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Best of the rest of 2014: how Sunset Overdrive saved games for me

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Every year the Polygon staff chooses 10 excellent games to award our Game of the Year honors, but that means some games we love don't quite make the cut. This year we've decided to run a series of opinion pieces by members of the Polygon staff explaining why certain games earned top marks from them even if they didn't make our staff-wide Game of the Year list.

For reasons you can probably surmise, September of 2014 was a rough time to be in the video game journalism field.

Tempers were high, tensions were higher and most of my days were occupied by trying to help my staff and myself keep our collective heads above water. My mind was pulled in about a thousand different equally dispiriting directions, none of which, sadly, were video games themselves.

so what if the world is falling to shit?

It was professionally the lowest point I can recall for myself and a lot of people, a period which had me questioning if I had even chosen the right career path.

But then, like a stupid, exploding horse shooting fireworks out of its ass, Sunset Overdrive rode to my rescue when I needed it the most.

You've got a gun that shoots flaming records

This ostensibly brainless shooter dismantled video game convention (literally in some cases, like attacking enemies with elements of the game's UI) and then reassembled them in the most positive, celebratory, reassuring way imaginable.

A lot of the credit goes to Sunset Overdrive's pace, which is so frenetic the mind has no chance to wander to whatever you may be trying to distract yourself from in the moment. But it goes deeper than that.

Insomniac thumbs its nose at conformity and negativity in a way that's so relentlessly optimistic, it's impossible not to be buoyed. Yeah, so what if the world is falling to shit? You've got a gun that shoots flaming records, so it can't be all bad.

A lot of games are goofy, but rarely in a way that's this smart.

Irreverence might seem easy, but let us not forget the games that have mocked bizarre video game contrivance while still embracing them to an embarrassing extent. (Yes, I'm looking directly at you, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. Don't you walk away while I'm talking to you, young man.)

Sunset Overdrive works because it takes the facets of action games it's skewering and then pushes them to their logical (and illogical) extreme, miraculously finding new life in some of the genre's deadest horses. Grinding is cool, but what if grinding also set everything around you on fire? Sunset Overdrive is willing to ask these tough questions.

As a sidebar, can I also add what an absolute delight it was to play a game in 2014 with actual colors? While other games were content to feast on the slice of the color wheel between raw umber and burnt sienna, Sunset Overdrive ate the whole damn pie.

I know it's a fool's errand to judge the heart of a game's creator from the finished product. There are a million different factors between design doc and disc that can alter what we end up playing. But for me, it was such an utter delight and relief to play a game that at least appeared to have been made by people who were having an absolute blast.

Video games are beautiful, vital and delightful. That didn't change this year, so shame on me for forgetting it when things got bad. But I will always be grateful to the senseless joy and indomitable idiocy of Sunset Overdrive for providing me with a reminder when I needed it most.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.