Vancouver 2010 Review
It seems that every time they try to do a game based on the Olympics, everything falls to pieces. The last attempt – centered on the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing – failed miserably due to ridiculous mechanics, clunky and sometimes impossible control, lackluster technicals and an almost complete lack of pageantry and theatricality. The latter is part of what makes the Olympics great, if we’ve already forgotten, and while Vancouver 2010 still lacks that, Eurocom made good strides in righting many of the past wrongs. It’s a simpler, more streamlined presentation and with the addition of a first-person option for the events, we immediately feel more involved in the action. Better yet, much of the past button mashing is gone; most of the events come with an understandable and relatively well-functioning control mechanic. They still fall short in their overall goal, though, and we can only be semi-congratulatory. In the end, it’s still not worth the price of full admission and they still have a ways to go.
The graphics are certainly a lot better than they were in Beijing. The character models are vastly improved as are the nicely detailed backgrounds and environments, and there are a few interesting visual effects tossed in for good measure. It can limit your visibility, especially in the Alpine events, but perhaps that’s realistic and enhances the game’s authenticity. They still could’ve done a bit more with the surrounding crowds, though, because there are very little animations outside the track of competition. We never really see much of it, which is both good and bad; it’s good because they didn’t put much effort into it, and it’s bad because it limits the scope of the Games. So while the snow-covered peaks are indeed pretty, and while we can hear the roar of the crowd in the Aerials competition, we never really get an appropriate feeling of intensity. We also could’ve used some extra effects like spraying snow and ice but hey, these visuals are a step in the right direction.
The sound is a mixed bag. There are plenty of somewhat realistic sound effects that go along with the carving of skis and snowboards, the sliding of blades on the luge or bobsleigh track, and the light scraping of ice skates in the speed skating arena. We even get a satisfactory and kinda powdery thump when we land a ski jump or aerial leap. The rushing wind experienced during the insane speeds of the downhill event infuses another level of immersion, and the only downside is when you crash or hit an obstacle. You only hear a muted, generic thud of some sort and it always sounds the same, regardless of the situation. And speaking of generic, there’s nothing more generic than the rock tracks casually superimposed over the effects; the music does little to keep you involved and in all honesty, silence would’ve almost been preferable. They’re going to have to reconcile this issue at some point because they’ve never done music correctly in Olympics video games, but the effects are just fine.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a more streamlined and stripped down Olympics title. However, it feels so bare-bones that it’s difficult to get excited about playing the game. You can’t create a character or have any sort of career, and there aren’t even any full events; you only play the finals in each event. You don’t go through the qualifiers and in truth, Training is almost exactly the same as actually playing the Olympics. The only difference is that they award medals in the latter. You can restart any event at any time, which is a good feature because you’ll definitely need the practice. There are 14 events in total – they’re not trying to include every Winter event, obviously – and they range from a few Alpine events (Downhill, Super G, and Slalom), to Bobsleigh, to Ski Jumping to Aerials, to Cross (Ski and Snowboard) events. You may find it disappointing that a few of the most popular events, snowboard half-pipe and figure skating being among them, aren’t in the game. But it’s still fun to sample this variety of sports and besides, how is Cross Country Skiing any fun?
Anyway, as usual, it’s all about the control. And I think it’s just great that, for the most part, the button mashing from past Olympics efforts is almost entirely gone. You only press the X button as quickly as you can at the launch of some events, but other than that, the control mechanics are fairly normal. You have the standard steering with the left analog, you simply press the X button when going off a jump, and you can lean in the Bobsleigh and Luge events with some light presses of the R2 and L2 buttons. They still have to throw in a few unique control systems, though, and once again, they don’t work all that well. They’re not totally ridiculous as they were in Beijing 2008 but they do take some practice, and even after spending some time with them, they still fall short. The Speed Skating and Aerial events offer the most original mechanics and both can be extremely frustrating: you actually don’t steer with the left analog in Speed Skating; you steer entirely with the R2 and L2 buttons (which takes some getting used to), and then you have to time the your skate pushes with button pushes.
Yes, it’s as difficult as it sounds. You kinda get the hang of it but those turns at high speeds are still really iffy, especially due to the loose control. This looseness can also be found in other events; the analog directional controls are a little too drastic and they really don’t work in the Aerials. Almost everything about that event, from the aim to the launch to the landing, seems to work really well but when in the air, you have to track one or two balls with the left and/or right analog sticks. Even one ball proves challenging because the bar you have to control swings crazily when trying to track the ball, and if you have to track two – one each with the right and left analog – God help you. And because of this, you’ll rarely land a good Style score. Then there are a few eccentricities that remain; for instance, the Balancing in the Ski Jumping event. Again, all the mechanics work pretty well but when in the air, you have to balance with the R2 and L2 buttons. The problem is that you can never really tell if you have to shift left or right; it’s just too subtle and you can never seem to get it just right.
I liked the first-person view you could enable, but you’re usually focusing on other things – like meters and bars – so it loses a bit of its appeal. Then there’s the lack of immersion due to the bare-bones presentation; all you really do is select an event and do it once to try to get a medal. That’s it. You can also go online and play against a friend if you wish, which always adds some longevity to a game that lacks personality and depth on the surface. And really, Eurocom did make significant strides with Vancouver 2010. But they’ve got to make a few more before we can recommend a purchase of a game based on the Olympics.; not surprisingly, it really is more fun to watch on TV. Maybe things will get even better when a Summer Olympics game rolls around in 2012…
4/6/2010 Ben Dutka