|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Blizzard Entertainment|
|Pub: Blizzard Entertainment|
|Release: May 24, 2016|
|Players: 1 (2+ online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Use of Tobacco, Violence|
by Matthew Hayes
"Just one more match." As I stare resolutely forward, careful not to catch a glimpse of anything that might tell me the time, I'm delighted to see one of my favorite maps loading up for the next game. Even if I were looking away, I'd know it was Dorado; my heart is lifted as the sounds of Spanish guitars, trumpets, and clapping hands fill the room and the hero selection screen appears. We don't seem to have a dedicated healer yet, but we're attacking this round so I decide to go with Junkrat. His ability to continually lob grenades in all directions is great for zoning and creating some space when you need to clear a path for your team.
Everything about playing Junkrat is entertaining. Even walking to an objective is hilarious, hobbling along as he does with a bump in every other step as he pushes off of a wooden leg. In first-person you can see with each clumsy step all of your grenades jostling and bumping into one another within the feeding tube of your homemade grenade launcher. If you follow behind Junkrat you may notice a subtle trail of smoke winding into the air from the tips of his ridiculous hair, which itself makes his head look like it's caught fire. He's my favorite hero right now, but yesterday it was Mercy, and before that it was Lucio. In fact, I can't stop going through phases, and every hero seems perfect once you learn them.
At this point it goes without saying that the moving, shooting, abilities, and balance in Overwatch are practically perfect in every way. There are a lot of great shooters out there, though; it's a saturated genre. What sets Overwatch far apart from the pack is Blizzard's mind-blowing attention to detail. It's the brilliantly shining faces of each facet of the playing experience that add up to make Overwatch a timeless gem.
Take the sound, for example. This is a multiplayer shooter, so I would understand a newcomer booting up the game and expecting the same audio-miscellany we've come to expect from almost a decade of somewhat homogeneous military shooters dominating the market, but they'd be in for a huge surprise. The singing trumpets of Dorado and chanting children of Africa's Numbani make you feel like Overwatch is a global phenomenon; something huge that transcends languages and borders, and you're a part of it. That feeling is reinforced as you hear heroes speaking English, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, and French as they respawn, unleash their ultimates, or otherwise banter idly. Overwatch is an outstandingly fun time because the developers put forth an outstanding effort to make the game enjoyable for everyone. Hell, even the sound the game makes when your shots connect was carefully crafted to be hyper-gratifying. I have to share this brief excerpt from the special edition source book about how one of the audio engineers created this unique sound:
"Another extremely challenging sound is the 'hit-pip.' When you hit someone, you need to know you made contact. The sound needs to cut through the mix but not feel like it comes from any hero. It went through tons of iteration. Finally, one night I thought, 'It should be satisfying to hit an enemy.' Just think about what's satisfying: beer. So I literally opened a beer bottle. pssht. The sound is reversed and tweaked a little, but that sound is our hit-pip."
Bloody brilliant. It doesn't say so, but I'd bet money that the sound the game makes when you land head shots is actually the sound of glasses clinking together, reversed and sped up. It's extremely satisfying tonally, and it really does give you this subconscious, Pavlovian pleasure response. Blizzard has worked its magic to give us the subconscious giggles no matter what we're doing in the game, whether it's pushing an objective, opening a loot box (which is every bit as gratifying as opening card packs in Hearthstone, by the way), or tweaking the appearance of your aiming reticle just the way you like it. Overwatch just wants you to have fun.
And Overwatch wants you to have fun with your friends. The game represents the accrued expertise of a company that's been making the best online multiplayer games for over 20 years. Getting a group of friends together is a snap thanks to the social heading in the main menu and pause screen. When playing with friends you'll notice you get a 20% experience boost from your matches, and speaking of Pavlovian pleasure responses, your first time booting up a match with a group of friends you'll hear a familiar ding as you unlock a trophy or achievement for doing so. Perfect.
Social features, audio mixing, aesthetic unlocks that excite, options for the colorblind and disabled, celebration of diversity and open-mindedness represented through the game's heroes... all of these things come to elegantly rest atop the rock-solid foundation that is Overwatch's objective-driven, class-based gameplay. All of the other stuff - from options that could mean the world to a disabled gamer, to the frivolous bells and whistles - that's all invisible to the average player. It goes unnoticed, and that's how you know it's done right. There's absolutely nothing standing between you and enjoying this game.