I will freely admit that, as much as I love them, I’m not very good at video games. I watch let’s-plays with a bittersweet taste in my mouth, knowing that I’ll never be as competent as the people with the controllers in their hands. I’m particularly bad at FPS games, and while I enjoy bumbling through the occasional campaign, I avoid online multiplayer like the plague. This is partly because I’m generally a solitary gamer, and enjoy solo experiences much more than multiplayer ones. It comes as a surprise, then, that my favourite game for my new PS4 is an online multiplayer hero shooter.
I can’t help but smile whenever I load up Overwatch. The game is fantastic for many reasons, which I will clumsily attempt to illuminate over the next few paragraphs, but what really endears it is a true sense of joy that permeates the whole experience. That’s not to say that a game has to be funny and colourful to be great; my all-time favourite game is The Last Of Us, and playing through that is like having your dog put down. For me though, Overwatch absolutely nails the feeling of fun, while taking itself seriously enough to make it feel like it’s not just being silly for the sake of it.
Plenty of games excel in one or several areas, but struggle in others. It’s a rare game that gets every aspect right, or as close to it as possible, and for my money Overwatch is one of those unique games. The characters stand out the most, so let’s start there. Overwatch boasts a rich, vibrant and diverse cast, each with a set of strengths and weaknesses that are carefully calculated, and who all feel refreshingly different to control. The character design is masterful, a gorgeous blend of sci-fi and cartoon, each hero a gleeful tribute to a section of pop culture. It’s also wonderful to see a broad representation of cultures and backgrounds, particularly in the world of video games, which has well-documented struggles in this area. Everyone bursts with personality, and while you may be turned off initially by some, there is undoubtedly a hero you’ll fall in love with.
The characters are divided roughly into four classes – Attack, Defence, Tank and Support – but there is a fair amount of overlap between them. As someone who isn’t particularly well-versed in gameplay mechanics, especially as I usually deliberately ignore online multiplayer games, I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by attempting to explain the intricate details of all the varying play-styles. I can, however, tell you how engaging it is to play as different characters, often during the same match, and for each to feel entirely distinct.
Given that I’m pretty crap at shooters, I shy away from precision-based heroes like Widowmaker or Hanzo; I’ll often suit up as a healer like Mercy or Lucio, where my lack of shooting accuracy won’t make me a total liability, and I can heal or buff comfortably in the background. I’m sure anyone who’s played Overwatch has a favourite character (mine is Junkrat), but the beauty of the game is that it encourages you to change things up and sample ways of playing you might not have considered. You might start out zipping around the map as Tracer, picking off foes on the outskirts, then switch to Reinhardt when you need to charge in, clear out an area and consolidate a checkpoint. A simple character change can alter the outcome of the match, and the game really lets you feel like you’re contributing to every fight.
Looking at it from afar, the game seems rather limited: there’s only a handful of game modes (admittedly there are more since the recent patch, which also introduced new character Sombra, who is awesome), a few maps, and that’s about it. However, the core experience is so rich and well-tuned that it really doesn’t matter. The frantic, fluid gameplay has an addictive quality that hooks you into playing one more round. The controls are tight, and the game runs butter-smooth despite the chaos erupting on screen. The characters are all intriguing in their own way, and I always feel compelled to try a different hero in every match.
I’ve bought a few games for my new PS4, some of which are very good indeed, but I keep coming back to Overwatch. I love that, despite my ineptitude with shooters, I can contribute to a victory for my team in different ways. The emphasis on teamwork is really impressive: it gives people like me, who are turned off by the über-competitive, unforgiving multiplayer of COD and the like, an accessible, fun way to play online multiplayer and feel like I’m actually making a difference to the outcome of a match. Overwatch is a game I never expected to love, but it has me hooked, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
They could do with fixing Play of the Game, though.