Every two years, the world pauses as we celebrate the athleticism of the Olympic Games. People watch as mostly amateur athletes represent their countries and compete in different sporting events for medals and recognition. Even though most people look forward to the games, regardless of whether they're held in the summer or winter, fewer people look forward to the video game renditions of the two-week long sporting event. The 8-bit era of gaming may have produced great Olympic-style games such as Winter Games and Track & Field, but ever since an official license has been granted, the games have begun to lose their luster and declined in quality. This doesn't stop them from trying, though, as one good title is all that it'll take to get gamers playing it long after the events are over. This time around, the Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver, Canada, and after a less-than-stellar showing with the summer version, Eurocom and Sega are looking to take another stab at an Olympic-themed video game with Vancouver 2010.
The game contains 14 events out of the many played in this year's Winter Olympic Games, and all of them are available in three different modes. For Alpine Skiing, the men get the downhill races and the Super-G, while the women get the regular slalom and the giant version. Ski jumping is a male-only event taking place on a long hill, while the women take over freestyle skiing with ski cross and aerials events. Snowboarding consists of men's parallel giant slalom and snowboard cross events. Short track speed skating belongs to the women with 500 meter and 1500 meter versions. The bobsleigh event features the two-man version only, while men's skeleton and men's singles luge cover the final two events in the game. All of these games can be played in both Training and Olympic modes, where the big difference is that Training lets you practice the course as much as you want, while Olympic mode has you competing for medals along with three other human or AI competitors.
Challenges are something new for Vancouver 2010, and they are a welcome addition. There are 30 total challenges in the game, each one asking you to perform a specific goal in a specific event. They range from the simple, such as averaging an 80 ranking in the aerials event to racing in the snowboard cross event with reversed controls to getting the slalom done without hitting the numerous snowmen on the track. The challenges have a moderate degree of difficulty, but they also have an addictive quality that makes players want to keep playing them over and over again until they complete them. Without a proper single-player quest to go through, this mode can easily rival multiplayer in terms of how often it will be played.
Few Olympic-themed video games have been perfect, and this is no exception. While not as varied as the summer games, the winter games have a few more sports that aren't represented here at all. Snowboarding may be in, but there's no sign of the halfpipe event. Big ratings winners, like figure skating and ice hockey, aren't in either. Neither is cross-country skiing and curling, a sport that might be laughed at but is well represented among the participating countries. There may be some valid reasons for not including them, such as a better focus from the NHL and pure snowboarding games, but the fact that Sega's other Olympic title on the Wii includes them makes this entry feel a bit shallow.
Aside from the new Challenges mode, there's not much for the single player to do. Earning medals in Olympic mode is nice, but other than gaining Achievements or Trophies, there's no ultimate in-game purpose for them. Having some sort of Career mode to work through would have strengthened the single-player experience against the multiplayer one. Finally, the game's degree of difficulty in terms of earning those medals is high enough to scare away all but the most hardened of fans. Gamers playing this as their first Olympics title will barely get bronze medals, let alone gold, simply because one tiny mistake will get you to last place with no chance to recover.
Multiplayer is mandatory for these types of games, and bad multiplayer can utterly destroy a game no matter how good everything else may be. The good news is that the multiplayer is indeed a fun experience, both locally and online. The game supports four players, but a few of the events are done simultaneously, making for some quick matches. The game doesn't suffer any performance issues when on split-screen, and the same is true for the online experience, which has no lag whatsoever. Don't expect a plethora of gamers online, but it doesn't take too long to find a player match in any of the available events. Ranked matches, though, seem to be a different story, as none were encountered during the time of the review. As an added bonus, System Link is also supported, something few people can take advantage of, but it's welcome since few games support it nowadays.
Olympic-themed video games are notorious for being more difficult to control than they should be in just about every event. This is why it's so refreshing to see that the controls for all of the games here are so simplified. Only four buttons ever govern the most complicated of events. A few events involve button-mashing, but they only last for short amounts of time, making the event more fun to play instead of tedious and tiring. The controls are so easy because almost all of the events are races, making them easy for most people to grasp after seeing a tutorial about the fine points of control. About the only event that would be a bit difficult to control would be ladies' aerials, but that's because some of the event uses both analog sticks simultaneously.
Not may people would expect an Olympic-themed video game to look good, but Vancouver 2010 certainly breaks that line of thinking. Save for a few times when some clipping occurs with hair and helmets, the character models are what you would expect from a current-generation title. The models look fantastic, with plenty of detail to their uniforms and equipment as well as nice-looking facial expression on both event wins and losses. The crowd also gets an upgrade with more polygons, making them look better than most crowds in sports video games. The animations for both the crowds and players match their looks well by being smooth and fluid. This makes the crowd look more excited and full, while it makes the player a delight to look at. The environments may consist mostly of the color white, but they look stunning, with rarely a case of fade-in or pop-up. The effects, like snowfall and powder from hard landings, amplify the environments, but it's the lighting effects that give it an extra coat of shine that no one would have expected from this title.
The sound in these types of games has always been good, but this time around, it feels like the worlds of the Olympic Games and extreme games are starting to blend together. The sound effects are great, especially the sound of wind as you rush down the mountain or through the bobsled tubes. The crowd also comes out clearly, preventing each event from feeling as if it's taking place in a vacuum, like other lesser Olympic titles. What's real interesting, though, is the music. Most games go for some ambient music to display the majesty of the games, but here, licensed rock from independent bands is used instead. It isn't used all of the time, as it doesn't play during about half of the events, but it is a nice change of pace and fits well since it tends to play during high-tension races.
Vancouver 2010 isn't a perfect Olympic video game. There aren't too many events packed in the disc, and the events that are present feel too similar to each other. Couple that with no solid single-player campaign, and you have something that could potentially be another disastrous Olympic video game. It isn't that bad, though. The controls for the events are good, the graphics and sound are much better than expected, and the inclusion of challenges makes the game fun, something that couldn't be said for a lot of Olympic-themed video games for quite some time. As it stands, the title is a good rental, but if the developer can keep going down the path of improvement and away from the attempts made in Beijing 2008, they could have an Olympic video game worthy of ownership by the time the next one rolls around.
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