Please attend closely to this statement: I’m not the biggest fan of Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One.
I think it’s well intentioned – god knows, I’m behind any game which does something other than act as a recruitment tool for illegal foreign wars, or thrust a bunch of cockney, WWE rancors in your face.
Yet it’s lacking something, as if it’s trying to be as plumbs-out guano bonkers as the Saints Row series, but doesn’t quite have the nerve. If Saints Row IV is the uber-drunk nightclub mental, yelping and Cossack-kicking his way across the dancefloor, while the other dancers stand around him clapping and whooping, Sunset Overdrive is his best mate, looking on from the edge of the circle, smiling along with the others, while secretly wishing he had the confidence to share the spotlight.
What’s worse, the combat is more awkward than a teenage boy at a bra festival. I can only liken it to an attempt at herding a flock of escaped toddlers using a malfunctioning shopping trolley and a rusting bulb horn. Plus, the game’s central mechanic, the not-really-explained skating around on rails, never feels as smooth and organic as it could.
I’ve not played Jet Set Radio in years, but my memory of it is one of sliding effortlessly through a series of buttery log flumes. Whatever that sentence might mean – and we shall never truly know – the fact remains that the skating in Sunset Overdrive is just a fraction too heavy to be a split-second subconscious joy.
And don’t get me started on the last-gen cut-scene characterisation… At least Saints Row IV made a virtue of looking terrible.
And yet… and yet… there’s something I sort of slightly love about Sunset Overdrive. And that thing is this thing: you can censor the swearing. It’s awesome – you can bleep out all of the swears, and it's like watching an episode of It'll Be Alright on the Night. Speaking as a father who sets impossible, hypocritical standards for any and all children, it’s a feature that has been long overdue. I can actually play the game during pre-watershed hours without turning down the sound, or having to resort to subtitles.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not some sort of petal-mouthed ninny. I love a good swear. Why, much to my neighbours’ chagrin, I’m swearing right now – swearing over and over and over as I type this. But sometimes the swearing in games feels like it has been carpet-bombed onto the script, to the point where it lifts me out of the moment. It irritates so much it literally gives me rickets. It’s like going to see your dentist, and having him human beatboxing at the end of every sentence, as he jabs his horrible shiny prong into your gums.
I love that Sunset Overdrive caters to ghastly prudes like me.
Who knows? Maybe developers are making up for all those years where games never had swearing in them. But I’m fairly certain that Pac-Man wouldn’t have been improved any had that little yellow freak shouted “Pissmasters!” every time he ate a power pill. And would it have made the original Tomb Raider a better game if Lara Croft had accused all those animals she shot of being a "Tit-faced fuckabilly"?
I appreciate there’s a place for swearing in games. The Grand Theft Auto series is about as potty-mouthed as anything, but it wouldn’t be the same without it – it needs the profanity for that universe to feel real. Plus, the dialogue is generally so witty anyway that you can forgive it.
It just seems like that the majority of games - at least, the games I play - now have gratuitous swearing in them, and I don't really understand why. Especially when so many of them are set in something other than the real world. And I think that's the crux of it - at a time when Hollywood has realised the value of the 12A, games are often still peddling the equivalent of what would've once been 15 or 18-certificate movie, due to their language alone. It feels like there's still some growing up to do.
Not that I expect it really matters to anyone other than me. Let's face it, there's not a 14 year-old in the land who hasn't tricked their idiot parents into getting them GTAV, and society has still yet to collapse.