After three very fun games in the year's first two weeks, I was beginning to think that the world of video games could do no wrong in 2010. Not so, as I learned while playing the title designed to promote the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver next month.
The requisite game preceding the Games, Vancouver 2010 lets players choose a country and then get busy competing for gold in 14 events in the categories of alpine skiing, sledding, speed skating, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, and ski jumping.
You can choose to train (which, since you're offered a tutorial before starting an event in any mode, is basically the same as competing, just with no medal ceremony), enter events individually, or create a customized stack of events. A challenge mode offers a series of increasingly difficult goals in each event, such as earning a set number of points for maintaining higher speeds while skiing or landing in specific zones while ski jumping.
Up to four players can compete locally in split-screen or online play, and you can compare your performance against other players around the world via online leader boards.
And that's about it.
It takes a little over an hour to become familiar with all of the events, and maybe a couple of additional hours spent practicing (perhaps in the challenge mode, which is a far better trainer than the mode actually dubbed "Training") to become good enough at them to have a chance at winning. Most players' interest will likely fade quickly thereafter.
Though that's not to say what's here isn't decent. The lifelike graphics, which feature motion-captured digital athletes skiing through low hanging clouds on crisply defined mountains at breakneck speeds, are among the best yet in an Olympics game (though not substantially better than those of Beijing 2008).
And the controls are good, if a bit formulaic. For example, you mash buttons to build up speed at the top of the bobsled run, then use the shoulder buttons to lean on corners. The PlayStation 3 edition offers motion control via the SIXAXIS controller, but the game is challenging enough as is; I wouldn't recommend adding the frustrations of an imprecise movement-based interface.
The problem here, and it is a considerable one, is a fundamental lack of diversity. Fourteen events isn't very many for an Olympics game, and the fact that many of these events feel very similar to one another-such as the Women's Slalom, Women's Giant Slalom, Men's Downhill, and Men's Super G-means there are only a handful of meaningfully different activities.
Big team-based sports like hockey usually don't fare well in compilation games, so I won't suggest that it should have been included, but how about biathlon, curling, and figure skating, to name just a few others?
What we've been given feels like just a tiny slice of the Winter Olympics pie.
And if we are to contend with such a small number of events there should at least be plenty of extras; some pageantry, commentary, and fanfare, or perhaps even pre-Olympic qualifying rounds and customizable athletes that we could take from rookies to Olympic medalists.
Alas, Vancouver 2010 simply offers a handful of bare-bone events which you'll play by yourself or with friends for a few hours. Then you'll be left wondering how it was that your wallet came to be $50 lighter, and considering whether you should trade your copy in now or wait until after the Olympics are over.
(The answer, of course, is now, before its trade-in value plummets.)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows PC
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