If you can’t be bothered to head to London, but still want some Olympic excitement, London 2012, the official game of the event (one of them, anyway) has come to Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and OnLive. London 2012 delivers over forty events for you to compete in, blending a variety of sports into an intriguing cocktail.
As you’d expect there are plenty of events that focus on running about, and in reality this accounts for a fair share of the play. Saying there are forty games and then having a dozen or so that just focus on different ways you can run means there is really less variety than we are being led to believe. Dividing plenty of these sports by gender and then calling the different categories separate individual events exacerbates this exaggeration too. In reality there are really only twenty or so unique games, which is still plenty, albeit a fair way away from the original claim of over forty.
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Death to button bashing
That said, Sega Studios Australia, the developer of the game, has tried something different when it comes to play mechanics. Instead of making all of the running games simply about how fast you can hammer a button to get the most speed, you must tap rhythmically, filling up a power bar, but not overdoing it so your athlete gets fatigued. You are going to be faster if you tap with more regular timing as opposed to bashing the button as fast as you can, and this adds a more enjoyable element of skill to the basic running dynamic. As a consequence, winning many of the running races is quite simple. As long as you don’t jump the start and can lunge well when you cross the line the majority of the challenge is centered on your rhythmic tapping skill.
The track and field events that focus on foot speed are not exactly the most enjoyable of the games on offer, but they are also an essential part of the event so it would be remiss of the developers to omit them.
Thankfully there are plenty of other events and most of these are more enjoyable than the running events. Even while staying in the Olympic arena, more fun can be had with the other field events as triple jump, javelin, long jump, high jump and discus are all fun. Most of these events rely on timed button presses and using your joystick to indicate the correct angle for your jump or throw. These events work well even if, again, they probably aren’t the most complex of those on the roster.
London 2012 does let you follow the process of competing in any given event with a real time tutorial and these work well for the most part. A genuine “training” mode would have been a welcome addition though, as you can only perfect your skills while competing for real. You cannot practice by yourself and this is something that could have easily been included.
As you’d expect, there is a decent program of swimming events for you to compete in too. These events are similar to running in that they all feature a core game mechanic that is then repeated as you swim over various distances. There are subtle changes between events, but essentially each swimming event is the same as every other. This is necessary, but also means that along with the duplication in the running games the true variety on offer is further depleted.
That said the swimming system is quite enjoyable. There are button presses for starting and swimming underwater after your dive, and then you use your joysticks, as you mimic the “strokes” you'd be performing if you were actually in the pool. Again, timing is key. If you time everything well, a gold medal isn’t an impossible dream.
Simple and pretty
Diving is a different beast again. Here success is all about following the sequence of quick button press prompts as they flash on the screen. Nail these and you’ll ace the dive. It is a very similar process for gymnastics too. These two events are quite attractive to the eye, but you don’t feel that connected to the diver. You are only really controlling their movements very simplistically by ensuring that they get their pre-programmed sequence right by hitting buttons in the right order. These events become a tad boring over time.
Thankfully there are some events that are mighty good fun. One of the most enjoyable of these is table tennis. At first you might feel that the game lacks proper use of perspective. The table is certainly a little too small on screen for my liking. However, once you adjust there is plenty of solo and multiplayer fun to be had as the controls are precise and you can enjoy some tense rallies.
The shooting and archery events are also winners. The pistol and bow are both a lot of fun to use and the pressure to be accurate while firing quickly is immense. Archery is doubly difficult as you have to account for factors like the wind as an added challenge. The mechanics for both these modes are precise and you’ll find play satisfying.
Kayaking is also more fun than you’d expect as you try and guide your craft through the gates in the quickest time possible as you are buffeted about the course.
Other sports that should be fun are a disappointment. In particular beach volleyball is a bit of a shocker as you end up being a spectator for a lot of the time as your players react automatically and you just hit the attack button when the time comes to spike or serve the ball. The nuances of movement and shot choice are dumbed down terribly. As you play in pairs you only get to control half of the duo. Consequently you watch half of the time as your partner does their thing.
If you are feeling like being more than an armchair athlete the game is Kinect enabled, but sadly most of the events don’t play well as the Kinect controls lack the precision needed. This is particularly true when playing the shooting games and those that require accurate directional input like javelin.
There are options to play individual events, play as a nation and compete in many events, and you can select a personalized playlist of events too. On top of this there are less serious versions of many sports in party mode. For example you can do some shooting, firing at clay targets that are hurled at you as you fire wildly with unlimited ammunition, which can be great fun.
Despite all of these niggling issues, London 2012 isn’t a bad game. Indeed it is easily the best Olympics video game to date. The presentation is impressive. The athletes are well animated and the various stadia look very much like their real world counterparts. On top of this the context sensitive commentary is fluid and engaging, if repetitive.
The game really comes into its own when you play with a friend. In multiplayer or party modes you’ll have a lot more fun as you aren’t easily crushing mindless computerized drones, but are instead beating your mates.
This is a game to be briefly enjoyed and as such it is a pleasant distraction.