GOTY 2016: Game of the Year

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And the 2016 Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year is...

#1 | Overwatch

Blizzard Entertainment | May 24th, 2016 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

I’m extremely gullible when it comes to multiplayer shooters.

Everytime I buy one I somehow forget the three cardinal rules of online play:

Be an asshole.
Don’t cooperate.
Be a dick.

And everytime I jump into the fray, wide-eyed and naive, I’m immediately reminded of the above three rules. I get mad not necessarily at losing, but at myself for being fooled/stupid.

Why?

Well, ever since Battlefield 1942 I’ve been obsessed with capturing that magical essence of teamwork and cooperation — those, as DICE and EA’s marketing team calls them, “Battlefield Moments.” 

Over the past decade I’ve occasionally grouped up with pro-level players every few hundred games. Sometimes I’m dropped into their squad when it’s miraculously short a player, and I followed the squad leader’s instructions to do whatever they damn well demand of me. I watch as my contribution to the team’s score, and my individual placement on the overall scoreboard, skyrocket. I see in those very rare moments of camaraderie that, with just a bit of direction, I’m doing amazing things. The game clicks when I have a job to do, and the chaos of unscripted aircraft bombings and naval landings each strike a harmonious note within a much larger symphony. When Battlefield’s at its best, it feels like I’m in a promotional video.

But despite the allure of chasing that dragon, the reality is most players are selfish and unfocused. They find the laziest methods of exploiting the game to get the highest score or just plain cheat. Sometimes, if they simply aren’t that great at the game, they resort to making racist/sexist/Trump-friendly comments. I don’t exaggerate when I say that, from my perspective, I believe the majority of shooter communities are toxic.

And then there’s Overwatch.

Putting aside the evidence that Overwatch players may be the same assholes common to any other shooter, Overwatch is the most well-designed cooperative online multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played. Ever.

Those “Battlefield Moments” I mentioned are surpassed by Overwatch’s insistence on teamwork. Blizzard replaced the infrequent success of lone-wolf play styles found throughout the genre by giving each Overwatch player a job to do and helping them to do it well through numerous intelligent cues.

No person is an island, and Overwatch makes you feel like a core contributor to your team. By nature of its design, it assigns each character a primary focus (e.g., healing other players) but without locking them into that role; instead, players are encouraged to focus on the primary functions of their class while being given great latitude through secondary configurations to support their team in dire need. For example, if you’re playing as Lucio, a rollerbladed healer, you can switch your healing aura to a speed boost to help your team push objectives faster. Overwatch further spotlights the Swiss-army utility of characters during regular play by not penalizing players for switching out roles mid-match.

On the other hand, the most recent Battlefield game, Battlefield 1, repeats the mistakes of its predecessors in using the same tired classes: once again you choose from either a medic, support, assault or sniper. Those options used to be fresh in the Battlefield 1942 era (circa 2002), but today you just feel like you’re always choosing the wrong role due to the ever-shifting balance of power in a chaotic 64-player match. By comparison, Overwatch holds your hand by keeping the controls for each character a button-press away and letting you switch them out as needed. Forget how to use Winston’s shield? Just press F1. Going up against a particularly annoying Widowmaker? Just switch over to Reaper and teleport behind the sniper to take her out.

No other game in 2016 made me feel as successful as when Overwatch clicked. And sure, it has its moments of frustration where you’re overwhelmed by mismatched, better players. However, the successes of Overwatch enforcing true, team-based shooting are far more numerous than any other game on the market.

If you want to feel good about multiplayer games and yourself, you’ve gotta pick up Overwatch. — Aaron Thayer

Overwatch is pretty dang good, you guys.

The joy of Overwatch is that it is Street Fighter in team-based shooter clothing. The characters are big, bright, well-designed and immediately recognizable, and therefore they’re easy to learn the basic strengths and weaknesses thereof. As the guest Top 10 from Dan Phipps mentioned, every character is some kind of hybrid class. Combined with the sheer number of characters available, Blizzard has evolved the Team Fortress 2 squad creation formula with well-thought-out wrinkles allowing for counters to strengths and weaknesses all across the board.

We’ve recognized a few shooters in our list this year, and a few multiplayer shooters at that. But what sets Overwatch apart is the style and quality to the aesthetic and designs in the game. While there are other Blizzard games out there inspiring fan art and work, Overwatch quickly became the most popular, and fans aren’t  just flocking to one or two characters in particular. The thoughtfulness to create a diverse cast is admirable; the execution is enviable. This helps set Overwatch apart as a more Pixar-ish shooter, especially compared to series like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Doom, and more. It’s not bad to be a realistic and/or grisly shooter; Doom pulled it off quite well. But allowing for something more approachable has worked in Overwatch’s favor quite well, and it matches the Street Fighter comparison to a T. This is a game we’ll still be playing throughout this console generation, and one we will look back upon favorably in a number of years.  — Doug Bonham

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I dunno if you’ve been keeping track, but the last year and change has amounted to an absolute renaissance for shooters. Between 2015’s colorful, inventive, and inviting Splatoon to the adrenaline-pumping ultraviolence of Doom and the wild, acrobatic bliss of Titanfall 2, I can’t think of a more significant and progressive era in shooter design since...2007? 1998? However you slice it, it’s been a while.

And then along comes Overwatch, with its cheerful characters and colorful game world, from Blizzard — a developer known primarily for strategy games and RPGs. It waved hello, sat down at the crowded big-budget shooter table, and proceeded to politely and voraciously eat everyone else’s lunch.

Look, I’ll be honest: I own every game Blizzard’s ever released since 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. I know the company has carefully cultivated its well-deserved reputation as a company that only releases great games, often by pruning away those games that don’t quite hit their high marks. I knew what I was getting into, but somehow, I still didn’t see this coming.

My favorite thing about playing Overwatch is that I learn something new in every single match. No matter how poorly I’m performing, and regardless of how stacked the teams may be, I find an opportunity to discover something new: a wrinkle in how one character can strategically oppose another, or a new vantage point to pick off enemies from a distance, or an unexpectedly potent way that two players’ ultimate abilities combine to wreak havoc. 

When I think back on the games I’ve been sucked into for the longest time, it’s the ones that gradually and consistently reveal more of the intricacies of their design each time you play. Rock Band, The Binding of Isaac, and The Witness may not have much in common in how they’re played or what they’re about, but they share a common thread of an intricate and constant line of communication between player and game. Overwatch does this with a degree of sophistication that, to a game designer like me, is absolutely astounding (and more than a little humbling). It’s a game that other developers will be studying closely for years to come.

Overwatch is an outstanding achievement in worldbuilding, character design, art direction, sound design, community engagement, diegetic player communication, and — of course — team-based shooter gameplay balancing. It’s a world-class effort that could only come from a studio with the budget, the restraint, and the experience to create an extraordinarily confident and tonally consistent game.

Like Doom, Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty, Overwatch has already earned a permanent place in the pantheon of games that redefined multiplayer action. The biggest difference is that, unlike its predecessors, Overwatch is specifically designed to be warm, charming, and inviting to veteran shooter fans and neophytes alike. This is a first-person shooter that just about anyone will find endearing.

I could go on and on, singing the praises of this bright, optimistic, brilliant game, but you already get the point. It’s our Game of the Year in a year already packed full of outstanding and inspired games. It should not be missed.  — Nick Cummings