I’d boycott. Review

Ben Silverman
Athens 2004 Info

genre

  • Sports

players

  • 1 - 4

Publisher

  • Sony / 989

Developer

  • Eurocom

Release Date

  • 01/01/1970
  • Out Now

Platform

  • PS2

rating

I’d boycott.

At some point in our collective infinite wisdom, it was decided that if you want to get something done, it’s gonna take four years. Finish college? Four years. Be President? Four years. Ruin The Matrix? Four years.

The other really big four-year event is the Summer Olympics, a tradition that dates back (in modern terms) to 1896 – which, incidentally, happened to take place in Athens, Greece, the same location as this year’s upcoming Games.

And
apparently, 989 Sports and developer Eurocom decided to honor this link to tradition
by barfing out Athens
2004
, a game that features mechanics so ancient that anyone with a pulse
and at least one functioning eye has already seen and played most of what it
has to offer. I guess four years isn’t enough time to come up with some good
new ideas.

To its credit, Athens 2004 goes for the gold by offering a whopping
25 events, including classic Track and Field events (Long Jump, 100m dash, etc.),
Aquatic events (four swim meets), Gymnastics, and more obtuse sideshow events
like Horse Jumping and Skeet Shooting. It’s a much more complete list than most
past Olympic video games have offered.

But this is all marginalized pretty quickly when you consider that about half of
those events require the exact same tired gameplay device that has been used
in Olympic games since Konami’s Track & Field first broke
knuckles back in 1983: button-mashing. Smash X and Circle to run the 100m
dash, the 200m dash, the 400 m dash, to throw the Javelin, to swim in all four
swim events. Mash your way to victory in the Long Jump, the Gymnastic Vault, even Weightlifting.
It’s
incredible that in twenty-one years, no one has come up with a better plan,
because this is as annoying, boring and skill-less as it gets.

The events that don’t employ the exhausting, incessant mash aren’t particularly
innovative, either. Horse Jumping, for instance, simply has you following a path
through the jumping course and pressing a button to leap over the obstacles.
Archery makes you first gauge the wind, then aim and press a button to shoot,
which is actually more complicated than Skeet Shooting, which takes out the wind
altogether. The Discus throw requires you to twirl the analog stick rather than
mash buttons, while the inane Shot Put features one little meter and two little
button presses to set power and angle. Riveting stuff.

And really easy stuff, too, especially if you’ve ever played any Olympic video
game in the past two decades. Give a monkey a few cups of coffee and he could
set World Records in half the events without breaking a sweat, though I
guarantee he’d break the controller. Stupid monkey!

Making
matters worse is the control. Though you mostly spend your time rapidly alternating
your focus between X and Circle, you occasionally have to press the ‘Action’ button
to make your guy jump or something. The obvious choice? Triangle or Square. The
actual answer? L1, which I have renamed LOL1, because it’s so lame it’s laugh-out-loudable.

Clearly the
most effective way to mash the buttons is by using your fingers rather than
your thumbs, just like in Track & Field. So now imagine
having to reach over and whack L1 rather than just
tap either of the two other face buttons, which have no function at all in Athens
2004
. In some events, such as the 110m hurdles or Weightlifting, this
becomes a near dealbreaker. It’s
insanely dumb and cannot be changed.

In fact, Athens 2004 might be the least customizable sports
game I’ve ever played. You can participate as any one of 64 countries, but you
can’t
create an athlete. There are no stats, no training, and no career.
You pick your country and gender, and the game then just gives you a pre-set
runner/jumper/thrower/swimmer who looks the part, ethnically speaking.

This lack of depth is what kills Athens 2004 more than anything.
Though there are several ways to take on the events, including such inspiring
choices as ‘Practice’ and ‘Arcade’ alongside the ability to take on a Decathlon,
Heptathlon or create your own little series of events, they all just toss you
from one event to another and tally up points. Then you win, watch your athlete
take the podium for a medal, see your flag raised and boom, back to the menu
screen. How rewarding.

Party mode adds a little flavor, at least. If you have a PS2 dance mat, you can
take on the events without incessantly mashing buttons, though it’s likely only a few of you actually have the mat and no one should buy one just to use with Athens
2004
. Plus, one of the events, the Women’s Gymnastic Floor Exercises, seems custom built for the dance mat, not a normal PS2 controller. This proves annoying to anyone without the mat.

There is also some merit in Athens 2004 as a multiplayer
game due to the simple gameplay; even your non-gamer friends can figure out
how to smash buttons. Of course, simplicity doesn’t equal long-term fun. After
an hour or so, no one will want to smash buttons anymore.

Mercifully,
the game looks decent. The character animations are pretty fluid and the environments
are fine. The athlete textures are a little overbearing and the faces are pretty
lifeless, but at least the game maintains a smooth framerate. It’s not a total
graphical loss.

But it sure is an auditory one. I don’t ask for much out of my Olympic video
games, but I sure as hell expect national anthems. You get NONE in Athens
2004
. You win, they raise the flag, and that’s that. Equally mystifying
is the location of the Olympic theme song, because it ain’t in here. Huh? Wha?
Are you kidding me? They’ve had anthems and the theme
song
in just about every
Olympic game since Summer Games hit the Commodore 64 back in 1984. What happened
here?

I’ll tell you what happened. Despite a four year gap between Olympic video games,
no one gave this game any thought until probably sometime last year, when suddenly
the IOC and Sony worked out the licensing fees. That’s really the only way I
can explain Athens 2004‘s total disregard for interesting gameplay.
It simply feels like it was rushed out in time to capitalize on the upcoming Games,
merely some advance merchandising rather than a full-fledged, smartly developed
sports gaming endeavor. Maybe they’ll get it right in 2008.

REVOLUTION REPORT CARD

0.5
Rating
Lots of events
Tap tap tap tap tap...
No national anthems?
Tap tap tap tap tap...
No depth
Tap tap tap tap tap...