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I'm delighted to hate Sunset Overdrive


I really, really can't stand Sunset Overdrive. Pretty much everything about it bugs me. I don't mean that I simply don't enjoy it, or that it's a love/hate kind of relationship like one would have with Dark Souls. No, I mean that it is finely tuned to aggravate and frustrate me every moment that I play it. Which, upon reflection, is kind of great.

When you play a lot of games, you do start to worry about self-fulfilling opinions and echo chambers. You begin to wonder if you really like that game as much as you think you do, and when you do like something you begin to wonder if you really know why. To be any good as a critic, you need to constantly recalibrate your sensors, and so it's important for a game like Sunset Overdrive - whatever your version of that may be - to come along every now and again and remind you that your tastes are more than just a formula into which various developers can plug new guns and landscapes.

Listed by its components, Sunset Overdrive is exactly the kind of game I would enjoy. It's an open world, designed by the people who made two long-standing excellent action/platform series, Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank. It's brightly colored, upbeat and silly, and shares a lot of its traversal techniques with Jet Grind Radio, another old favorite of mine. It made our Game of the Year list because several Joystiq staff members adored it, so it was reasonable to assume I'd get some fun out of it. The ingredients are all there for me to have a grand time, but they're all tuned in just exactly the wrong way for me to like the game. For starters, I can't stand the music. It's just loud and loud and blah blah blah loud. It adds nothing to the game except a high volume of wacky. The humor is a little hit and miss, too - while I do find much of it genuinely funny, some of it feels like it's that same cynical vein of comedy that brews between the cat pictures on the internet.

The biggest thing, though, is a personal issue. See, I have a lousy sense of direction, both in real life and in video games. Getting around in an open-world space is a source of constant frustration for me, because I'm terrible at navigating streets with any kind accuracy or speed. Sunset Overdrive forces you to grind, bounce, and climb your way from point A to point B, preferably as fast as you can so that you're not overrun by "ODs", the monsters that are after you. You can naturally blow them away with your various weapons of goofy destruction, but between the grinding and the shooting and the bouncing and the not dying, I always end up getting lost and frustrated. Now, to be clear - that's not the game's fault, that's literally just because my brain has difficult imagining 3d objects in real space. (Mechanical drawing was a blaaaast in high school. I think I had to cheat my way through that one.)

As much as fun as I'm not having playing it, I don't think any of that is Sunset Overdrive's fault. It's a distinction a lot of people seem to have trouble making, this divide between "I can't stand this" and "This is really quite good," but it's a really vital one when it comes to recalibrating your gaming brain. I look at Sunset Overdrive, I understand why it appeals to people who are very much not me, and I am reminded of games I love that have their own immensely aggravating components, depending on your perspective.

If you don't like anime aesthetic, J-Pop tunes or stat-bolstering grinding, you'll be lucky to make it more than a few hours into Persona 4 - assuming of course that you had the patience to sit through the nearly two hours of cut scenes you have to watch before getting to the actual game. I know one person who won't play it simply because the overuse of Japanese honorifics drives them batty. (Presumably they never could get senpai to notice them.) I adore Persona 4, but taken apart piece by piece, it's not difficult to see why someone else would want to shove it out the nearest airlock.

Sunset Overdrive and Persona 4 are rather extreme examples due to their reliance on style, but it's wise for us to look at all of our games this way, if only to make sure we're playing something because we're really enjoying it, and not just because we think we're supposed to be enjoying it based on past experiences.

I feel like you're giving me a look. Like a "Susan, not to be rude, but I only play games because I think they're fun...I don't know what YOU'RE doing, but I'm not an idiot." Well, I didn't suggest you were, but I do think that sometimes - perhaps even often - you might find yourself playing games trying to convince yourself that you're enjoying them more than you are. Because, hey, you like shooters and this is a shooter and it's not like it's broken or anything so I guess that means it's fun, right? Well, sure, it might, and then again, it might not. There are any number of things that have nothing to do with the game that might make it not enjoyable for you. Even if it's a good game. Even if every single one of your friends loves it and looks at you weird when you say you don't.

It's really quite liberating to be able to push yourself away from a game - a good game - that you just plain don't like. It reaffirms that you understand that what makes games work and what games work for you are not necessarily the same group of elements. It's a sign of confidence and self-realization to say that yes, everyone else jams on this game all day long, but it's just not for me, and that's just fine.

All of this is totally obvious, of course, but that doesn't mean we don't need reminding. We're besieged by marketing and news and information about games every single day, so there's little time to pause and reflect about personal taste. Plus, you typically don't get a really good grasp of what experience a game is truly delivering until you play it, and by that time, you may have unconsciously already decided how much you like it. That doesn't mean you're "buying into the hype," necessarily, just that you're human and we like to believe that we see comfortable patterns in the world. And when a concept is as fluid as "fun," it's very easy to explain away our lack of enjoyment.

It's important, as you play more and more games, to refine your gaming taste so that you fully understand it, as opposed to having it understood for you. And I don't mean "refine" as a synonym for "elevate," because this isn't about playing "better" or "artsier" games, it's about playing games better suited to your particular brain. So get out there, and play whatever you want, but as you're doing it, really take a moment to stop and think about what's making you enjoy it. And if you can't answer the question? Maybe switch to something else.

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