal of unconventional weapons that use items like fireworks, harpoons and acid to destroy your enemies in this third-person shooter.

COURTESY OF MICROSOFT STUDIOS

By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2014

I realized I might be playing a little too much “Sunset Overdrive” when I had to suppress the urge to jump onto my stairway banister and grind to the bottom.

As the hero of the open-world adventure, I could skim along electrical lines, grind atop guardrails, bounce off car roofs and — of course — blast mutants with a strange assortment of weapons. The antics just seemed natural after a few hours.

“Sunset Overdrive” delivers a lot of fun, but it also offers plenty of elements that we’ve seen before. It most closely resembles a combination of “Dead Rising” and “inFamous.” You kill hordes of mutants/zombies while wielding bizarre weapons, just like “Dead Rising.” And you have unusual powers that are similar to those used in “inFamous.” And you explore a large urban world, like a half-dozen other games that have appeared in the past year or so.

It’s tempting to say that “Overdrive” is simply Microsoft Games’ attempt to give Xbox something comparable to “inFamous,” which is available only on PlayStation. However, the game moves beyond clone status by offering its own interesting story and characters, as well as a hyperactive skater vibe and an offbeat sense of humor.

You start by creating a character. Unfortunately, the options are relatively limited. You have two male and two female body types to choose from, along with about 30 faces and 20 hairstyles, which isn’t much when compared to many other games. You also start off with a limited selection of clothing and accessories, but you gain access to more as the game progresses.

One nice feature is the ability to change every aspect of your character’s appearance by simply visiting the clothing vendor. So if you’re tired of being a muscular dude with a shaved head and beard, you can switch to a svelte woman with a mohawk.

As the story opens, your job involves picking up trash at a special event that’s launching a new energy drink called Overcharge Delirium XT. Unfortunately, the drink’s maker, Fizzco, didn’t do enough testing before unveiling the new product. The result is a concoction that turns people into mutants with an incredible mean streak.

At this point, your only mission is to learn the skills needed to stay alive. For some reason, you seem to be blessed with the world’s most advanced parkour abilities. You can jump atop an object and bounce high into the air. You can bound onto a guardrail and grind like a skateboarder for blocks. You can sprint along vertical surfaces. And you can fall from a skyscraper and remain unscathed. As the game progresses, you can learn how to zip through the air for short distances or skate across a river as if it were covered by ice.

You will also upgrade your combat and parkour skills by creating “amps,” which are concoctions made from such precious artifacts as toilet paper and smelly old sneakers.

The game’s primary missions are woven into a story that’s light but very engaging. The writers took the time to develop a world packed with interesting events, diverse activities and unusual people.

As a result, Sunset City is much richer than you’d expect.

Much of the game’s flavor revolves around its nonplayer characters. These include several bands of survivors: a herd of rich tech nerds; a scout troop that’s been taken over by a megalomaniac; a band of live-action role-players who think they’re in the Middle Ages; and a group of ninja-nurses who dress like cheerleaders and wear Day of the Dead face paint. Stereotypes abound, but the game also delivers plenty of quirky jabs in unexpected places.

These factions and the game’s other nonplayer characters offer quests and issue challenges that range from the typical (gathering six Fizzco mascots to make an “amp”) to the unusual (smashing mutants with a wrecking ball). The variety is very refreshing after slogging through games that continually repeat the same basic activities.

The game also provides a strange selection of weapons, including contraptions that shoot vinyl records, exploding teddy bears, acid, harpoons and bolts of electricity. The variety is necessary because you’ll be fighting a wide range of mutants, as well as renegade humans and Fizzco security robots.

The game also offers a multiplayer mode known as “Chaos Squad.” Up to eight players can participate in a series of brief missions that earn loot and experience that transfer into the campaign mode. These activities usually involve eradicating mutants, but also add a few twists and challenges to make things interesting — and more chaotic.

In keeping with the game’s light mood, the graphics are bright — almost electric. And while there’s no attempt to be hyper-realistic, there’s plenty of depth, detail and texture.

The controls are well designed and efficient. They’re also pretty forgiving. As a result, it’s easy — and fun — to jump, slide, bounce and shoot in quick succession.

The game receives a mature rating because of violence, gore and profanity. But unlike many games, you can turn off the gore and profanity.

I had a lot of fun playing “Sunset Overdrive” — almost as much as I had last year with “Dead Rising 3” and with “Saints Row IV,” which offered a similar mix, with its big city, special powers and aliens. And that’s the game’s weakness: It’s arriving late to a party that’s already pretty full.

Bottom line: “Sunset Overdrive” might feel familiar, but there’s still plenty of action and fun to be found.

bowers.brian@stripes.com

Platform: Xbox One
Online: xbox.com/ sunsetoverdrive

"Sunset Overdrive"

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