Vancouver 2010 Preview
Let’s face it: just about every last video game based on the Olympics is absolutely dreadful. The best they’ve ever been able to accomplish is “mediocre,” but the most recent effort - Beijing 2008 - was atrocious. Overall, these titles just aren't up to snuff and I’ve always believed it’s because the developers have to realistically recreate dozens upon dozens of events; after all, some designers spend years just trying to get one sport down pat. But the other trait that always seems to be missing is the inclusion of immersion and intensity, as I’ve never really felt even the tiniest shred of the excitement and adrenaline an Olympic athlete must feel when he or she competes on the world’s biggest stage. However, all this being said, it appears that Eurocom may have identified such shortcomings and as a direct result will deliver the very first quality, worthwhile Olympics-based video game in the form of Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game Of the Olympic Winter Games. Yeah, that title is way too long so for the sake of brevity, we’ll just shorten up that name for this preview, m’kay?
The winter Olympics features plenty of events that should be very exciting in a video game, so if done correctly, events like Ski Jumping, Downhill Skiing, Bobsledding, and the various Snowboard disciplines should be an absolute blast to play. It will all lie in how the developers approach the controls for each sport; for the bobsledding, for example, you will press a button as fast as you can to get the best start possible and then shift to analog control. After that, it’s all about the sensation of speed as these sleds travel at ridiculous speeds down that ice chute. But here’s where Eurocom has the chance to shine; instead of the boring presentation we’re used to, they’ll keep us interested by guiding us with more substance. When you make a turn in that bobsled, you’ll receive a score – based on a 100-point scale – of how well you negotiated said turn. And according to IGN’s hands-on take, most events that require this sort of pinpoint precision will include such an engaging feature.
Other events that aren't based on precision with analogs but well-timed button presses will add some good variety to the gameplay. Ski jumping centers almost entirely on timing, for instance; you won’t have to steer at all, but you will have to hold the X button down in order to fill the “jump meter.” The trick is to start holding that button at the correct time, and you must also release it at the appropriate time; if you’re off in either direction, you won’t get a great jump. Ah, but you also need to balance your rider with the trigger buttons so that’s another example of a bit more in the way of immersion and player control. Personally, I’m wondering how they will approach events like the Snowboard Cross, where you’re battling other opponents for position. This is yet another new gameplay mechanic Eurocom needs to embrace, and rider AI will be a major factor, as will technical aspects like draw distance and frame rate. These games have never been great in the technical areas, either.
But I can still hope. And besides, Vancouver 2010 boasts a very sweet new feature that should add a whole new level of intensity to the experience. It’s the addition of the first-person view, which can be switched to simply by pressing the circle button, and this is where the game should set itself apart from other Olympics efforts. This is where the sense of speed should be greatly enhanced and Eurocom has even added a blurring effect; there’s also the inclusion of your athlete’s breathing and if you’re looking through a pair of goggles, that will also change the view. Based on everything I’ve read, it seems inevitable that this feature could very well make or break this game, especially if the basic controls are just accessible and solid (nothing special but nothing terrible, either). As I said in the intro, we’ve always been missing that certain level of immersion that should be a critical feature of such games. Hey, I like the Olympics and I’d really like to see a decent game based on the Games, so I’ll just cross my fingers for the best effort yet…
10/22/2009 Ben Dutka