Regardless of any measure of conflict, the nations of our world have always managed to get together in the same place for a few sunny days to enjoy some peaceful, healthy international competition. There is another event that coincides with each Summer Olympic Games, and that's Sega's franchise of the same name that continually manages to disappoint gamers and generally makes the Olympics look a lot cheaper than they really are. Needless to say, Beijing 2008 keeps the tradition alive, with extremely repetitive gameplay that proves once again that if you want to enjoy the Summer Olympics from home, it's better to just watch them.
Event-wise, Beijing 2008 is divided up into various disciplines that range from aquatic, field, gymnastics, shooting, and track to name a few, altogether making just over 36 individual events. That may sound like a lot, but when it comes to actual gameplay, the number is far lower. The game has admittedly expanded upon the number of basic events from the previous Summer Olympics video game, Athens 2004, but because of the repetitive nature of the gameplay, these enhancements carry little importance other than for bragging about the sheer number on the game packaging.
To illustrate this repetition, I'll put it simply by saying that both the track and aquatic events can generally be described in the same sentence. You'll be tapping the A and B buttons for power throughout most of the competitions, and when playing any field activities, such as the javelin throw or high jump, the ensuing button-mashing is usually culminated in either hitting a trigger or moving the left or right analog stick. Both sticks can be waggled for power as well, but I found them to be highly ineffective in comparison to hitting A and B. The main problem with this mechanic is not that it's boring (it is), but the length of time that can be required to mash the two buttons just becomes fatiguing, and this is coming from someone with very well-developed thumbs. Certain events, such as team pursuit bicycle racing, go on for 16 straight laps, nearly 10 minutes of intense finger exercises.
Shooting events are also present, but won't likely appease Call of Duty 4 fans, as they involve only timing such as in skeet shooting, or correct manipulation of the left thumbstick against your own human error in the single shot pistol competition. There are definitely some events in the Olympics that could have been made into entertaining minigames, such as fencing, but I doubt the designers would take any creative liberties with the controls. Unfortunately, while I was yearning for something more, my wish came true with judo and kayaking, both of which try to incorporate more than simple button presses but ultimately feel terrible. Kayaking in particular controls like getting hurled over Niagara Falls in a bucket, which is to say it doesn't really control at all.
The one arena that I did find myself to be more enthralled was surprisingly, gymnastics. All of the events — including the vault, beam, parallel bars and floor exercises — first require you to select a difficulty. A higher mode will of course mean more points, but at a greater risk of losing. Most of the events contain a fairly similar order in which actions are carried out, but do possess much more variety overall. Rings, for instance, require you to mash the triggers to lift yourself and then use the thumbsticks for balance, ending with a sequence of button presses to stick a landing, in total creating a deeper and more drawn-out minigame. The enjoyment out of these activities really came from the fact that they provided a challenge that was more taxing on the mind, rather than just the fingers.
All of the various activities mentioned are organized into a series of online and offline modes. Before getting the real competition started, a training mode is available for you to freely participate in every event if you wish to get more acquainted with the A and B buttons — in case you weren't already. The Olympic mode allows you to select one of the 32 international teams to make your way from the beginning qualifying days, all the way to the final medal rounds. Your team's development can be adjusted with upgradable stats such as stamina, agility, speed and more that can be improved after receiving skill points in an event. Sadly, the points you assign are never saved afterwards, leaving the player to fill out the stat fields again at the next play session, so you might want to take some notes before quitting for the day.
Other customization options, if you want to call them that, involve creating a competitor for each event that tasks you with choosing from a series of pre-made models, most of which sport some very startling resemblances to one another. One gameplay addition that Beijing 2008 actually brings is a slow motion mode only available in the Olympic Games portion of the title. This involves an upgradable meter that, when activated, slows down the action so that you can time your moves correctly, as well as making it easier to accumulate power. It's a nice addition but one that isn't married to all facets of the game modes, and it's still something we've seen numerous times in other games, sports or not.
Competition mode is your option for getting quick access to Olympic events, either by yourself or with friends. The game supports up to four players locally for standard games, in which any number of events can be selected and then played in the order chosen. If you really want to take on the world, Beijing 2008 provides, for the first time in an Olympic video game, an online mode(supporting up to eight players) that contains a language filter for about seven different tongues and brings an international flavor to the experience. A tournament mode is also available, but with the incredibly frequent lag and no real team dynamic game types, it's not worth the frustration, even if a gold medal is on the line.
Given that this is the next-gen debut of the series, one could hope for some decent graphical improvements, but Beijing 2008 goes the other direction by possibly persuading some to think they may be playing the previous Summer Olympics video game. All of the poorly rendered character models look outdated, especially in the overacted facial animations, and the environments contain little to no detail with bland solid colors. The uniforms on the Olympians are quite varied and represent each nation well, but the same individuality cannot be said for the crowds, who constantly move in unison — and I don't just mean when the wave comes around. There's very little to say about the title in the sound department; the commentary is laughably choppy and incoherent, with lines such as, "He gave it all he had," that could easily be applied to almost any on-screen action.
I actually feel somewhat conflicted when criticizing Beijing 2008, partly because regardless of any hard blows that reviewers have laid against the series, improvements have been few and far between. Since the franchise has stayed the course when it comes to its almost unbearably simplistic gameplay, is it reaching the publisher's goals as the game they want to make? But even when trying to be easy on Beijing 2008 and acknowledging its status as a $50 collage of minigames, there's still not enough variety or compelling gameplay to make it worth recommending. The tedious button-mashing might be fun when watching your friends make amusing faces while pounding their way to the finish line, but any extended time would be better invested in watching the actual games themselves. See you in four years, Summer Olympics. I'm sure little will have changed.
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