No guts. No glory.
The Olympics are over. Long gone are the pitiful stories of the athletes fighting indomitable hardships to get to Sydney. No longer will you turn on the TV and watch sporting events that have already happened. No more failed drug tests and no more of that little flying Annie wannabe.
Years ago, the Olympics were all about fighting spooky communism through athleticism, but now that the iron curtain is gone, our Olympic fun has been reduced to showing a Russian wrestler "who his daddy is." Somehow, without the threat of a big red enemy, the Olympics are sort of boring.
And so are Olympic video games. ESPN International Track and Field is, unsurprisingly, yet another run-of-the-mill track and field game. Why is it that all these games come down to the same thing? Tappity, tappity, tap. Why can't they work on making the gameplay a bit more fun?
From the very start, Konami is working with a tired game concept. At the very least, they should capture the feel and image of being there. Pump some really pretty pictures and nice sounds into that puppy, and perhaps gamers would find the video game equivalent of spraying of air freshener into a stinky bathroom. Unfortunately, that's not the case here.
The graphics in International Track and Field uses some simplistic character modeling from the '96 Olympics. While the game boasts the efforts of the same motion-capturing studio as NFL2K, it doesn't help when your characters don't look so great. People are still stick figures with painted on muscles. It might have worked for a game several years ago, but that type of performance won't win any medals today.
Environments are the typical fare, but what's really interesting is the flat audience that you'll be treated to. What? Are they all lying down because the event is so boring or is it because a 100 ton anvil just fell out of the sky?
Another problematic graphics issue is the sun glare. Ooh. Aah. Whatever. Sun glares have become the most overused cliché in video games. They're even worse when they blind you while you're trying to make a javelin toss. That poor line judge will never be the same again.
At least the announcer voice is done perfectly. If you've ever seen one of these actual sporting events, you've most definitely heard the woman without a soul. Her voice is solid, strong, and devoid of emotion or life. Perhaps she's an undead zombie, slowly waiting for the day when her undead zombie pals will join her in world conquest for brains. But until that day, she's at sporting events declaring time figures.
The events involve (if you can call it involvement) rapidly tapping the X and B button. Most events also require that you hit the L trigger at the right instant to start the next routine. It doesn't make sense. Most people use both thumbs to execute the rapid tapping, leaving no real comfortable finger with which to press L. Your opposable sixth finger? This setup is completely counterintuitive and makes no sense at all. The problem could have been solved if there were a way to reconfigure the buttons, but noooo, that isn't included.
Before every event, there's an instructional video that demonstrates how to play the next event. The game starts out with the traditional sprinting event that makes a beeline for the tapping control that we all love to hate. More complex events, like weight lifting or hurdles, make you hit that funny little L key at the right time to complete your maneuvers. The hammer toss involves making sure one meter is at a certain place, and your degree of throw to be optimal. These are all things that you've seen before.
Even though you could probably guess them all by yourself, I might as well list out the first 11 events. 100M Dash, Long Jump, Pole Vault, Hammer Throw, 110m Hurdles, Javelin, Weight Lifting, High Jump, Triple Jump, Vault, Trap Shooting. All of this sound familiar to you?
The series of 12 is completed with the Horizontal Bar. This single event does turn out to be the most interesting and different of the group. The gameplay is pretty much Follow the Leader and Simon Says. You follow preset direction pad commands. The better your flow, the better you score. One question, though: Why only men's gymnastics? Let's not leave out the ladies.
Is every track and field game doomed to a life of sub-mediocrity? At this pace, surely. The whole genre needs a good shot in the arm, starting with way the game is played. Anything with rote button tapping is not considered fun. What about playing mats like the old NES Track and Field game? Making a track and field game fun might be possible, but it'll take much more than simple finger exercises to get the job done.
ESPN International Track and Field is everything you've come to expect: Lots of button tapping, decent environments and the correct audio to round it out. Too bad it's not at all fun to play. Let's see a real track and field game before the next Olympics come around, okay?