London 2012 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games Review (PS3)
It's one of the most elusive concepts in sports videogames — an Olympic Games product that is actually worth caring about. I've actually had some guilty pleasure Olympic titles in the past that have provided some fun — Nagano '98 on the Nintendo 64 and Lillehammer '94 on the Genesis and SNES — but these games just usually lack the depth and polish of sports games that focus on one specific discipline.
The potential appeal of an Olympic Games title is that it offers tons of events to compete in, but often this spreads the development so thin that all of the events end up suffering in their design or control scheme. I won't claim that London 2012 bucks this trend entirely, as it clearly lacks certain events and is presented in a fairly basic way, but there is actually some decent value, thanks to some smart controls and well-implemented online play.
Most Olympic-based games of the past have usually involved copious amounts of button mashing. The smart thing the developers at SEGA Studios Australia did was to nix that trope and elect to go for more of a timing and rhythm focus. What this means is that events like the 100m dash involve hitting the A button, like you would commonly do, but here it's conceived as more of a tempo meter for your runner. Most events use this tempo meter, and you ultimately want to find a rhythm that doesn't overfill the meter, which trips up your athlete in one form or another.
You also employ this tempo meter in the javelin, for instance, and that tempo dictates how much speed the athlete will have in the run up. You then have to execute a quick back and forth on the left stick to throw the javelin at the right angle (which is usually between 35 and 45 degrees). All of this works pretty well, allowing you to concentrate on the right parts of the motion in each event without much awkwardness or distraction. Certain events, like diving and gymnastics, are actually more like QTE events, where you just have to hit the buttons on the screen as they come up. These events aren't as engaging, but I'd say they're in the minority.
London 2012 actually has quite a robust selection of events to compete in, with plenty of track (100m, 200m, 110m hurdles), field (javelin, shot put, discus), as well racing (cycling, swimming, kayaking) and a few other unique offerings (table tennis, volleyball, skeet shooting). I actually really enjoyed the shooting events, as they control simply and cleanly, and the keirin bike racing can be a lot of fun as you jockey past racers in the velodrome.
I think there are a solid amount of options to play, but admittedly, many are just identical events with a different gender — or very close permutations on existing events. It would have been fun to have a few more unique additions to the list, including wrestling, taekwando and boxing, as well as strangely absent sports such as the pole vault and relay races. Additionally, while the events available do control fairly well, the major issue of Olympic games does rear its head in that there just isn't enough depth in each event to really keep you coming back. The venue is the same every time, and the athletes behave the same each time. You either get good at each sport or you just kind of muddle through. There isn't a whole lot of flexibility in the simulation.
All of the visual assets are presented colorfully and cleanly, but player models, stadiums and peripheral details all look generally unspectacular. Animations for the athletes are serviceable, but you'll see some stuttering during events like gymnastics, for instance, and the facial expressions are quite limited. I will give props to the water in the kayak racing and rowing, which does look really good. Then again, what game can't do decent water tech these days. The menus are cleanly laid out, with quick load times and easy access to tutorial modes and restarts.
The announcing “team” that calls the action isn't the worst I've ever heard, but they're prone to repetition and bizarre praise and scorn. The female announcer only seems to chime in during the opening ceremonies and specific events (gymnastics, as an example), so you're stuck hearing the dude sputter boilerplate quips about the action on display. There isn't much in the way of music or sound effects, but the grunting sound on the shot put, discus or javelin did make me laugh, so I guess that's worth something.
The Olympic mode is the main offering in terms of solo play, as you can go through the Olympic Games calendar and qualify for events before going for medals. Event play lets you pick sports to play a la carte, and you can save playlists of events if you really want to focus on certain things (racing, track, etc). As said above, I think there definitely could have been some additional events to flesh out the catalogue, and it also would have been nice if there was a way to focus more on specific disciplines (such as playing as a swimmer and going through all of the proper training, qualifying and medal rounds).
There's a good deal of multiplayer variety in London 2012, with local multiplayer support for the event play and Olympic tournament, as well as a “party play” mode that allows users to compete more directly against one another in select events.
The events can also be played online, with varying player counts depending on what events you pick. I actually had pretty good success finding matches against players from all over, and the latency on the events was surprisingly good. It was particularly fun to play against humans in cat-and-mouse race events, like keirin (cycling), as well as accuracy events like archery and skeet shooting. The track and field events do provide a good time as well, but if someone has mastered the rhythm as you fall behind, there's little chance you'll catch them.
The leaderboards track your scores across all of the events, and I thought it was a nice touch that the nations of online players are ranked against one another in terms of medal percentage. Some of the unlockable achievements are fun as well, with gamerscore being doled out for photo finishes, tournament wins, winning events with multiple people competing as well as being the first one to “emote” at the starting blocks of a party play event.
Certain events in the “party play” mode allow the use of the Kinect camera. The developers have obviously chosen the sports that are the most reasonable to map to motion controls, but I wouldn't say these controls add very much or create any fun party scenarios. You can take on the party mode's events straight up or as part of a challenge series, and the motion controls can be used in the 100m dash, javelin, archery, table tennis and several more.
I found that the Kinect controls worked well overall, but I thought the implementation was a bit uninspired. The 100m dash, for instance, allows you to furiously pump your arms up and down, like some sort of sped-up version of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction's dance scene. It's odd to not use your legs when running, which makes me wonder if the developers just couldn't get that to work as well.
Archery is an example of an event that does resemble the actual activity, as you reach out your left hand to aim and then draw and flick your right hand to fling the arrow. That event provided a bit of fun, but again, none of these motion-controlled sports really add any good multiplayer opportunities, which I feel is half of the Kinect's appeal.
If you're willing to live with limited depth in the events on display as well as some mediocre presentation, you'll probably come away with a decent amount of fun, especially if you take the action online. Still, there really should be a much more fulsome career mode in a game like this, as well as more Olympic events, especially for London 2012's $60 asking price.
Learning Curve: Everything is presented very simply so that almost any user can understand, and the tutorial mode is easy to access. Some of the events require specific timing and memorization, but most are pretty intuitive.
Control Scheme: The choice to go away from traditional button mashing was a smart one, as the rhythm-based tapping rewards skill but still stakes some mastery. Aside from the table tennis and kayaking events being a bit floaty, everything controls smoothly.
Visuals: A fairly pedestrian-looking game for current generation hardware. The crowd has the appropriate amount of frenzy (of course, it's motion-blurred out) and the athletes celebrate in amusing fashion, but don't expect much detail in the Olympian's event animations or their facial expressions.
Audio: Much like the visuals, the audio is fairly uninspired. The announcer is better than some games I've heard in the past, but he's still pretty silly overall.
Value: Frankly, Olympic games like this should be digital downloads. I could even see an argument for a $40 release. It's a lot to ask for users to drop $60 on a game that has a decent number of events but that ultimately doesn't really deliver a deep sports simulation.
Score: 6.0 (Above-Average)