Back in the very early years of school, no one liked being picked last in P.E. Together with sitting at the front of the class, not having a Man Utd lunch box and girls with their ‘cooties’ it was something we all hoped to avoid. There was always a sense of inner failure at trudging to one side of a team because you were the last possible choice left. Athletics was one of many sports that glorified the fit and for most it was a sport you’d have to enjoy from a sidelined position, or in view of everyone else sprinting off into the distance for the wilfully determined and/or stupid. But even if you take no interest in athletics, it’s impossible not to know of the Olympics be it through magazines, friends or even in the news for reasons that have nothing to do with sport at all, (as this year’s event will attest).
But if there’s one thing videogames do – and well – it’s immersion and letting you believe that any ordinary person is capable of extraordinary feats of greatness. Who needs four hours of strum and finger plucking practice a day when you can become a rock God with a plastic guitar? And with that mantra in mind – why spend hours on the running track developing absurd levels of speed; strength and agility when a world record is just a quick tap of the fingers away? So welcome to this year’s Olympics for the lazy, where everyone of all shapes and sizes are welcome – just don’t bust a neck muscle in the excitement.
If Beijing 2008’s main menu was the opening ceremony I’d have left for the car park early, tearing up my ticket on the way. You’d be forgiven for thinking SEGA, in the hope of rediscovering their glory days, transported players back to the ’90s with presentation no longer acceptable on current gen hardware. It’s a ghastly eyesore at the worst of times, and not a whole lot more at its best. The in-game visuals barely make a podium finish either; both character models and stadiums are bland and jaggy, not a promising sign when the game constantly makes of use of camera close-ups of your athlete’s robot like expression, to the tune of generic pop-rock anthems.
There are a number of events split into specific categories (track, field, aquatics gymnastics, shooting and other) – all requiring either rapid fire finger tapping, well timed pressing of specific buttons, analogue stick to eye coordination – or occasionally, all of the above at the same time. There isn’t much variation between disciplines; for instance, the only difference between the 400m and the 100m sprints is that the former lasts about 30 seconds longer. But as you’d expect, practice makes perfect and players are able to get intimate with any of the events for as long as they want before heading off to the Olympic games or competitive play online through training. It’s also always quick to inform you of your progress in comparison to others’ around the world, and while this is a useful feature in theory, practically, it soon grates as loading times plague proceedings in between the actual game play. It’s all the more absurd when it becomes apparent that the loading times are just as long as some of the actual disciplines.
As previously mentioned, there are two main game modes for players to hop, skip and jump through. The Olympic games is a single player ‘adventure’ of sorts which follows your progress throughout the qualifying season right until the big event itself. In between actually playing you’re able to customise and upgrade your athlete in a number of areas ranging from speed and power, to how much slow motion time you can have. Again, in theory it’s a nice idea but it begs the question of why players should bother falling way short of world record distances through no fault of their own ‘skill’, when they can become world-beaters and record holders in other modes with the same effort. Unfortunately, the game just isn’t fun enough to play the ‘satisfaction’ card this time around.
Online competition is certainly a step up from playing on your own, and works rather well when you can actually find a game; pulling away from other human opponents in the last stretch is certainly a fist pumping moment. Regrettably, games – let alone decent ones – are few and far between, and seeing a field of players zip across the track in a stuttered frenzy stops being amusing very quickly. In a sport where fractions of a second make a world of difference, button lag amongst other performance issues really can ruin it all.
In the year 2008, with the flurry of groundbreaking titles laying the foundations of what has been coined by many, a “golden period” in the videogaming industry – archaic button mashers such as Beijing 2008 just aren’t relevant anymore. It goes against everything modern games stand for on the current generation of consoles: progression, innovation, and most importantly – entertainment, of which this title severely lacks. Much like the Olympics being held in China, this game was a mistake.