If you’re expecting a single-player game with a deep, intricate campaign mode, or a long drawn-out story that fosters some grand, lone-wolf adventure, well, you won’t find it here.
This game is all about teamwork in the heat of a firefight. It’s really as simple as that. This is a pure, competitive, team-based online multiplayer shooter. In fact, it’s best identified as a MOBA, which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game. And in this case, that means that when playing it on a console, you have to buy an Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus subscription, making the game almost doubly expensive.
There’s really next-to-no story backing all of that, unless you count a wispy-as-a-Saturday-morning-cartoon-breeze introductory clip about the world needing heroes. You and your team of randomly selected online “friends” choose characters who, ideally, complement one another. And then you’re set loose in various cityscape maps. The real challenge is to make the team as balanced and strategic as possible. Does your six-player team have a healer? A tank? Is there a character who can maybe throw up an ice wall for defense or lay trap mines at bottleneck points? You’d better be able to think fast. Move faster. And always play as a team.
The game’s 21-character cast list can be broadly divided into four types—attack, defend, “tank” (characters who can protect teammates and disrupt opponents) and support. But truthfully, no two characters here feel anything alike. They all have a unique combination of skills and personalities that give this game its only sense of depth.
You’ve got a 60-year-old, seven-foot-tall knight, a bespectacled ape in a spacesuit, a cyborg ninja, a cute anime girl and her robot tank. Each battler has his or her own level of offensive punch and speed. And each is fleshed out with special abilities: to rewind time, for instance; or transform into a puff of ghostly mist; construct impervious defenses; or teleport out of danger.
Overwatch also encourages players to experiment and get to know the various characters, with an eye on matching a hero’s strengths to a gamer’s own preferred style of play. You can, for instance, be focused on healing, buffing up and defending your teammates rather than taking aim at an opponent’s noggin. Each role can potentially be the key to winning the day.
Since this is a shooter, it’s only smart to wonder just how messy all of Overwatch’s first-person pull-a-trigger play gets. On one hand, there’s little to no blood or gore on display. The bombs, explosive traps, laser zaps and bullet-riddlings can feel realistically destructive as they flash and boom, but they don’t crumble the environment. And when a character dies, he disappears and is simply marked by a floating red skull.
On the other hand, the firefights can get intensely frenetic. Attacks can fly in from any direction. Gameplay is smooth and intuitive, but if you aren’t well-positioned or elusive in your movements, you can find yourself extinguished and sent back to the starting gate in the blink of an eye.
Some of the female characters sport skintight outfits and fulsome curves, making them come off as sensual—in a cartoon sort of way. But one of the advantages of not having a story mode is the fact that there’s no language or sexual innuendo to deal with—other than what might come from the mouths of your real-life teammates, of course.
And that leads me back to reemphasizing the fact that this is an online-only game, with all the ups and downs that go along with playing along with unknown others.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.