The Games of the XXX Olympiad begin across the pond this weekend after what’s sure to be a spectacular opening ceremony tonight. In videogame sports land, Sega has been building towards this fortnight of summertime Olympic competition for a while, beginning this past holiday season with Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games for the Nintendo Wii, followed by a new and improved Nintendo 3DS version earlier this year, and now culminating with the release of the officially official game of the Olympics
Ditching Nintendo and Sega’s loveable mascots for authentic Olympic events and lifelike athlete avatars, London 2012 – The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games brings close to 50 summer sports to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, and in the process does a solid job capturing the international sportsmanship and grandeur of the real event.
Across arcade multiplayer Party Play, Online competition and single-player Olympic campaigns in lengths of 12, 20, or 28 events, London 2012 gives those gamer thumbs a work out by having you tap buttons and twitch analog sticks to lift weights, sprint down the track, swat ping pong balls, paddle kayaks, throw javelins, launch arrows at targets, backstroke through the Aquatics Centre’s pool, and compete in a variety of other summer sport disciplines. Motion control options are also available for console players, but they are relegated to a dozen party events so you probably shouldn’t consider the chance at a full-body Olympic workout as a strong selling point to this game. (Full disclosure: I didn’t receive the PS3 version to be able to try the PlayStation Move controls and I don’t own a Kinect so I couldn’t test the 360 version’s motion controls either.)
The gamepad-based controls are accessible and effective, never becoming too complicated or going overboard with gimmicks and tiresome finger movements—easily understandable tutorials are only a button press away at the start of every challenge if you do need some training. Sprinting, for example, requires that you tap the ‘A’ button at a rhythmic pace to keep a colored bar within a designated zone on a meter to maintain speed; it’s not just mash the button to its breaking point in order to run faster than everyone else. Swimming events similarly get you into an enjoyable rhythm of alternately pulling the left and right analog sticks to propel through the water.
Many of the other events combine the two methods of control, such as the shot put and javelin throw which both have you tapping ‘A’ to build power and tilting the analog stick forward to set launch angle and direction. Diving and trampoline are more like standard QTEs in that you have to perform certain button combinations before hitting the water/ground, with the complexity of the prompts determined by the difficulty of your chosen routine.
Despite a few flameouts and the overall simplicity of design, the mini-games are enjoyable and challenging, in some cases surprisingly addictive as you start gunning for the record books. I found aquatic races particularly nail-biting, paddling down the main stretch with other swimmers in pursuit and red and yellow “ghost” lines dangling the Olympic and World record times in front of me like a carrot on a stick. However, the main issue you’ll encounter in London 2012 is one of redundancy. Very minor variations set certain events apart, but in general the swimming, sprinting, diving and throwing events all play pretty much the same way, and those sports make up the bulk of this game. Over the 45 or so events, only 20 at the most stand out as individual, and of those games like archery, skeet shooting, rapid fire pistol, canoeing, table tennis and beach volleyball are the only ones you’re likely to want to replay multiple times over.
Making matters worse, gymnastic sports are barely represented. Two events—trampoline and men’s and women’s vault—are all you get. Hey Sega, what happened to rings, parallel bars, uneven bars, pommel horse, etc? These are important Olympic events, yet they’re not here. Huh?
Online play also stumbles short of the medal podium. The prospect of competing against others and earning National Pride points to boost your nation’s global ranking with each medal won adds a patriotic sense of duty and motivation, but sadly the online performance leaves a lot to be desired. During my time with the game, not a sprint or bicycle race went by where I didn’t see an opposing runner or cyclist latently stutter back and forth on the track, making it virtually impossible for me to know if I was ahead or behind. Table tennis was even worse. After nearly every shot, the ball would appear to pass my opponent for a winner, but then a second or two later the game would suddenly show the opposing player returning a ball that flew by them just a moment earlier. It would seem that this game runs on the same shoddy net code that has crippled recent Virtua Tennis outings. About the only good thing to come from the online interaction is the leaderboard, which gives you a constant stream of real-player world records to aim for.
Looking deeper than recycled mini-games and sloppy online play, the real problem with Olympic sports games, including this one, is the tiny window of relevance they have to work with. In NBA, MLB, NHL or NFL games, the continuous excitement of following your favorite team through a lengthy season keeps you engaged for months at a time. The Olympics come around every four years and only last a couple weeks; is anyone really going to be playing this game a month or two down the road after the final medal count has been tabulated? Sure, some will, but probably not very many. Sorry, but unlockable golden gear, like javelins and table tennis paddles, and a few alternate nation kits hardly constitute a worthwhile replay incentive.
London 2012 is good for cheap patriotic thrills as you play along with your nation’s athletes in spirit and pile up fake gold (or silver or bronze) medals. The events range from addictive beat-the-world-record fun to outright dull after a round or two, meaning there isn’t a whole lot here to hold your attention for long. You’ll be entertained for the duration of the Games, but once the closing ceremony passes and the Olympic fervor dies down, you’re likely to forget this game ever existed.
+ Quite a few truly enjoyable Olympic events
+ Presentation effectively captures the magnitude and spectacle of the Olympic Games
+ Satisfaction of topping a World Record never gets old
+ Simple yet clever controls with pre-event tutorials
– Event roster padded by numerous repeats
– Only two gymnastics events? Seriously!?
– Not a whole lot of lasting appeal
– Laggy online performance
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PC and PS3
Developer: Sega Studios Australia
Release Date: 6/26/2012
Genre: Sports – Olympics
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-8 (1-4 offline, 2-8 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher