Ah, the Olympics. It isn’t half bad once you leave aside its inherent affinity for catastrophic debt and white elephants. So while the legacy of this year’s sporting extravaganza will unfortunately (but most likely) trend towards the experiences of previous host cities, the official videogame’s fate sadly isn’t much different either.
As you’d expect, London 2012 – the game, that is – doesn’t stray far from established conventions. It’s a collection of mostly well done mini-games that can be played either individually or in local multiplayer. What developer Sega Australia has done differently though, is structure these mini-games into a campaign of sorts – one where you pick a country to represent and playthrough ten days of sporting competition, and try and top the medals table by the end of it.
You’re in for disappointment right off the block however, as the developers only saw fit to include a paltry selection of countries to pick from at the start of your campaign. And there’s no India anywhere. Sure, the game gives you a different athlete for each event and even lets you do a bit of minor character customization (including unlocking alternative clothing and changing their names), but the models themselves are all made of preset parts and it boggles the mind why they didn’t just add more flags, skin tones, and ethnic names.
That aside, the graphics are a lot better than you’d expect them to be. The stadiums are appropriately huge and there are enough incidental animations, officials, spectators and the media alike to make you feel like you’re participating in an honest to goodness sporting event. Your athlete’s animations are also well done and reflect your controller inputs to the appropriate degree.
I also found the commentary to be unusually good, with both Seth Bennett and Allison Curbishley making accurate calls, getting appropriately excited and generally selling the events well. The official (and godawful) London logo and branding is all over the place, with the TV style presentation filled with authentic looking wipes, transitions and graphic overlays. It’s also worth noting that at no point does the illusion break – animations transition seamlessly from pre-event to post-event to the medal ceremonies (national anthems included), and the editing and camera angles (including replays) are all television quality.
The campaign requires you to choose a couple of sports from a list for each of the ten days of competition. You then go through one qualifying round for each sport, and a final round providing you’ve qualified for it. There are 40-odd sports to choose from (split into track & field, swimming and driving, shooting, gymnastics, archery and other sports), and while that sounds like a big enough number, keep in mind that a lot of them are variations of the same event types (albeit with subtly varying controls). So there are multiple swimming and track events for instance, some of which require you to jump a hurdle, move your analog sticks in a different manner than usual, or conserve stamina over long distances.
Similarities aside, the breadth of events in the game still leaves you wanting more. While its understandable that including events such as basketball, football, boxing or tennis (and thereby going up against the FIFAs, NBA 2Ks, Top Spins and Fight Nights of the gaming world) would have been a fools errand, there were a whole lot of other smaller, lower profile sports that they could have been thrown in to beef up the roster instead.
To the game’s credit, the sports that are here don’t require you to button mash (aside from weightlifting). The keys to winning have more to do with tapping buttons or moving the analog stick at a rhythmic pace or tilting them at the right angle than old school brute force button hammering, so there’s some strategy involved as well. Events such as diving and gymnastics also let you choose increasingly complex routines that you then perform as a series of QTEs. Hit them all and you’ll nail a flawless routine and win the judges over. There’s a tutorial for each sport that’s thankfully always playable before you actually start the event proper.
Since you can only pick two sports a day over a ten-day campaign, there’s enough incentive for a second playthrough because you can then pick the ones you missed the first time round. Aside from the campaign, you can also play events individually, or create playlists of your preferred events. There’s also a local multiplayer party play mode where you compete in tandem or pass the controller round the couch. It’s fun enough and has a structure that’s very reminiscent of Kinect Sports.
And speaking of, The Xbox 360 version of London 2012 comes with Kinect support for party play. Not all events are included, and some of the implementations can be a bit dodgy in interpreting your movements, but it mostly works as advertised. Some of the events have also been re-structured into mini-games for the party play mode as well. It’s a distraction, and a fun one while it lasts.
It isn’t that London 2012 isn’t a good game. It’s really well made, much more so than you’d think. What holds it back however, is the fact that most of its events can be completed in a handful of minutes and not everyone would want to re-do them ad infinitum. Its works better if you have a group of friends to play against, but it’d be a stretch to call it a full price purchase even if that were the case. And that’s just the nature of the Olympics, really. A week of fun and you’re left with a questionable investment soon after.