I’ve always liked the Olympics. The tradition, the history, the intensity and drama of the competition; it’s always a good time. Sadly, though, video games based on the Olympic Games have come up short in recent years, as such efforts have suffered from clunky controls, poor technical elements, and a general lack of longevity. For instance, Beijing 2008 was a mess. Thankfully, London 2012 is a darn sight better, even if it’s still plagued by significant drawbacks.
To start with a big plus, this is the best the Olympics have ever looked in the world of interactive entertainment. The athlete detailing is good, the animations are fluid and even realistic, and the backdrops – ranging widely from the track-and-field stadium to the arena for swimming and diving – are alive with lots of great color. From the opening ceremonies to something as relatively simple as the table tennis venue, there’s a lot to like about this sharp presentation. It just falls shy of the graphics standard that continues to rise as this generation rolls onward.
Unfortunately, the other side of the technical package trips and stumbles, as the audio fails to impress. We’ve become accustomed to top-notch commentary in our sports titles these days, and this bland, uninteresting announcing just doesn’t cut the mustard. The soundtrack is also forgettable. Still, the invigorating roar of the crowd enhances the experience and adds that requisite Olympic flair. Even if you care little for the music and are tuning out the commentators, you can always get caught up in the dynamic crowd interaction. After all, every athlete lives to perform on this exalted worldwide stage, where the sound is memorable.
As always, any developer faces a gauntlet of potential gameplay issues when attempting to produce a game that includes dozens upon dozens of sporting events. It’s hard enough to develop a reliable, accessible, responsive mechanic for one sport; it has to be many times more complex when faced with such diverse events. How does one create a gameplay system for the long jump as compared to the 10M high dive? What about the sports with balls and equipment, where other physics must be captured? And this time, it’s Sega that must tackle the task.
For the most part, they really do a good job. I don’t want that to get lost in this review; I don’t want people to just go— “Oh, a 6.3, I’m not going to bother.” If you’re a huge Olympics fan, you like the idea of using the PlayStation Move, and you’ve got a few like-minded friends, this one could offer many hours of summer entertainment. This isn’t about button-mashing, as timing and reflexes are essential for success, and the majority of the events are easily attempted (if not easily mastered). The biggest problem facing this game is the lack of single-player involvement and the tedious linear repetitiveness.
You will choose your country and then embark on your quest. As an omnipotent virtual competitor, you have the skill to compete in every event that comes your way: There are two events per day, which consist of qualifiers and finals. You get a tutorial before you begin, but you have to consider the qualifiers as the practice stage because there really isn’t a training option. If you manage to get to the finals, you’ll be in a position to take home cherished hardware. But as I said, there’s no freedom here; you have to participate in all the events and the repetition gets boring fast.
Events Mode is a better option as this lets you pick what you like, practice over and over again, and become a real expert at your favorite events. I just wish the experience didn’t feel so bare. Just about everything can be finished in record time, even if the difficulty spikes at bizarre moments, and the AI is just sort of ho-hum. This is where you really need to usher in some human competition, and it might also help to pick up the Move. Doing so makes it feel a lot like Sports Champions , only with even more events, and that’s not a bad thing.
Sadly, you can only take advantage of the Move during mini-games that aren’t included in the standard Olympic Mode. So you had best gather up your friends if you want to get some bang for your buck. In many ways, Move is better – and certainly more in the spirit of athletics – than the traditional controller, and with multiple gameplay styles, you’ll definitely get a workout. Of course, Move isn’t quite as precise as the Dual Shock but you have to sacrifice some accuracy for the added immersion. And to me, that’s a decent trade-off (sometimes).
As I said, though, the game feels too barebones from top to bottom. Yeah, there’s plenty of variety (over 30 events to try), but the single-player campaign is more about heading down a set path, occasionally trying events in which you have zero interest, and rinsing and repeating. The mechanics mostly just involve timed button presses and QTEs, which one would expect, but it just gets a little tiresome after the first few hours. I wanted to have more fun than I did, although I freely admit to becoming more invested in the experience with the Move controller in my hand. And besides, this really is a big improvement over the last less-than-mediocre Olympics game.
The Sega team really did try to capture that singular atmosphere at the Games, and they also stepped up the realism and authenticity. They should be commended for that. At the same time, somebody has to find a way to make this package more exciting, and more entertaining for longer periods of time. What starts out as interesting and even engrossing quickly wanes, and you have to resort to multiplayer and/or motion-sensing technology to elongate the experience. They’re going in the right direction; the next step, I think, is to utilize more resources.
London 2012: The Official Video Game Of The Olympic Games does a lot of things well, even if the pacing, depth, and overall immersion isn’t where it needs to be. The basic control for each event is mostly intuitive and solid, there are a ton of events, using Move adds a lot to the gameplay, and skill supersedes luck (as well it should, of course). The technical elements are pretty good, too. We just require more in the way of “oomph,” more reasons to keep the player coming back for more. That being said, I say let Sega have another crack at it for the 2016 – or 2014 Winter – Games.
The Good: Nice presentation with a lot of style and fluid animation. Pretty solid control all around. PlayStation Move makes things more interesting. Tries valiantly to capture the intoxicating spirit of the Olympics.
The Bad: Commentary is sub-par, soundtrack is forgettable. Single-player mode is repetitive and tedious. Gets old way too quickly. Some questionable mechanics.
The Ugly: "I'm really not feelin' this event…so why do you make me do it?"