Gotta shine up those medals for the next time ’round.
Ahh, the Olympics… as I’ve recently rediscovered, the Summer Olympiad is all about pushing the human body to its utmost limits: how far can you throw, how fast can you go, how in-sync can you row. It’s the pinnacle of human biological achievement. On the other hand, the Winter Olympiad as all about my favorite thing: crazy people strapping themselves to stuff and trying to keep away from a tragic SportsCenter moment. Whoever thought it was a good idea to strap themselves to a small sled and dive head-first down an icy chute, I salute you!
[image1]I honestly can’t think of a genre that has changed so little over so many years. Games based around the Olympics have been a mainstay in gaming since its inception (Video Olympics, anyone?), yet very little has changed since graphics could emulate the look of a ski hill. I played my old copy of Lillehammer 1992 for some comparison, and I swear to you, many of the events represented here are in that dusty Genesis cart too. So I looked through my Nagano 1998 cart for the N64, and… yeah, it’s the same event list (except for long-track speed skating). And yes, there are only so many Olympic events to include in a game, but at this point, is it really worth a full-price-tag purchase?
There are 14 “different” events to choose from in this package: seven in skiing, two in snowboarding, two in short-track speed skating, then the luge, two-man bobsled, and skeleton racing. (What, no hockey?! C’mon, the Vancouver Olympics are set in Canada. Can we get some basic puck flingin’!?) One notable feature that keeps this from being simply a bland collection is that the tracks are true to form and distinctive in appearance. The luge/skeleton/bobsled track is the exact track from Whistler, BC, complete with that incredibly intimidating final turn (R.I.P. Nodar Kumaritashvili), just as it should be in a licensed title (thankfully, crashes in video games aren’t deadly).
A few items that had been in previous Olympics games seem to be completely absent here; most notably, any form of a “create a character” mode. It doesn’t even remember what country you represented the last time you played a round. Not only can you not pick or personalize your Olympian, but you can’t even pick their gender as events are mixed between male and female competitions. I don’t know if this is trying to tell us that women can’t snowboard (of course they can) or men don’t compete in speed-skating (speed skater Apollo Ohno, anyone?), or something else that I’m just not wrapping my head around. It can’t be that difficult to have character models from other events – complete with the spandex jammies – and throw them from the slopes to the ice, can it?
[image2]Also, with the big hard drives on the PS3 and the 360, why can’t you save record-breaking gold medal runs? One replay is all you can do when you hit that amazing jump or make everyone else in the speed skating rink crash into the boards (while you leisurely glide into the record books). And then it’s over, as if it never happened.
As far as multiplayer goes, there can be up to four players playing a given event on a single system, through LAN, or online. While the online play is as smooth as the single-console play, it’s as basic as they come: You can’t even figure out what event you’re playing next (unless, I suppose, you’re the one making the match). And unless you’re starting a game with some friends, chances are you’ll have some trouble just finding a game to join. After multiple attempts over nearly a week, I finally found and joined a game – three rounds of different events, against a single player and two bots – and was then quickly dropped.
Even with the courses meticulously pieced together from the real thing, I’m just struck that, again, this is a full-price purchase for what is essentially a collection of two-button games that have been around since the earliest video games. Even as realistic as the courses might be, the rest just feels thrown together around a simple UI. It could definitely be worse, but it’s still nothing to write home about. But then, with the reputation the Olympics have with gaming, is anyone that surprised?