The Winter Olympics in Vancouver start in several days, and earlier this month Sega released their officially licensed video game on the Xbox 360 and PS3. I've spent several hours with Vancouver 2010 and while it's pretty fun, it lacks any real depth or substance that makes you want to keep on playing. Let's take a closer look.
Off To The Races
The first thing I noticed about Vancouver 2010, besides its pretty menu, was how shallow it was. Not only are there just a couple-three game modes, but there are just fourteen playable events and twenty-four countries. That isn't
necessarily a bad thing for a gamer just looking for some casual Winter Olympics action, but if you're expecting a detailed career mode or 'real' athletes and country rankings, they're simply not here.
To get started, players can jump into Training, Olympic Games, or Challenges, and you can look at the Leaderboards and Options. Within the Options, you can adjust the default camera view from third person to first person. At any time during play, you can press Circle to cycle between the two as well. For most events and purposes, I found the default third person view to work best.
The Training mode is an ideal place to learn the ropes. From here, you can try out all of the available event types that make up the Olympic Games mode. The events are broken into eight categories with several categories only containing one event. For completeness sake, here's a full list:
-Alpine Skiing - Men's Downhill, Men's Super-G, Ladies' Giant Slalom, Ladies' Slalom
-Ski Jumping - Men's Individual Large Hill
-Freestyle Skiing - Ladies' Ski Cross, Ladies' Aerials
-Snowboard - Men's Parallel Giant Slalom, Men's Snowboard Cross
-Short Track Speed Skating - Ladies' 500m, Ladies' 1500m
-Bobsleigh - Two-man
-Skeleton - Men's Skeleton
-Luge - Men's Singles
I know, no curling, right? Seriously though, the list of events is quite short, especially when you take into account that some events are pretty darn similar to one another. Anyway, with Training, you can quickly sample any of these while learning the controls and rules (and how to achieve a high score) for each event. The built in tutorial is text based, but concise and helpful. You won't have much trouble with the controls (although the Ladies' Aerials took a few tries) as they primarily involve basic timing and tapping motions. The left and right sticks will also come into play in events that require balancing like the Ladies' Aerials and the Skeleton. I thought Eurocom did a nice job of making the controls very simple to learn. Should you need a reminder of what the controls are for your current event, simply press Start to pause the game. The control scheme is shown in detail here, and I thought that was handy as well, especially for the casual gamer which this title will appeal to.
So there's not a lot going on in the Training mode, but its worth several minutes of your time before going into the heart of the experience, the Olympic Games. Here, players begin by choosing if they will play single player against the CPU, via LAN with friends, or online. Then you'll get to choose from a list of twenty-four countries (USA, Britain, Germany, Russia, Finland, Norway, your typical choices are here). Other than the name and the flag, there's not a darn thing different between the countries. Honestly, I thought there might be some generic country rankings for different events or an "Overall" value, but no, it's kept extremely simple here for better or worse. On the one hand it greatly simplifies the game, which, eh, some gamers may prefer. On the other, it well, greatly simplifies the game to the point where national pride and history aren't a factor.
Once you have your country selected, its time to choose what events you feel like playing. Choosing from the same list as you saw in Training, the events can all automatically be selected and randomized with the push of a button. Or, maybe you just want to do a Luge event and then a Ski Jump, and not the other twelve events. Regardless of your selection, in single player mode, you will face three CPU controlled nations. After each event, most of which take well under five minutes, medals are awarded and you can view the overall standings to that point.
Vancouver 2010 may earn most of its replay value in the Challenges mode. The Challenges are a tiered set of, well, challenges, that players can work their way through. Challenges are broken into Easy, Moderate, and Advanced categories and span all of the events. Challenges must be completed linearly, and they're fairly addictive, largely because load times are brief and the events are short. While enjoyable for a while, the Challenges aren't likely to keep you coming back for very long.
I've spent a lot of time talking about what the game offers, but not as much on how it plays just yet. Well, as you can say for much of the rest of the game, what you see is what you get. In other words, the feel of the events and their physics will feel familiar and intuitive to anyone who's ever played a basic simulation sports game. Success depends largely on timing your movements, be they pressing a button at just the right time or staying balanced with precise stick movements. You'll get the hang of the events and controls quickly, and after that there isn't much but fine tuning to earn the gold and complete Challenges. I will add that I thought Eurocom did do a nice job of mixing up the controls for the different events. It gives each event an edge of distinction and makes them more interesting than if they all had the same control scheme.
As far as presentation goes, the menus are nice and the graphics do well. I wouldn't call these graphics outstanding, but you can definitely tell they're on a current-gen console and they do rather well for themselves. The framerate was consistently smooth and I didn't notice any major clipping or tearing or other technical problems. The audio was okay, and while I didn't care for the generic light rock soundtrack, it was tuned low enough to give the sound effects priority.
With that, let's get to the summary...