June 01, 2016
When I was a kid, I was obsessed by Street Fighter II. The game wasn’t even out in the West when I first heard about it, but the games magazines were on fire with hype. I pored over all the previews, dribbled over the screenshots, even cut out artwork and bios and kept them in a little scrapbook. Yeah, I know. Nerdy.
Overwatch stirs a lot of those memories for me. Blizzard’s 6v6 team-based shooter allows you to pick from an international roster of larger-than-life combatants, drawn in a distinctive visual style, each possessing their own unique abilities, ultimate moves and backstories, ready to fight it out in locations across the world. I haven’t Pritt Sticked any Overwatch art into a scrapbook, I’m too old for that, but I’ve received every new animated short and comic with child-like glee. The world of Overwatch has completely captured me.
The similarities between SFII and Overwatch aren’t just skin deep, however. Part of what made Street Fighter such a phenomenon was its combination of accessibility and depth. Even if you couldn’t pull off SFII’s specials, you could still mash the buttons and have a good time. Put the hours in, and you could creep slowly towards mastery. Overwatch feels similar. Anyone, whether an FPS nut or a relative noob, can pick up the game and have fun, but expertise is going to take hours and hours of practice.
It’s this mix that keeps me coming back to Overwatch. Whether I’m playing alone or with a group of friends, I’m always learning, always picking up tips, always achieving something. And even when I have a shocker of a match, it’s never anything but brilliantly entertaining. I love it. No other multiplayer FPS comes close to offering Overwatch’s minute-to-minute joy, regardless of performance. It’s a world away from the twitchy, aggressive, militaristic experience of the leading online shooters.
Much of this is down to how the game presents you with information. There’s no glaring visual difference between an assist and a kill, there’s no leaderboard at the end of a match outlining your relative performance, your K/D ratio is not shown anywhere. The game is still competitive, individual skill is rewarded and celebrated, but it’s all secondary to your group’s performance. Overwatch is a team-based shooter in more than just name.
To this end, team composition is of vital importance. There are 21 'heroes' to choose from, each of which is grouped according to role; Offence, Defence, Tank and Support. Offensive characters can dish out high damage, but don’t have lots of health; Defensive characters are able to create chokepoints and shut down areas; Tanks have big health bars but relatively low damage; Support characters can buff and heal. Identifying the needs of a situation, communicating with your team and swapping out characters accordingly can make the difference between success and defeat.
It’s all to do with balance. A character like McCree, for example, is pretty much unbeatable at close quarters thanks to a combo of his flashbang and 'fan the hammer' abilities. But he’s poor at range, so even the best McCree player in the world is going to struggle against an average Soldier: 76 or Widowmaker with the right positioning. Genji is lightning fast and able to dish out devastating burst damage, but he can be stopped in his tracks by a decent Mei player using the character’s freezing abilities. Pharah can rain death from above and wipe out entire teams, but being airborne leaves her exposed, making her a relatively easy target for a character with a hit-scan gun. There’s counters for just about everything.
That’s not to say that Overwatch is perfectly balanced. You’ll still leave some matches grumbling, particularly if one of the turret characters (Bastion, Torbjörn) has walked away with Play of the Game again. But it’s not too far off and at least you don’t have to deal with competing against players who have levelled to get the best gun, or unlocked the most overpowered loadout with the perfect set of perks. There’s none of that in Overwatch. Whether you’re playing your first match ever, or your 1000th, your options are going to be the same. Every character’s abilities are locked.
I’m struggling to find any serious negatives. The shooting feels fun; if your aim is bad there are support characters for you to enjoy; each hero plays almost entirely differently; the game performs flawlessly in nearly every situation; there’s no lag; the art style is bright and bold and inviting; on paper the handful of game modes appears limited, but spread across 12 different maps it rarely feels like it. There’s just not a single area that I can spotlight for criticism. I mean, the achievements and trophies are a bit crap, I guess? Overwatch isn’t perfect, but it’s exactly the game I’ve been looking for for years.
By throwing out so much of what’s come to be expected from multiplayer shooters, and coming up with its own set of refined rules, Blizzard has created a fresh, exciting and brilliantly entertaining game in Overwatch; one that you can feel confident in knowing will be loved and supported for a very long time to come. For more than a generation, the genre has burrowed deep into its own niche. Overwatch opens it back up for everyone. It’s nothing short of a revelation.
Fantastic sound design helps players work out what’s happening on the battlefield, rockets whoosh and bullets pop satisfyingly. Music is low-key, but I love the main fanfare.
Bright, colourful, bold characters and locations combine with near flawless performance. Everything is just so clean and slick.
Minute-to-minute Overwatch is one of the most fun and rewarding multiplayer games I’ve ever played. It’s a joy.
The 21 characters and 12 maps will take you months to learn. There’s only three-and-a-half modes, but after hours and hours of play they’ve yet to become tired.
Far too reliant on luck and circumstance. Let the trophies happen naturally, because you’ll ruin your experience (and that of your teammates) by chasing them.
Overwatch abandons a lot of what we’ve come to expect from multiplayer shooters to create a fresh, exciting, fantastically entertaining experience. I may never play anything else.