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Overwatch

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 2 - 12 (Online Only)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Overwatch is a special game that speaks volumes about the skill of its developer. Think about it: Blizzard is primarily known for real time strategy and role playing games; the last we've heard of their involvement in the shooter genre was in the tragically defunct StarCraft: Ghost. Second, the amount of balance required for a game like Overwatch borders on mind-blowing. Finally, it's got a sense of style that's all its own. The console version may be overpriced, but Overwatch is one of the most uniquely thrilling multiplayer experiences on the market.

Personality. Gobs and gobs of brilliantly-colorful personality. Overwatch's visual style is diverse and confident, from top to bottom. It all starts with the heroes of the titular fighting force; the exceptional roster of characters spans not only ethnicities and cultures, but species as well. While ethnic stereotypes in video games are often endearing, Overwatch doesn't make the mistake of having its characters use them as their sole identifying traits. Instead, it's their abilities and play styles that govern their appearances. Those abilities, by the way? All of them, from standard attacks to Ultimate Abilities, look wonderful.

It doesn't end there. Overwatch boasts outstanding map design, in terms of both aesthetics and gameplay. Again, this coming from a developer whose history is marked primarily by giant single-plane landscapes and corridor-heavy dungeons. The locales are as diverse as the game's cast, and each one hits all the appropriate visual cues. Every single item in the environment has been placed there for a reason, and what is inaccessible for some heroes is almost always accessible for others. This adds an incredible amount of depth to the gameplay, which is already insanely deep to begin with.

Overwatch's sound design is every bit as bold and surprisingly cohesive as the rest of the experience. Characters sound exactly like you'd expect them to. Tracer's plucky English accent gives a ton of credibility to each and every utterance of "Cheers, love!" Reaper's gravelly intonations leave no doubt that he is Death incarnate, and with lines like "Die, die, die, die," it's a delight. Each of the 21 heroes has his/her/its own personality, and the voice acting goes a long way in selling each and every one of them.

A bombastic soundtrack replete with triumphant fanfares and high energy melodies is the perfect accompaniment for a larger-than-life team like Overwatch. Each completed objective and victorious round is announced with a musical sting and flourish. It's great stuff. Additionally, the sound effects are impressively exclusive to each hero. Over time, you'll learn to identify each hero by sound alone. That's impressive.


Gameplay:

If you want some narrative context to Overwatch, you'll have to dig into the its promotional material, including its comics and animated shorts; the game is not where you'll find it. But I can provide a bit of a backdrop for you.

Overwatch is set in the future, after a robot uprising known as the Omnic Crisis prompted the formation of a global coalition of sanctioned warriors. These heroes, collectively referred to as "Overwatch," quelled the revolution and became international heroes. However, the peace that resulted was a brief one, as criminal organizations began to come out of the woodwork. Overwatch was eventually branded personae non gratae. But heroes don't just drop off the face of the earth...

Continuing the trend of multiplayer-only shooters, Overwatch is not for those who play on their lonesome. An online connection is required, as there are no single player modes apart from training. So bear that in mind if you're considering a purchase at this point. On top of that, it's better if you have a group of friends who are already committed to playing the game regularly. There's a lot to master, and it's hard to learn the ropes if you don't have a communicative support system behind you.

Okay, so disclaimers are out of the way -- just what the hell is Overwatch? Imagine a modern war shooter. Now, strip away the drab realism, jingoistic behavior, and loadouts; replacing it with colorful chaos, silly characters, and special hero-specific abilities. Sounds simple, right? Sure, at first glance. But spend more than five minutes with Overwatch, and it gradually begins to reveal layers upon layers of depth and complexity.

In terms of modes, Overwatch doesn't really break any ground; in fact, the four modes on hand (one of which is a hybrid of two others) are ostensibly as standard as they come. Vying for control over designated zones on the map? Escorting objectives from one place to another? Attack and defend? We've seen all this before. But that's okay; its peculiar brand of gameplay makes each of them crackle with new life.


Difficulty:

Easy to learn, difficult to master. When a game embodies this axiom, its challenge level is essentially perfect. Overwatch gets this absolutely right. Each of its heroes has inherent worth to the team effort, but some of them take time to figure out.

As is the case with other multiplayer shooters, I can't predict the kind of experience you'll have with Overwatch. The player base is already well-established and populated with legions of gamers who know what they're doing. And they'll happily demonstrate that knowledge at your expense. I'm not saying that you won't end up in your share of scrub matches, but learning the rhythm and logic of Overwatch's gameplay goes far beyond simple twitch skills.


Game Mechanics:

Simplicity belies depth. For all the outlandish abilities possessed by the heroes of Overwatch, none of them require complex inputs of directions and button combinations. Everything is assigned to a single button, which takes the emphasis away from the actual execution and onto the intelligent application of these abilities.

To begin with, each hero character falls in line with one of four specific archetypal categories: offense, defense, tank, and support. These designations, as their names suggest, denote very specific playstyles that are hardly alien concepts to your average role-playing fan. However, these descriptions don't go far enough in illustrating how the characters work. That's simply the macro, and Overwatch most definitely goes micro.

If you're looking to deal a ton of damage, you'll want to choose from the offense characters. You could opt for McCree, whose gunslinging ways and agility in combat make him a force to be reckoned with. But here's the thing, while he's extremely powerful, he's a foot soldier. If you're struggling to hold your own on the ground, switch to the metallic ninja Genji, who can scramble up walls to higher ground, double jump, and even deflect projectiles. Or perhaps Pharah is more your style, with her jump jet and rocket barrages.

But what if your team has been charged with the defense of an objective? While the likes of Reaper, Tracer, Soldier 76, and their kind are adept at dealing swift damage, they don't have the hit points or the appropriate abilities. You'll want a defense hero for scenarios like these. Perhaps Bastion is a suitable choice; a touch of a button roots him in place and transforms him into an insanely powerful turret. Of course, that lack of mobility can spell your doom in a heartbeat. If you want someone more mobile, perhaps Junkrat is more your style. He hurls bear traps and bombs everywhere, and his Rip-Tire ability is devastating if you're able to catch a group of enemies running together. Campers are welcome; they'll be fast friends with Widowmaker and Hanzo, whose weapons and abilities are predominantly geared towards ranged combat and revealing enemy locations. Last but not least, turrets and fortifications are Mei and Torbj÷rn's forte, giving the proceedings an infusion of Tower Defense mechanics.

Tanks operate exactly as you'd expect them to; their health pools are enormous, and while they tend to be slower than other heroes, their persistent nature and devastating close-quarters attacks make them not only viable, but necessary. These bruisers range from Winston, the brainy gorilla with a Tesla Cannon, to the hammer-wielding, energy-shielded knight Reinhardt. In between are D.Va, a mech pilot who looks like she was pulled straight out of a harem anime, Roadhog, a tattooed tub of lard who's really into leather and metal, and Zarya, a thick-skinned Russian lady who looks like she's wrestled as many bears as our pal Zangief.

Last but certainly not least are the support heroes. These characters don't offer too much in the way of first-hand damage dealing, the ones who prevent said damage, or even the ones who straight up absorb it all. Support heroes tend to hang just outside the periphery, using their abilities to assist their team and hinder the enemy. The most traditional of the support heroes is Mercy, whose Caduceus Staff can alternate between restoring health and increasing an ally's damage output. While she's incredibly useful in most matches, the others are a bit more interesting. L˙cio's weapon is music, and he puts Revolution X to shame. (Yes, I went there.) Anyone within range of the dreadlock-sporting skater receives the benefits of whatever track he's playing -- either a speed boost or a healing pulse. Zenyatta's orbs are every bit as capable of harming his foes as they are of helping his allies. Orbs of Harmony heal, while Orbs of Discord make enemies more susceptible to damage. And Orbs of Destruction... I think you know what they do. Finally, Symmetra can lay down turrets and teleporters to keep enemies away from a particular area and help her allies traverse the maps more quickly.

That's only a taste of what Overwatch is all about. When you take into account the number of variables in play, it boggles the mind. It is asymmetrical gameplay polished to such a degree of near-perfection that I can't really fault anything about it. Except for its pricing model. Overwatch sets you back $39.99 on PC, but on console, is a fully-priced retail release. As much as I enjoy the game, that's too much. But hey, it will inevitably go on sale, and when it does, it will be a no-brainer. In the end, Overwatch is a class act throughout, and it deserves to be played.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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