The Olympic Winter Games are taking place in Vancouver early next year, and already we've seen Mario and Sonic tackle the Ski Jump and Skeleton in the name of the international sporting event. Those who like their snow-based 'Track and Field' games with a bit more realism need look no further than SEGA's complimentary title, Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game Of The Olympic Winter Games.
Yes, that's the full name of the game, and saying it in conversation can almost be an Olympic event in itself. I was invited to test my mettle against a whole range of athletic modes ahead of the game's release next month.
Unlike some of the more athletic writers of SPOnG, I'm not the kind of guy who really gets physical with the winter sports (I'm not saying I'm chunky or anything, mind you). So, playing a game that replicates the events instead of going out and doing it myself sounds right up my street. First up was Skiing, which is pretty straightforward. You have a hill, and you slide down it. Sometimes you'll need to slalom through gates, sometimes it's just a simple race to the finish.
In true SEGA arcade fashion, the controls aren't too complicated. The X Button starts you off, and then the L2 and R2 triggers help you corner effectively while the analogue stick flails your virtual body about a bit. It's all very therapeutic in a strange way, if you want my opinion (which you probably do, seeings as you're reading this) – no fierce action, just a gentle glide from top to bottom.
Ski Jumping's a bit more death-defying, and there are several factors that can help you achieve the Gold medal. First, the X Button selects the wind direction as a compass dial frantically swings from one point to another; then as you shoot down the slope you hold X to charge your jump, and let go to leap at the right time. Whilst in the air, L2 and R2 keeps your balance, and then pressing X again will see you land.
I muffed up several times, which resulted in my character (from Armenia, apparently) ended up crumpling into into a heap. The IOC – the body that runs the Olympic Games – wouldn't allow SEGA to implement 'real-time damage', which is just as well really because by this point I'd have had to be flying through the air in a wheelchair.
What SEGA was allowed to do was stretch the 'reality' of the Games a little bit, so in Vancouver 2010
you'll be able to play challenges focusing on specific goals in various events. They're a bit 'wacky' in that the IOC probably would have drop-kicked the studio for suggesting the kind a couple of years ago, but apparently the organisation has become a bit more flexible.
The missions themselves aren't so freaky that you'd be comparing them to Katamari Damacy
though – they range from time-attacks to landing in a specific zone in the Ski Jump.
Other events I tried included Snowboarding, which was more difficult than it looks as you slalom around flags to beat a CPU opponent to the finish line; the Skeleton and the bob-sled, which is quite fun to play as you drive yourself into the curves and gain ultra-speed. I asked, by the way, and Jamaica does not have a bob-sled team, unfortunately. Maybe we'll get some John Candy DLC in the future.
One last event I tried was Speed Skating, and this was like something straight out of a rhythm action game. You turn the corners of a (very short) racing ring with the trigger buttons, and press the X Button with the right timing on the straights to gain speed. As with real life sport, I was sucking some major egg, until the friendly SEGA chap informed me of the first person-mode.
'First-person mode? Pff. I don't need a nauseating first person mode,' I thought, but boy was I wrong. Turns out the studio has tried to think of ways to make such a feature useful, so when you take the alternative viewpoint you begin to see on-screen button prompts to help you win the event. In the case of Speed Skating, instead of waiting for my character's hands to weave left and right to hit the X Button, I could just hit the first person view and see X buttons fly towards me like a Guitar Hero chart. Made life much easier.
Running on a PlayStation 3 hooked to a high-definition TV, the graphics looked absolutely stunning – blue skies and glistening snow underlined the vivid colours that were on show in my playtest. With a faithful recreation of stadiums and event locations to boot, Vancouver 2010 really is a game that you can play with some mates – and show off that HDTV at the same time.
Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game Of The Olympic Winter Games (phew) arrives on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on the 15th January.