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Game Info:

Overwatch
Game Title: Overwatch
Developed By: Blizzard
Published By: Blizzard
Released: May 24, 2016
Available On: Windows, Xbox One, and Playstation 4
Genre: Class-Based First Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Number of Players: Twelve
Price: $40.00

[*note* Overwatch is strictly an online game and as of now is incompatible with Mac computers. It runs on Blizzard servers. Having a free Blizzard account is required.]

Who has not heard of Overwatch? Ever since its release, Blizzard Studios’ latest golden egg has taken the gaming community by storm. Its unorthodox advertisement campaign generated overwhelming hype. Its launch topped records, and it completely swept the competition at the 2016 gaming awards, snagging the coveted ‘Game of the Year’ title in several competitions. If that weren’t enough, Overwatch is also changing the face of professional esports as we speak with their new Overwatch League. However, we Christians know that something’s popularity and innovation doesn’t always mean it’s endorsable. Overwatch could be positive beacon, or a vice in high quality clothing.

So how is Overwatch’s storymode? Well, there currently isn’t one. The game just gives you what you need, ala a snappy tutorial, then turns you loose, but fear not, my fellow lore lovers. That’s not to say there is no story at all. Overwatch’s backstory is mostly expressed through their advertisement. You heard me right: their advertisement. The Blizzard staff must have really really really wanted the attention, because they basically founded a whole animation studio for it. They put together a series of high quality mini-movies to establish Overwatch’s setting, and they’re fantastically memorable. They even fooled me into thinking they were planning a film. Who knows? Maybe a full-fledged Overwatch movie will come later down the road. Whether you’re interested in buying Overwatch or not, I highly recommend you check these shorts out. You’ll be plenty entertained.

However, if you want the story super quick, here it is. Overwatch is set in an unspecified future earth. Four decades ago, a man vs. machine war called the ‘Omnic Crisis’ ravaged the world over, but then a new task force named Overwatch gathered the world’s most extraordinary individuals. Together, they succeeded in ending the conflict and maintained global peace long after. Omnics (Robots) and humans set aside their differences, until only the terrorists, known as Talon, were the last public scourge, but sadly, this golden age didn’t last. Overwatch fell victim to scrutiny. Internal politics and rumors of corruption mounted, until the nations demanded their dissolve. Overwatch agents were unceremoniously scattered. Some were killed. Others disappeared entirely, but now, they need to make a comeback. A second Omnic Crisis is looming ahead. The world needs those soldiers, scientists, and oddities to return. Whether they’re former Overwatch agents, Talon operatives, or new blood, fresh off the hero block, everyone will play a part in shaping the earth’s future. This is the lore that compiles Overwatch’s amazing backdrop. It doesn’t get in the game’s way, yet this universe is rich, interesting, and compelling to those who seek to understand it.

Overwatch
Highlights:

Strong Points: Superb Gameplay; Fantastic Characters; A Thriving Community; Annual Updates/Events
Weak Points: Difficult for Newcomers
Moral Warnings: Mild Language; Minimal Blood; One Lesbian Character; Potentially Rude Teammates

I’ll give it to you straight. Overwatch’s presentation is spectacular! I particularly appreciate the game’s aversion for the gritty, grey decor so common in post/pre-war stories. Its bright and optimistic tone is a welcome subversion of that trope. There’s a Pixar quality to their character designs. They’re cartoony yet sophisticated and so easily identifiable you can tell who you’re looking at no matter how far away they are. The actors deliver their lines beautifully too. The occasional interactions are believable and often funny. As for the settings, Overwatch’s arenas span multiple countries from Japan to Mexico. They’re colorful, cultural, and sprinkled with a dash of sci-fi. More impressively, the designers arranged every bridge, corridor, and stairway to setup situations for players to work with or work around. The musical arrangements also befit the different cultures and often adds an exciting percussive dubstep to the mix. Not to mention, the main theme itself is a pulse pounding masterpiece equal to gaming’s finest. Its triumphant revere is too inspiring not to sweep me off my competitive feet.

Games like Team Fortress 2 may have popularized the Class-Based Shooter genre, but Overwatch perfected it. Now, gameplay and mechanics here are so tightly connected, it’s near impossible for me to discuss them separately, so instead, I’ll walk you through an Overwatch match step by step then express my thoughts. Let’s first look at how these matches are set up. Twelve online players are first split into two teams of six, and their goal will depend on the type of map the game selects. These maps are categorized as Assault, Escort, Hybrid, and Control, but we’ll go over those more closely in a bit. After the map is established, it’s up to teammates to pick characters that best serve their agenda as one functioning unit. Four roles compose a well rounded team: Offense to dismantle, Defense to counter, Tank to charge ahead, and Support to keep the others going. Remember, though, that a character can only be used by one teammate at a time, but you can switch your avatar with a currently unused one mid-match. Once the teams are set, the game shall begin.

As mentioned, the map types determine the match objective. Assault, Escort, and Hybrid maps are pretty similar. At least two rounds are played, so each team is given a chance to play both the Offensive side and the Defensive side. The attacking team is allotted a set time to complete their goal, but the defenders must try their darnedest to stop them. In Assault, Offensive teams must capture two marked out areas one at a time. In Escort, they’re tasked with moving a vehicle, called a payload, from point A to point B, and Hybrid blends the previous maps’ elements by requiring the payload be captured before it can be escorted. Attacking teams are awarded points based on their success. Highest scoring team wins, but if there’s a tie, additional rounds are added using what extra time was left in each team’s time bank. Control maps, on the other hand, are a different kind of animal. There are no specified sides. Teams fight head to head over a marked out area. The team that shoves their opponents off the point gains ‘control’, and their tally will climb from 0% to 100% so long as they maintain the point. First team to reach 100% wins that round. Best two out of three rounds wins the match. However, the overtime bar can upend all odds. Once time runs out or a team counter hits 99%, a burning gold bar appears. So long as one Offensive member stays on the capture point/payload or the losing team has one man on the ‘control’ point, the bar will stay full. If not, it empties fast, and once it does, the match is over. It’s do or die time for all in the final seconds.

That basically summarizes Overwatch’s structure, but what’s it like to be in the action? First of all, it’s a first person shooter, meaning you look where you shoot, and your mouse/joystick does the aiming. Your experience also depends on your character choices. We’ll talk about how they differ soon, but they share common features. Your basic inputs include a primary fire, ammo reload, and a melee move. Some avatars also come with a passive/extra ability and/or a secondary fire too. However, your side and ultimate moves are the main attraction. Each avatar gets two side moves unique to them, but you have to wait a few seconds between uses. The ultimate move, though, has to be charged either over time, by scoring kills, healing allies, etc. These extremely useful abilities take practice in order to learn and master in all their applications, but it’s well worth it. (There’s a training arena. Use it. You’ll thank me.) ‘Okay,’ you’re probably thinking, ‘That’s all fine and dandy, but what keys/buttons should I push?’ Well, that’s the best part, my friend. Your controls are completely customizable. Any ability can be programmed to any button, mouse click, or key. It doesn’t matter if you’re a keyboard purist or controller commando. You can tweak anything to fit what’s comfortable for you, right down to the tracking speed. To Overwatch, the sky’s the limit on giving you a smooth ride.

Overwatch
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 100%
Gameplay - 20/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 80%
Violence - 7.5/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 5.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Let’s take a closer peek at those characters. Up until I played Overwatch, I’ve never seen a game this driven by its cast both in lore and mechanics. They’re a memorable bunch from a genius ape with a craving for peanut butter to (arguably the coolest words ever put together) a cyborg ninja. However, you can’t know just how unique these knights and knaves are until you use them. No two characters behave exactly the same. Gamers of all types (Hit-and-runners, campers, harassers, etc.) will find their natural fit in at least one of them. In fact, their variances fit types within types. Consider Overwatch’s snipers. Currently, there’s Widowmaker, Hanzo, and Ana. Widowmaker is a classic sniper. She’s poor for close combat but can pick off distant targets with one headshot. Hanzo is a very mobile archer able to handle crowds, and Ana shoots medicines, poisons, and sleep darts to heal, buff, and mess up anyone she aims at. That’s three distinct ways to be a sniper right there, yet these characters transcend their labels by sheer utility. Take Soldier 76 for example (think old and grumpy Captain America). He’s an effective Offense character with a pack capable of healing teammates similar to a Support. Alternatively, Support character, Brigitte (the iron squire), heals her teammates per strike she lands, yet she’s got a survivability comparable to Tanks. Do you need an Offense and a Support? Support and a Tank? You can be both.

All the topics we’ve covered amounts to one grand experience, and there’s more than one way to experience it. Quick play mode, competitive mode, custom mode, and the mini-games in arcade mode pull out all the stops in this fun buffet. Overwatch has plenty in itself, but what makes it truly special is the social factor. This is a team game with a capital ‘T’. Showboaters, you will not - I repeat - will not get far in this game, and talent’s got nothing to do with it. Why? Well, unless your brain is asleep, I’ll make it plain. No single character can carry the load. You’re always equal parts valuable and vulnerable no matter who you pick. You need your team, and your team needs you. Serve your unit’s needs as they are needed. That’s what matters. This might mean swapping avatars mid-match; letting someone else main your ‘main’, or filling an empty role you’re less comfortable with. Communication and situational awareness is key. Be flexible. Listen. Strategize. The players themselves, both who you’re playing with and against, dictate the challenge. Odds are you won’t taste victory the same way twice. Good thing then Overwatch rewards participants according to performance, not just on wins and losses. All players receive medals based on their kill count, assisted kill count, damage they blocked, healing they did, time spent on the point/payload - just about anything relevant to their role(s). The players also vote between the top scorers to decide who’s awarded the commendation card. However, Play of the Game is the grand prize. The game picks the player who accomplished the biggest feat of the match. It could be for stringing a bunch of kills, performing a difficult move, rescuing their team, or outright turning the battle’s tide. The winning player’s moment is then featured in full display for all to see and is set to Overwatch’s epic victory song. Sure you’re given new outfits, game currency, voicelines, and emotes to customize your avatars with, but to win Play of the Game? That’s the most thrilling of game rewards I ever experienced. Period.

As you can tell, I can gush about Overwatch for a long while, but in terms of appropriateness, I must put my eagerness aside to concede to a few failings. Granted, most of these failings are sparse, but they exist nonetheless. Most obvious pitfalls involve words and outfits. Language in Overwatch doesn’t get much worse than ‘da*n’, ‘a*s’, and ‘he*l’, but one or two foreign exclamations translates to ‘sh*t’. Thank goodness none of the verbal dirt is said much. Most females are modestly covered albeit in sometimes form fitting suits. However, for our worst outfit offenders we have Widowmaker on cleavage, Symmetra for high hip exposure, and the cybernetic cowboy, McCree, wears a minted belt buckle with the acronym ‘BAMF’ (Bad A** Mother F****r). However, you can curb these problems by winning conservative attire for them. Violence in Overwatch is hecticly flashy. Reds do streak out from hit opponents, but if you blink, you’ll miss it. Dead characters disappear quickly too for re-spawning. As for character specific problems, McCree is a smoker. (Come on, man. That’s three strikes in a row.) Omnic monk, Zenyatta, has a Hindu vibe going on. He even poses with extra arms and all sometimes, although he doesn’t actually say much about the belief system. However, Overwatch’s biggest blemish, hides in plain sight. Their time skipping mascot, Tracer, is written as a Lesbian with a girlfriend. That yuck nugget nearly spoiled the whole deal for me, but I’ll give credit to Blizzard for having the courtesy not to rub it in my face. This poor writing choice isn’t paraded around in the game like most ‘relevant-hungry’ companies would do. In fact, I’d be completely unaware of it had not an online comic spilled the beans. It’s thus sandwiched in extra materials no one has to read. It also goes without saying that a social game always carries the human factor. You might meet crude players with no sense of decency. You are given options to report and block abusive players, though. You’ll find the Overwatch staff takes bad behavior very seriously. Good for them.

I’d also like to add that Overwatch has a lootbox system. Lootboxes randomly awards gamers those costumes, voicelines, and emotes I’ve mentioned. They’re given to players for gaining levels, completing arcade mode challenges, or for free during special events. Players can also win gold to buy specific items they’d like, but players also have the option to buy lootboxes with real world money and hope its got what their looking for. If anyone is asking, yes. It’s true the government has been investigating the ‘lootbox’ mechanic lately. Some argue this gaming element is a form of gambling or a ‘pay-to-win’ trap for gullible, under-aged kids. First of all, in Overwatch’s defense, their lootbox prizes are purely cosmetic. They neither help nor hurt gameplay, so I’d hardly call it a ‘pay-to-win’ trap. However, whether you’d count it as gambling or not, it’d be prudent for parents to ensure no funny business goes on with their wallets, should they decide to buy this game for their child. Little gamers should be watched carefully.

Overwatch is stellar. I can’t describe its superb craftsmanship enough. Even when I was on losing streaks, I always walked away with something to smile about. Just know this; joining Overwatch means joining a thriving community. Director Jeff Kaplin and his team continually update the game and send personal videos to keep you informed on any changes they install or upcoming content. Since the game’s launch, they’ve added new outfits, new maps, new characters, and hold seasonal events, most of which are themed after holidays (including Halloween, Chinese New Year, and a more Santa/winter themed Christmas). Plus, their Overwatch League is a professionalized esport venue that’s quite fun to follow. You could say Overwatch is the gift that keeps on giving for one single payment. The only gameplay criticism I have is its chaotic matches may overwhelm a newcomer, but after some practice, I’m sure they’ll get the hang of it just as I did. However, I won’t say the game is clean. In fact, I wouldn’t encourage parents to give this one to little ‘Timmy’. The game has the moral problems I’ve described and lootboxes they could ‘sneak’ buy. Not to mention that despite the Overwatch staff’s noble efforts to discourage crude behavior, no system can control who you’ll run into online. As for any older gamers reading this, I’d suggest you pray and read your Bible a while before doing anything. Really consider Overwatch’s pitfalls and how it might spiritually effect you. Watch over your heart before you let Overwatch get too deep into yours.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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