I have been a fan of Insomniac Games since the Spyro the Dragon days. They’re one of those Developers that no matter what they make, I like. Whether its Spyro, Ratchet & Clank or Resistance (I never tried Fuse). That, of course, continued this generation with games like Sunset Overdrive and Spider-Man. But here’s the thing, if you asked me which one I think is better, it could be a different answer depending on the day. So with no new games coming out in May (or at least none that interest me), I thought now is the time to play both at the same time to finally answer the question once and for all.
A quick note in how I’m replaying the games, in Spider-Man I started a New Game+. So I’m not having a quote on quote “real experience” but I already played through it once the real way. This is exciting because it’s looking like I’m heading towards my first ever real Platinum trophy.
For Sunset Overdrive there is only one save slot per Xbox account, you can’t just start a new save on the same Xbox account so I couldn’t start a new game. So I had two options, create a new account on my Xbox and start the game fresh or you can go into a menu and replay missions. I chose to do the latter but because this way, I can do accomplish two birds with one stone. I can replay each mission but then also work towards achievements on my main Xbox account.
But anyway, to get into the article itself. For these versus articles, I like to pin 2 games up against each other in different categories so I can establish which Game I think is better.
The protagonist in Sunset Overdrive is named “player” and it fits the tone of the game perfectly. The theme of the game is to be a parody of what gaming has/had become. I hesitate to call it a social commentary video game about video games but it’s kind of like that. It’s looking at what are/were (in 2014) and making fun of it. So having the protagonist be named “Player” works into the game’s overall themes. What impresses me about this character and game is, even though this game is 6 years old at this point. The humor still lands and for that Insomniac deserves a lot of credit for finding humor that wouldn’t age poorly.
The character personality perfectly encapsulates the game where it is a carefree personality making fun of what is occurring. Player regularly breaks the 4th wall, asks questions that we as gamers have stopped asking because sometimes you just have to shrug and say, “Because it’s a video game.” It’s a stark contrast to what we saw in video games during the PS3/Xbox 360 era where everything was so serious.
The one aspect of the game that I greatly appreciate is how the protagonist can be male or female. You can choose to customize the character however you would like to and the game has 2 different depending on the gender you chose. If you choose male, the voice actor you get is Yuri Lowenthal who is the same voice actor in Spider-Man so in theory voice actor vs voice actor should cancel out. But I actually chose the female player so my experience with the game is with Stephanie Lemelin and she does an amazing job. It’s one of those cases where if I hear and see the male character, it feels wrong. My female character with the look and Stephanie Lemelin’s voice is what this game is and any other version is wrong.
What makes portraying Spider-Man so difficult is they have to not only be Spider-Man but they also have to be Peter Parker. There is a balance between the two where Peter is awkward and repressed. But once he dons the Spider-Man mask, he comes out of his shell and becomes a bit of a goofball. So nailing that characterization is very difficult and a lot of times he sees a good depiction of either one or the other but not both. In this game, Insomniac with it’s writing and Yuri Lowenthal come together and perfectly encapsulate what it means to be Spider-Man and Peter Parker.
At the beginning of the game as Spider-Man, he’s in a great place. You take out one of Spider-Mans biggest rivals that have been a thorn in his side for I believe 7 years. Spider-Man is making jokes, quipping, and being goofy with the Police captain Yuri by pretending to be the character he calls “Spider-Cop.” There’s personality and he’s fun to play as.
Now contrast that with Peter who is in a terrible place. Not to get into too spoilery territory but in the first act of the game, Peter is evicted from his apartment, loses his job and he’s in an awkward place with MJ. This ends up being an interesting dynamic throughout the entire game as you see Peter trying to balance both lives.
I’m sorry Player from Sunset Overdrive but getting Spider-Man right deserves a lot of praise.
It’s a Third-Person shooter but the emphasis is less on precision and more on mobility. A.B.M., always be moving. Because of this, the game has a very forgiving auto-aim system. This is going to be completely subjective but for me, I am all about this and this combat system is a top 3 combat system of the generation.
Spider-Man’s combat is fun but I struggle with it. It’s similar to the Arkham series but with a Spider-Man twist and I appreciate the combat for that. But even with playing through this game once, now playing through it again, I feel like I’m stumbling through combat encounters. At this point, I cant brute force my way through encounters just because I’m at max level but I’m not as proficient as I would like to be.
This one is very obvious. Sunset Overdrive just feels like a tighter combat system.
Sunset Overdrive’s mobility is all about grinding, jumping, and wall running. There is a combo system to moving, once you stop moving you lose that combo so the game is encouraging you to constantly be moving. You’re bopping around the world, from car to guard rail, up to electrical lines, over to a building where you wall run and scoot around the corner.
It’s so much fun, to challenge yourself to see how high can I get this combo meter. It’s a fun added element where you’re just trying to get around the city.
It’s Spider-Man swinging, there is a not a lot to say about it. You swing around the city like you’re Spider-Man. It feels great, it’s everything you want in a Spider-Man game but for the purposes of this post. There isn’t a lot to say, you swing.
I know that’s a bit reductive because there is more to it. When you’re swinging around the city, Insomniac made sure that all the webs would connect to a building, a tree, or at least something. So if there is nothing around, then there is no swinging. The game also has the wall run where you can sprint up the side of a building with ease. They even took the time to animate Spider-Man hopping along with fire escapes. There is so much there and its a great traversal system.
It’s close, these are my two favorite mobility/traversal systems in video games. I give the slight edge to Spider-Man because while running around the city in Sunset Overdrive sometimes a collectible would be high up and I would wish I had the Spider-Man wall run.
This is a tougher topic to nail down exactly what it means. So for Sunset Overdrive, I decided the guns and Amps are what I’m going to count as “Abilities or Gadgets.” This game doesn’t have a traditional skill tree like RPG’s but I do think with the number of guns and how different they are, they basically count as abilities.
The guns in this game are clearly inspired by the Insomniac’s other big game, Ratchet & Clank. That franchise is known for weird/wacky guns and the more you use them, the more they level up and stronger/better. That’s exactly how the guns work in Sunset Overdrive but sitting down thinking about the weapons, none of them stand out too much. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the guns are unique but they lack that Ratchet & Clank charm. Ratchet & Clank have the Groovitron where enemies have to dance, the Pixelizer, a gun that pixelates enemies. The Sheepinator, it turns enemies into sheep. Sunset Overdrive just doesn’t have those standouts. A lot of my favorite guns were just the basic machine guns.
The other element for Sunset Overdrive is the Amps. Amps are what a lot of games call “perks.” You can equip different amps and it will add new properties. For instance, there is a melee Amp where when I use the melee attack, fire shoots out of my sword. Or you can equip an amp to a gun and give it a new special ability. So now when you kill an enemy, there is a chance the enemy will explode and then that explosion would damage other enemies around.
Just looking at Spider-Mans gadgets, there are so many options for different situations. This is one of the aspects that I greatly appreciate because this game feels fully realized. When you’re trying to be stealthy, you have the option of Trip mines and then you can use basic web shooter to draw enemies over to the Trip mines. The impact webs are useful for all situations if I’m in stealth. I can easily take out 4 enemies from far away just by shooting them once. If I’m in a combat arena fighting 10 enemies, the impact webs are just as helpful because its a quick way to take out 4 enemies. Speaking of combat arenas the web bomb is another gadget that I’m regularly using. It explodes and ties up multiple enemies and allows me to slow down the combat and focus on one enemy at a time. These are my 3 most used gadgets and I love using all of them.
With Spider-Man it’s not just about gadgets, it’s also all the abilities you unlock via the skill tree. What’s making this difficult for me is the fact that I’m playing a new game plus with all the skills unlocked so I’m having a hard time appreciating all of the “new” abilities. At this point, I have been using them since the start but going through the skill tree, a lot of the abilities are great additions and I’m using most of them.
It’s the gadgets that propel Spider-Man forward. With Sunset Overdrive, I find that I prefer the more basic weapons so I can’t praise Sunset in this regard.
As I talked about in the player segment of this article, Sunset Overdrive almost feels like a parody so it doesn’t feel like a cohesive story. It feels like Insomniac sat down and though of video game tropes, laid them all out, and then piecemealed a story together. It works for what the game is and it’s a better story than it needs to be but all in all, it feels like a meaningless video game story.
Spider-Man is one of the few games that actually made me cry. Without spoiling the ending, the way they brought it together in the few minutes is so heart wrenching. If this was just a generic video game or comic book story, I don’t think I would feel so many emotions. But instead, this game fully realizes its characters and makes you care about them in a meaningful way. I’m sitting here talking about how sad the game made feel but the game made me feel a wide range of emotions. At times I laughed, at times I felt anxious or angry. Good stories do that to me and for that reason, I can say without any hesitation that this story is a cut above most games this generation.
There is nothing to add, in terms of story, Spider-Man is in another league.
Sunset Overdrive has a lot of collectibles but they all have a purpose where you’re using the collectibles to buy amps. I talked about the amps earlier and how they’re okay but don’t do a ton for me. Here’s the thing, I didn’t do it for the amps, I did it because I like grinding and traversing around the city. So it was just a fun excuse to bop around the city.
The one aspect I appreciate with this game is how well thought out the side missions are. They’re nowhere near The Witcher 3 levels or storytelling but they’re fun and unique concepts. The one I keep thinking about is the comic book missions. You’re not doing anything too crazy or unique in the game but every time you collect a comic book you get a little conversation between the Player and a comic book owner. There is something fun about listening to two people brainstorm about a comic book that they’re going to write.
The other side content in the game are challenges. The challenges vary from gun challenges to time trials, to defend your fort type of challenge. There are a few of each and that ends up being perfect because you don’t end up feeling burnt out on any of them.
When I think of collectibles in Spider-Man I immediately think of backpacks and photographing landmarks. In both my playthroughs, I almost immediately go through the city and collected all of the backpacks and landmarks. Similar to Sunset Overdrive, I went around and collected this stuff because I like swinging around the city.
For the most part, the side missions in Spider-Man feel bespoke (except for the Corrupted Student Missions) and I appreciate that but I don’t think any of them feel unique. I know that sounds a little contradictory but what I mean by that is, the mission has a unique set up but then what you end up doing is the same thing you do in all missions.
In addition to the side missions and collectibles, there are camps and crimes to take care of in the city. I like taking out the camps but I do have a pretty big issue with them. I enjoy stealth in the game, you have a lot of tools so you’re stealthy but you feel like you’re on the offense. It’s offensive stealth that something like Assassin’s Creed or the Arkham games have. With the camps, you can be stealthy and take everyone out for the first wave but as soon as the second wave is triggered you’re in combat. I get the camps are meant to be more combat arenas but I kind of wish there was the option of stealth for the entire thing. With my stealth skills, I would never make it that far but let me stay in stealth until I make a mistake.
My other bone to pick with the game are the crimes, there are too many. There are 9 distracts in the game and each district has 20 crimes you have to stop. That is too much and I would have preferred some more variety.
I could forgive Spider-Man for not giving the option of being stealthy in camps but I can’t excuse them for how many crimes you have to stop per district. That ends up feeling like busy work.
For this category, I’m going to look at the 4 more prominent characters in each game and then chose between those 4.
The game is split into 4 major factions, so I’m just picking the 4 leaders of each faction.
I hesitate to call Sam the “leader” because he’s a loser in his group and no one likes or respects him. But he is the conduit of the group and the quest giver so he has the be the one on top of the “Oxfords.” Sam is socially awkward and a little annoying but that’s the purpose of the characters. It’s taking stereotypes and turning it up to 11.
Bryllcream is a Troop leader of the group Troop Bushido. He’s all about the outdoors and teaching his troop things like responsibility. The thing that stands out most about Bryllcream is the fact that he doesn’t have arms or legs. The sad part is, there is something weirdly funny when you first find out about it.
He is a full-blown larper and he is completely committed to his character. In his world, he is the King of a Medieval Kingdom and I fully appreciate going the whole way with this character. How many movies, TV shows, or video games have Larpers in it? I can think of 1 movie, Role Models.
Unfortunately, she ends up being the least realized of the 4 faction leaders. You meet her at the end so you get the least amount of time with her. Conceptually, she’s awesome though, she is a no-nonsense, badass Latina Cheerleader.
I love Aunt May in this game and it’s not because of some history I have with the character. I can’t stand her in the Tobey Maguire trilogy, Sally Fields in the Amazing Spider-Man but still not great. Now Marisa Tomei is a fun, loving Aunt May in the MCU but there is something about Insomniac’s Aunt May that tops all of them. She is just so warm, loving, and supportive. She’s perfect.
I feel very mixed about Mary Jane in this game, I love that she’s a strong independent woman and not just a plot device. She’s not just a pretty face on Broadway, she’s a reporter that is willing to get her hands dirty. I love that about the character.
What I don’t love is playing as her, all stealth missions where you play as her are butt. Except for the mission where you’re working with Spider-Man and telling him which enemies, that one’s cool. I don’t know if it’s fair to hold that against the character but when I hear, Mary Jane I think of those missions.
Unforuntaltey, I have the same issue with miles. I like Miles as a character and it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for him after everything he went through in this game. But the missions where you play as him just kill all momentum. Very excited to see where his character goes in the future though.
Yuri is another great character, you don’t see her a lot but you do interact with her regularly. She is the conduit for the police and although she doesn’t show it well, she appreciates everything Spider-Man does. Her role is to be the police chief but also be the straight man (or woman) for when Spider-Man starts getting a little goofy. It’s a great dynamic and they work off one another well.
The characters are fully fleshed out and feel like real people. Although I do appreciate the quirkiness of Sunset Overdrive, Spider-Man’s characters have depth.
Sunset Overdrive has 7 bosses in total and I liked about half the bosses. The Dragon Boss, the Roller Coaster Boss, and the Final Boss all stand out to me but the others are just so blah and forgettable. However, the 3 that I remember do stand out as 3 of the better boss battles of the generation. The Roller Coaster boss is probably my favorite just because of what you’re conceptually doing.
Spider-Man bosses are all based on major comic book villains so there is already the added element of familiarity. There are 8 villains in total and all the boss battles are solid. I don’t think any of them stand out as anything particularly (except maybe the last one) but they do a great emblematic of their comic book counterparts. I’m trying my best to not spoil anything but the first boss battle is Kingpin and the Kingpin boss is exactly what you would expect. He’s big, beefy, and hits hard.
This is a close one but there is more narrative weight to the boss battles.
The ending made me laugh with a 4th wall break, where my reaction and the main character Player are the same. I appreciate that and it was just a little touch that perfectly encapsulates the game. This also the moment where the game makes the one joke that thought didn’t age well. But in fairness to Insomniac, it was a Neogaf joke and no one in 2014 could have expected Neogaf implode as it did.
All-in-all, it’s a good ending with a good boss battle but not much more than that.
Spider-Man made me cry and to make feel such a raw emotion means that they hit on multiple levels. One, they made me care about the story and the characters, and secondly, they did them right at the end. I hesitate to call it perfect but I have to give Insomniac a ton of credit for being bold and not going for a happy ending.
Any game that makes me cry is going to get the nod.
Sunset Overdrive: 2
Going into this, I didn’t expect to see Spider-Man as the clear winner. If I’m being honest, I always felt like I liked Sunset Overdrive a little more. I think I may have to rethink my thoughts on these 2 games or maybe its just a case where I value combat more than anything else.