Overwatch: Bringing Personality Back to Online Shooters
If you really think about it, there isn’t all that much to Overwatch. It’s an online shooter with a few different game modes and no single player component to speak of.
Despite that, I can’t remember any shooter where the characters and lore have had such a huge affect on gamers. This very well put together FPS has managed to become more than just a game to so many people without even so much as a cutscene. You can see that in the huge amount of cosplay, fan art and yes, even porn.
Blizzard managed this by creating a world and characters that ooze with personality. By treating every character like an individual and carefully fitting them into the world, they have become so much more than just fun characters to use when capturing the objective.
There is nothing quite like Overwatch fans scouring through every trailer and screenshot looking for clues as to who the next character will be. And the reaction to Tracer’s victory pose, which Blizzard changed after fans pointed out that it didn’t fit her personality, shows how much fans really relate to these characters.
Standing out from the pack
This character and personality is one of the main reasons that Overwatch was many people’s game of the year in 2016, especially impressive for a year that included Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and COD Infinite Warfare.
These latter three games all had great single player components on top of the high-quality online gameplay they have cultivated over the years and yet they couldn’t top Blizzard’s first ever FPS.
Overwatch’s story is told through character trailers and comic book strips which allows Blizzard to tell a carefully crafted story that they can add to as with the addition of each new hero.
A lack of single player component usually means the quick and silent death of an online shooter but this very simple and elegant solution to adding story to online play has really paid off.
What Blizzard discovered was that they could take the online FPS formula, inject personality into it and make something extraordinary, and add a sense of flavour and fun that I haven’t seen in an FPS for oh, about 10 years now.
Jumping back in time
The series that Overwatch most reminds me of is TimeSplitters, which was for the PS2 what Golden Eye and Perfect Dark were to the N64. These games pushed the FPS genre to new heights. This isn’t surprising when you consider that Free Radical Design was founded and staffed by former Rare employees.
But while Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and Killzone were taking players down the serious military route that would then become industry standard, TimeSplitters with its wacky characters and travelling shenanigans stood out from the crowd.
TimeSplitters 2 and especially TimeSplitters Future Perfect had a fantastic cast of characters to pick from when playing multiplayer. Like Overwatch, these weren’t just a bunch of identikit soldiers; they had their own voice lines, poses and skins that gave them real personality. They didn’t control differently like characters do in Overwatch, this was a simpler time, but you would pick the character that spoke to you the most. Just not the chimp, he’s so short and hard to shoot that it’s basically cheating!
There hasn’t been a TimeSplitters since 2005 and since then it feels like we’ve been jumping around very serious wars, fighting very serious enemies. That was until Overwatch came along and reminded us that what a game needs to take it to another level is plenty of love and care and a whole bunch of personality.