Overwatch ★★★

overwatch-1-tracer Overwatch is derivative, but fun. As a shooter it’s best described as a hodpodge collection of best hits, a melange of concepts from League of Legends, Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare mixed, rekindled and polished. It’s perhaps a game whose main fault is being “good enough” yet also worthwhile for exactly that reason.

The setup is simple: Six players per side shoot, fight and try to capture control times before the timer runs out. When you die, you respawn again in a short time and if you do well enough, you get to use a powerful special ability. If you have played a first person shooter in the last ten years, Overwatch will make you feel right at home and if you haven’t, it’s a great way to start. From top to bottom it has been made accessible and fast, focusing on simple shooting fun over complex positioning and tactics.

This have been achieved by focusing, not so much on guns or specific mechanics, but on whole characters. When you start at a match, you pick up a “hero” which has one or two different ways to shoot and one or two abilities. Learn how to use those abilities and how they shoot, and you are free to roll. It’s fast, easy, and an improvement over the generic “classes” found in most first person shooters. overwatch-2-gameplay Some of these abilities are great. It’s really fun to play as the time-travelling Tracer, who can pop out of nowhere, shoot a whole clip and “go back in time” to where she started and I really like Reinhardt’s defensive shield and how it forces him to support his team. But some abilities aren’t like that; two of the most common abilities are actually self-healing and stun.

And I hate stun. Stun is probably the second most worst game mechanic around, right after the dreadful “Quick Time Events”. Going around, pressing “E” to prevent an enemy from moving and then blowing his head off is not fun, and it’s specially not fun when you are the one on the receiving end. Stun simply prevents interesting firefights everytime it’s used. Self-healing isn’t that bad, but it’s dissapointing to have an ability like that when you could have a cool one like reflecting bullets or flying.

But I disgress, my main problem with Overwatch is that, at its best, it’s a lively set of abilities running on a fairly generic chasis. Deep down it’s yet another soft, post-Halo design with an overabundance of automatic hitscan weapons and overly short firefights. Sure, it’s more colorful than the short-lived Titanfall, and is better than designed-by-committee titles like Evolve, but never by much and certainly not enough to become a classic. overwatch-3-reaper Part of the blame rests on the game’s map design, which is excedingly narrow. Most levels take place in streets or canyons, offering little space to move and even less for flanking. Often your options are to cram along the payload, where everyone on the other team is free to shoot at you, or take a small corridor to where you are free to shoot at the enemy team. The end result are a series of heavily congested chokepoints with little to no room to manouver and full of turret and explosive fire.

Players are quickly funneled towards those very chokepoints too, as maps often narrow down to just two doors and a small, out-of-reach window right after the initial fighting area. It seems the designers were hoping for a MOBA-like back and forth in which teams push after a key component of the enemy team goes down, but the pace of the game doesn’t quite allow for that. I often found myself wishing for more open flanks or a little more verticality; I felt too safe knowing enemies would never come from behind. overwatch-5-payload The art direction is also kind of a mixed bag. I like the comic-book futuristic look of the environment and the fun, ragtag hero vibe but the actual characters are unimpressive. Like other Blizzard games, the characters of Overwatch are a series of clichés and national stereotypes, well-trodden ideas that everyone can recognize. There’s a cowboy, a samurai, a nature-loving robot, and the mandatory technophilic dwarf. Widowmaker is, obviously, a sniper, and she’s sexier than the rest of the cast simply because she was born in France.

I get the feeling you could sprinkle them amongst characters from a dozen other games and not be able to tell which one belongs where. There’s no overaching theme binding them together and the frequent lack of chemistry between characters is not something that can be disguised behind witty one-liners, cool-looking weapons or robotic body parts.

But that’s an aesthethic issue, what really bothers me about Overwatch‘s characters is that they blend in with their surroundings. Their busy designs and overabundance of graphical effects makes them hard to tell them apart from the landscape, to the point that developers were forced to give them an ugly neon red outline during gameplay so you knew what you were shooting at. overwatch-4-graphicaleffects Still, the game is fun. Overwatch is not a genre-defining classic likeQuake, Team Fortress 2, or the original Half-Life but it’s a good game despite all its shortcomings. I really enjoyed it, and was even a bit saddened when the beta reached its end.

I think that those that like shooters, but never got overly serious about them, will really like Overwatch. Its simple mechanics are very appealing and manage to provide a solid play experience without feeling overly watered down.

While experts in the genre may not find it as satisfying, I’m certain they’ll also enjoy playing it, if ocasionally. It’s also a fantastic game to play with friends, thanks to a superb matchmaking system that quickly places your group with similarly skilled adversaries. It’s surprisingly good, enough that I barely missed dedicated servers. It delivered what I wanted in Overwatch: A fresh, quick game that was fun to play and that earned its playtime.

OVERWATCH (2016)
GAME DIRECTION
Jeff Kaplan, Aaron Keller DESIGN Jeremy Craig, Michael Elliott, Scott Mercer
DEVELOPMENT Blizzard Entertainment ART DIRECTION
Bill Petras, Arnold Tsang
MUSIC Neal Acree

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