Last year, EA Sports Active burst on to the scene for Nintendo owners looking for a more serious workout than what Wii Fit could offer. The end result was a nice alternative to the gym that lets you participate in a wide variety of cardio and strength exercises in your own home. Now, EA has expanded the franchise to include the HD consoles and given us EA Sports Active 2. This new edition of the game features motion-tracking peripherals and a bunch of new workout routines but unfortunately doesn't do much to improve on the flaws of its predecessor. Active 2 remains a nice change of pace from sweating at the local fitness club, but it still can't quite replace a genuine workout.
Those looking to improve their health with Active 2 will start off by creating an avatar, entering some basic information and then deciding how they want to tackle the experience. The title offers both a nine-week workout routine with exercises scheduled for four days a week, as well as a three-week "cardio kick-start" option if you're severely out of shape and need to ease back into a workout routine. One of the smartest things about the game is that is slowly ramps up the difficulty and length of your workouts, continuing to press your fitness and helping avoiding any plateaus that can occur if you fall into the same routine for too long. For instance, starting off the nine-week program on hard intensity will see you doing routines that range from 25-30 minutes, with each exercise lasting roughly a minute; as you near the end of the program, though, the workouts inch closer to 45-50 minutes, and you'll also end up burning about 100 more calories due to increased intensity. This isn't some halfhearted exercise game; this is serious fitness.
The major new addition for Active 2 is the new motion-tracking system that both watches your movements and tracks your heart rate. Players now strap a sensor to each forearm as well as one to their right leg in order to get a rough picture of their limb positions during each rep. The new sensors are a big step up over the original tracking method used on the Wii, where users had to hold the Wiimote with one hand and either hang onto the Nunchuk with the other or stuff it into a thigh pouch. These hands-free devices are much nicer and allow for a whole new variety of exercises to be included.
As improved as the new sensors are, they're still far from perfect. While they do a fairly good job of tracking your movement, they also miss a lot of moves and don't allow you to count reps that you've successfully completed. I've had a lot of trouble on both lunges and shoulder raises as I've completed reps and my avatar has simply stood still while my trainer annoyingly kept telling me to hold still or move my arms. It often feels like the trackers respond to quick movements as opposed to actual body position, so it's often not a matter of doing an exercise right but rather doing it quickly. Xbox 360 owners likely won't experience such issues since Active 2 utilizes Kinect, but PS3 and Wii owners will likely have to struggle with a somewhat inaccurate game.
Another major problem is that while the game claims to have over 60 different exercises, most of them are just the same old thing disguised as something new and sexy. For example, the mountain biking trails are nothing more than squats, jumps and running in place, and basketball and soccer are really just lunges while pretending to hold a ball. It's nice of EA to try and trick you into thinking you're doing something fun while you're just holding a squat or lunge, but it's a thin ruse and easy to see through. Also, the upper body workouts are not very impressive, as they tend to focus on the back and shoulders and do little for major muscles such as the pectorals or biceps. Sure, you may do a set of push-ups off your knees or some basic hammer curls, but you'll do one set of each as opposed to four different exercises asking you to squat or lunge in some fashion. Ultimately, it's pretty unbalanced.
Active 2 also features a few other fitness tools such as a daily survey that helps track your healthy lifestyle choices as well as integration with the EA Sports Active online community. The nutritional diary is a bit of a throwaway, as the questions are too vague and the suggestions are mostly useless. The online aspect can be whatever you make of it, but for most folks, it will probably be an overlooked option that doesn't add much to the experience. If you're looking for a support group while you exercise, then it offers one. If nothing else, it's a nice extra.
The thing most people really want to know about a game like Active 2 is if it works, and that is also a bit of a mixed bag. If you're new to exercise or want to ease back into a routine, then this is a great tool, as it's designed with new users or those who have fallen off the wagon in mind. Folks who already get a regular workout may be less impressed, though, as there's only so much you can do without a proper set of weights or other resistance equipment. As an example, I'm starting my third week of the nine-week program and have so far burned 1,500 calories and lost about 2 pounds. These results aren't amazing, but they are somewhat substantial. I could probably be going a little harder or targeting specific muscle groups better if I were following a routine at the gym, but at least with Active 2, I know I'm getting a well-rounded fitness session that will challenge me but not leave me exhausted.
With Kinect and the new wave of full-body motion-tracking exercise games, EA Sports Active 2 is starting to feel a bit left behind in the fitness genre. For those without Microsoft's new peripheral, this title offers a decent way to get in shape without recurring gym memberships or the embarrassment of doing 5-pound dumbbell curls while the guy next to you rocks the 60-pound variety. Perhaps the best way to think of Active 2 is as a nice jumping off point, an introduction into the world of exercise that should help you kick-start your fitness goals. It won't turn you into a fitness cover model, but maybe you won't lose your breath by simply climbing the stairs.
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