When you read the words “post-apocalypse”, or “dystopia”, you probably form a mental image of a gritty, war-torn universe, where the only thing sadder than the environment are the people inside of it. Most games in this genre fit that description, including recent titles like The Last of Us. However, there is one game that breaks free of the stereotype and is still considered a post-apocalyptic shooter.
Sunset Overdrive is a first-person shooter that takes place in a dystopian city, where the consumers of a drink called Overcharge (manufactured by the “Big Brother” company, FizzCo) are turned into grotesque mutants called OD. While this may sound like another dark, kill-all-the-zombies game, Sunset Overdrive is one of the most colorful, comedic games I’ve played in a long time. Sunset Overdrive juxtaposes stereotypical post-apocalyptic games in two ways: through the use of color and art style, and through the way the characters act in the game.
Most post-apocalyptic games are liberal in their use of shades of grey, blue, and other somber, muted colors. Especially in scenes where tragedy occurs, games use color to depict the atmosphere within the world of the game. For example, the scene in The Last of Us (a different post-apocalyptic game about a man and a girl struggling to survive in a world inhabited by hostile humans and zombies alike) where Sarah is killed is very somber. The blue tint the game has gives the player a sense of sorrow. However, in Sunset Overdrive, when Walter sacrifices himself to save the Player, the scene is filled with light and color. This is unexpected. Walter was the character who initially saved the Player when the apocalypse began, so to have his death as something other than somber and sorrowful is strange.
Sunset Overdrive doesn’t really know the meaning of “dark”. Everything in this game is colorful, from the explosions of the OD to the choices of hair and eye shade one can make when customising their character. The art style is bright, and unlike The Last of Us, the angels are sharp, not gritty in the slightest. Nothing about this art style screams “I’m a sad game about the apocalypse! People you love are going to die in this game!”
The other way that Sunset Overdrive is a juxtaposition from the average post-apocalyptic game is the way the characters act. First things first, there’s an optional language filter, so if you don’t want the characters’ more…colorful vocabulary to come through, you can change it with the flip of a dial. This is unlike most post-apocalyptic games, where the game dialogue is very serious. Secondly, the main character of Sunset Overdrive seems to take a lot of this “apocalypse” situation in stride. They make puns while killing the OD, they sass back at the Narrator (successfully breaking the Fourth Wall), and don’t seem to express too much distress at the idea of the world coming to an end. In The Last of Us, the characters are frequently sorrowful about their situation. Joel and Ellie have had immense tragedy happen to them in their lives, and have been forced to evolve into serious people. The are both haunted by their pasts, aware that their own survival means the death of others.¹ The dialogue is much deeper, much more somber than the biting humor that comes through in Sunset Overdrive. For example, it is highly doubtful that someone in The Last of Us would say anything like, ““How hard was it to make a porn flip book?”. ²
Sunset Overdrive takes the genre of post-apocalypse and turns it on its head. When compared to grittier post-apocalyptic games like The Last of Us, it’s comedic dialogue and bright, colourful art style makes it a fresh change of pace from the normal, “everything-is-sad” attitude that we’ve come to expect. While tragic moments do exist in the game, they are juxtaposed by the shades of yellows and reds that occur during those moments, unlike the gray and blue that we’ve come to associate with in-game tragedy.