Thursday, August 11, 2016

Games Review: Overwatch

Well, we finally bit the bullet and bought a Playstation 4. It's a prety impressive piece of kit, too - the interface is a big step up from the PS3 in terms of getting at what you want, and its looks sleek and modern wedged under the TV waiting to collect an inevitable layer of dust. As part of the first wave of games for it, we picked up Overwatch, Blizzards answer to Team Fortress 2 and other arena-based shooters, abandoning the PC for now as it meant that we only had to buy it once and both Ewan and I could play it. Ewan, being time-rich, has played it a lot more than me, so some of this review is coloured by his assessement - I've not hit the competitive play level yet, for example. 

So right from the start two things leap out. First, this feels like a Blizzard game - from the short match-time, easy game-finding and even the catchy, aspirational fanfare, Overwatch shows a level of accessibility that they excel at. Secondly yes, this does feel like an answer to Team Fortress 2,  lifting many of the game modes (especially Payload) and the sense of iconic, cartoony character design and  feeding them directly into gameplay effects. These aren't a bunch of generic soldier types slugging it out over a dusty, pseudo-realistic landscape; this is bright, and colourful, and festooned with the sense of "it's only a game, so have some fun." 

Getting into the action is easy. You pick a game mode (vs Bots if you're starting out, Quick Play once you've got the hang of it, and Competitive once your account has hit level 25) and you'll be put in a team on a random map. Each map has it's own rules along familiar lines, usually some sort of capture point mechanic or a payload you have to escort to a fixed destination, and in most cases you'll play the map twice; once as the attacking team, once as the defenders. Match time, as I said earlier, pretty short, to keep things cycling and stopping players getting too frustrated in a match that stalemates and drags out. 

The big variation in the game is it's 22 characters. Roughly divided into four specialisations -  Attack, Defense, Tank and Support - they all have a set of abilities around a theme, some active, some passive, and a "special" ability that acts as another potential stalemate breaker.  So to pick Korean Mech Pilot D.va - she's a Tank, as she's a girl piloting a giant stompy Robot with twin cannons, she has a rechargeable shield she can trigger, jump jets, and as a special she can self destruct the Robot, blasting nearby enemies, and then run around on foot a bit and summon a new one. Tracer - the character on the front of the box with a laughably bad London accent, is build around time powers, so she can "blip" around the map like the Flash, and even "rewind" herself to an earlier position. Repeat for another 20 characters. 

What this means is that nearly anyone will find a character or two that they like and suits their playstyle. More to the point, each character will have significant counters, so swapping out team composition mid-match is an important tactical consideration. Again, the live-die-live-again turnaround is pretty quick, and the game doesn't make you feel punished too much for that stupid error that just got you killed. The emphasis, in typical Blizzard style, is getting as many people to just have fun as possible, and letting them chose their own level. Add to this account levelling and a steady drop of "loot boxes" containing new skins and poses (yes, really) for your heroes, this is a game I can see myself constantly coming back to for the odd match when I've got an hour to kill. 

My favorite characters are D.Va, Winston (Hyper-Intelligent Cyper-Ape), Junkrat (Australian Grenade-Thrower) and Tracer (who I'm awful at, but is still fun). Ewan gravitates to Junkrat (again), Lucio (Brazillian aura-healer), Rheinhart (armoured pseudo-medieval knight) and Reaper (Twin-shotgun wielding Goth). But they're all fun. Apart from Torbjorn. Damn you Torbjorn.