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Overwatch: Recall (2016)

Fun. Fast. Fantastic. Overwatch promises to be one exciting game, and it has one dynamic introduction in the form of "Recall", an animated short that is emotionally gripping and visually gorgeous.

Over the years, Blizzard Entertainment has dazzled us with their incredible Cinematic Trailers, two great examples being the teasers for Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor. And I think we can all agree that what makes these projects so spectacular is the high quality of the animation. Every tiny detail has been edited to the Nth degree. From the highly detailed backgrounds to the highly expressive characters, each work boasts the undying truth that these animators have worked very hard to bring us such beautiful masterpieces. There are times when I felt like I was gazing at a real world stretched out before me, waiting to drag me in.

So, when I was glancing around the Internet and noticed that Blizzard had released not a cinematic trailer, but a short film to promote their new game Overwatch, you bet your buttons that I sat down and watched it as soon as possible. And let me tell you folks...it does not disappoint.

Everyone is probably aware of the heated anticipation for this game. Scheduled to be released on May 24 of this year, Overwatch is the first new franchise released by Blizzard since 1998’s StarCraft, and promises to be a much better addition than Titan, their previous franchise attempt. What makes this game so remarkable, however, is its colorful cast of characters, who bring a whole new level of awesomeness to the playing field. As a fan of Mass Effect and Halo, I adore games where strong men and women (and even robots) drive the story and make a lasting impact. Quite often, their stories are so fascinating that we often forget what the original game-play entails. We want to learn more about these people in the cut scenes and short films. When I watched the trailers for Overwatch, however, I was awestruck. Never before had I seen such an impressive, epic, beautiful lineup of characters.

That is the main reason the short films for Overwatch are so exciting and so effective. They offer us insight to a character’s backstory and allow us to connect with them even more. Such is the case with the first short “Recall”, a look into the dangerous and exciting solitary life of our hero: a massive gorilla scientist named Winston.

Let me begin by stating that Winston (voiced by video game and anime veteran Crispin Freeman) is perhaps one of the greatest characters I have ever seen in an animated production, and, given the number of movies and television shows I have watched over the years, that is saying a lot.

What I particularly love about him is the fact that he breaks all conventional qualities of classic gorilla characters, who are often depicted as having a violent and conflicted nature, unsure of whether or not humans are their friends or their enemies. Winston, on the other hand, is portrayed as a kindhearted, strong-willed, and loyal scientist who is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of mankind, whom he has grown to love through his experience with his adopted father. In an ironic way, he reminds me of what Caesar (the hero of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes) or Gorilla Grodd would have become if they had fought against their inner demons. However, Winston does possess an aggressive streak, as the villainous soldiers and their leader Reaper, unfortunately, discover at one point in the short film, but he is able to tame it through his meditative work on intricate gadgetry and machinery. In this sense, I also appreciate the fact that the writers gave Winston such remarkable intelligence and the ability to speak the human language with great proficiency, which allows us to relate to him even more.

Apart from his scientific skills, Winston is also very emotional and expressive, and I absolutely adore his character design. Much like Beast from X-Men (with whom he also shares similar features), Winston is physically powerful and possesses a heart of gold. At times, he is wide-eyed like a child, curious about the world around him, while other times he can be intimidating and terrifying. One particular feature I love is his piercing golden eyes, which give him a superhuman flair, and I also adore his wry smile. And, surprisingly enough, his face is very smooth featured and gentle, adding to his spark of humanity.

As with many short films, we are given a chance to connect with a specific character even more, but “Recall” succeeds with the inclusion of a single element: flashbacks. Where many films have failed with the execution of this plot element, this short film accomplished it with a touching backstory for our gorilla scientist. At random points in the film, we peer through a window into Winston’s history, when he was an adorable child living on board a space station orbiting Earth, and these moments are emotional and insightful. I love the small details in these scenes, where we see how Winston not only got his name but also achieved his sense of exploration and undying curiosity. His human father is also a wonderful addition to the story and also delivers a powerful line that summarizes the entire concept of Overwatch: “Always remember. Never accept the world as it appears to be. Dare to see it for what it could be”. This line I can equate to Dean McCoppin’s defense of social independence in The Iron Giant, when he explains, “You are who you choose to be.” I am not sure if the Overwatch writers were inspired by Brad Bird’s masterpiece or not, but the same nostalgic science fiction element is heavily introduced in the flashbacks included in “Recall”, and this is what makes them work so well.

Another awesome element to this film is the villain. Although we do not see the Reaper for very long, what we do see is a genuinely creepy bad guy who I can only describe as a combination of Darth Nihilus and Cad Bane. He is physically imposing and also ethereal, transforming into a terrifying cloud of smoke at will, and proves to be an expert strategist, trapping the enormous Winston with great ease. The antithesis to love and nobility, Reaper is egotistical, conniving, and very entertaining to watch.

Finally, I must touch upon the A.I. who assists Winston in his adventures. Mellow and kind, Athena is a powerful cognitive network who is represented by a glowing letter A surrounded by a halo of light (a fun homage to IBM’s current AI system Watson), but she proves to be of great importance as a supporting character. In times of crisis, it is Athena who keeps Winston in check, as she has taken on the role of a big sister or surrogate mother to the gorilla. Her voice is warm and lovely, as well, and she does deliver some humorous, deadpan lines in the short film. While she isn’t in “Recall” for long, Athena is very fun. I look forward to seeing her in future projects.

Overall, “Recall” not only serves as a brilliant introduction to an exciting video game, but also as a welcome addition to the animation genre as a whole. It is suspenseful, action-packed, and groundbreaking, and has produced one of the most heartwarming characters I have ever seen.

Check it out and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Overwatch Open Beta for PS4, PC, and Xbox One will be released on May 24, 2016. 
Overwatch "Recall" is available on YouTube and Battle.net: Incoming Recall