London 2012 game merits podium finish
London 2012. (Xbox360, PlayStation3, PC). Sega Australia. $89.
While other 80s kids may treasure memories of playing Pac Man or Space Invaders, the game that wiped out most of my childhood pocket money was the arcade classic Track and Field.
Developed by Konami, it was about as accurate a recreation as it was possible to get of the Olympics in 1986; reducing popular events such as the 100-metre sprint and high jump to a frantic bout of button-bashing and joystick wiggling that was the decade's second-most common cause of aching teenage wrists.
In the intervening 25 years, times and technology may have changed but the games industry is still struggling to find a way to recreate athletics in a way that convincingly captures the pride, passion and pain that the Olympic Games are famous for.
Every four years another tie-in is released to cash in on the brief boost in global popularity the Games creates, but so far there hasn't been much progression beyond the bashing of buttons introduced in the early years of gaming.
London 2012 is the latest attempt to try to push things forward, and the first thing that's noticeable about this Olympic effort is that the gameplay isn't entirely focused on destroying your $100 controller by pounding the buttons as quickly as possible.
Instead, a more rhythmic input is required, with top speeds achieved by filling a pace meter and keeping the level above a limit line without it overflowing. A much fairer, skill-based control scheme that offers a more enjoyable athletics experience than its Beijing predecessor.
As well as the traditional decathlon events, London 2012 also includes a vast array of sports that make up the more obscure end of the Olympic lineup. From white-water kayaking to beach volleyball and table tennis, the net is cast far and wide, resulting in a game that effectively corners the market for niche sports such as skeet shooting or trampolining that have previously been ignored by the world of video games.
The downside of this eclectic mix of 46 events is that none of them are covered in any real depth, with most of them resulting in easily accessible but simplistic mini-games that don't really reflect the levels of skill and complexity involved in their respective disciplines.
This approach works well on the events that lend themselves to pick-up-and-play fun - nailing the bull's-eye in archery or pulling off a record-breaking weight at powerlifting, for example - but highly technical sports such as diving or gymnastics are reduced to simply pressing buttons in sequence as they appear on screen and are less enjoyable as a result.
National pride is a huge part of any Olympic Games and the single player mode is built around taking control of one country over the course of the Games and competing for medals with rival nations from around the world.
The New Zealand team is available for selection, but if you were hoping to take control of Valerie Adams and co you'll be disappointed as no real-life athletes are included. It's possible to create your own, but customisation options are limited and my attempt to create a virtual Usain Bolt resulted in a sprinter that more closely resembled Barack Obama.
Difficulty levels are also annoyingly unpredictable, with some events practically giving away gold medals just for turning up and others a struggle to even qualify.
Most are relatively easy, though, and I managed to take Team NZ to the top of the medals table in my first playthrough - not the most realistic simulation but great fun for anyone who's always wanted to see Aotearoa reduce the likes of China and Australia to Olympic also-rans.
Multiplayer is where the game really comes into its own - challenging a group of mates to beat each other's personal best or competing for glory against other players online is a lot of fun and a lot more interesting than solo play.
Overall, London 2012 is an enjoyable, if inconsistent game that does a decent job of recreating the Olympic experience. While it falls short of gold medal standard, it's a comfortable podium finish and the best option yet for gamers looking for an athletics fix.
- © Fairfax NZ News