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'Overwatch' a highly-rated, addictive team-based shooter

Two teams battle in fast, objective-based matches with a roster of distinct characters in "Overwatch."

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By GEISON CACHO | East Bay Times | Published: June 10, 2016

Blizzard Entertainment doesn’t make many games, but whenever it releases one, everybody takes notice. The California studio is behind some of the industry’s most legendary and enduring entries.

The team helped establish eSports with “StarCraft.” It took online role-playing games into the mainstream with “World of Warcraft.” It mastered the addictive dungeon crawl with “Diablo.”

But one thing it hasn’t done since 1998 is release a new franchise. That changes with the arrival of “Overwatch,” which plays out in an “Incredibles”-like universe.

Players discover that the Overwatch task force was created to protect humanity and prevent artificial intelligence from running amok. The task force succeeded, but afterward a series of scandals led to the disbanding of the group. Everything was quiet for a while. Then a series of unsettling events led one Overwatch member to call his associates together once more.

In terms of plot, don’t expect much from the first-person shooter. Blizzard is more focused on building the lore of the game’s 21 playable characters. The studio does an excellent job of that with its YouTube videos and in-game banter, which lay out the relationships among the heroes and villains on the roster.

The cast is diverse. Where else could you find an Indian architect (named Symmtera) teamed up with a talking ape (Winston), who are battling a transforming robot (Bastion) and a French sniper with a tragic past (Widowmaker)?

Although these characters are very different, Blizzard’s charming, detailed design makes them cohesive pairs while bringing out the quirks and nuances of each. Starting with “Warcraft,” the developer has endowed even the smallest parts of its games with personality. It does that masterfully in “Overwatch.”

This aspect of the game buttresses the rest of the experience. At its core, “Overwatch” is an addictive team-based shooter. The 21 characters have specific roles, and teams of six must blend their heroes’ talents to beat rival teams.

That means, for instance, that the armored Reinhardt will act as a shield to block bullets, while his team advances and attacks from behind him.

To counter this human tank, rivals can call on Junkrat, whose attacks can’t be thwarted by Reinhardt’s shield. Matches demand careful strategizing for one squad to rebuff the other.

Blizzard combines this type of chess match with the quick-twitch mechanics of a shooter, incorporating the best of each into “Overwatch.”

Still, the new game doesn’t feel like “Call of Duty,” since it’s competitive but not obnoxious. Players can contribute something, even if their best skill isn’t aiming down the sights.

At the moment, the one thing lacking in “Overwatch” is content. Players have 12 maps to fight on, and the rules for each are quite similar.

Thankfully, Blizzard says it will provide free updates, so like the rest of the studio’s games, “Overwatch” should have staying power.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Online: playoverwatch.com

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