The eyes of the world were glued to the magnificent opening Olympic ceremony in London and what a spectacle it was with its eye-popping fireworks display, energetic dance routines and toe-tapping showcase of the best in British music, concluding with Paul McCartney’s hand-waving rendition of “Hey Jude.” Even the Queen looked like she slightly enjoyed herself, and she barely ever smiles.
The Olympic President and London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe both gave an empowering speech about sport and the important role it plays in society, causing chins to be raised with pride and rapturous applause from the 80,000 spectators and sporting stars in the arena. Ever since the Olympics kicked off, that buzz has continued through most of the events and there’s been an emotional response from fans and competitors alike, as well as a carnival atmosphere in many of the stadiums.
Capturing that energetically-charged atmosphere and intense competitiveness that encapsulates the world’s largest sporting event is extremely difficult in a videogame, so in many ways ‘London 2012: The Video Game’ appears a bit limp and unpolished in a number of areas when you compare it to watching such a dazzling array of talent in the arenas and the dramatic camera work that the BBC has put together to capture some magical moments.
However, London 2012 still proves to be a decent, if a little unspectacular, accompaniment to this year’s big sporting event. Though the graphics aren’t cutting edge and character animation is a little stiff, it’s a colourful and vibrant production with stadiums and arenas well detailed and some excellent, insightful commentary from Seth Bennett and Allison Curbishley. The highlight, however, comes from winning a gold medal and enjoying the celebration as an athlete drapes their country’s flag around their shoulders and does a lap of honour before stepping on the podium and grinning with pride as the national anthem plays in the background. Despite some flaws, this was always going to be London 2012’s winning moment as it stirs up National pride each time you win.
The main Olympic game mode sees players compete in 20 events against the CPU. Though it doesn’t cover every sport in the Olympics there’s a good range of disciplines ranging from track and field events to gymnastics. There’s no differentiation in terms of ability and skills between the competing teams, so choosing who you want to represent from the 36 available nations is simply a matter of where your allegiances lie. There’s a weak set of customisation options allowing you to tweak the appearance and the name of your athlete, but it feels tacked-on due to the lack of depth. There’s unlockable costumes too for those who care, but there’s really no need for such trivial features because trying to beat the Olympic and World records will be enough reward.
Prior to each day of the Olympic Games, there’s some flexibility in the events you choose as you pick two disciplines out of six before competing in a qualifying session in a bid to make your way into the finals and compete for a medal. The way things are set-up works well enough and racking up as many medals as possible is more than enough motivation to try hard. As you gain medals you get points, which can then be spent on retrying in areas where you failed, which kind of feels like cheating – the one thing, ironically, that the Olympics detest.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that SEGA wanted to focus on accessibility and allow anyone, regardless of gaming skills, to play London 2012. One way it has achieved this is by ensuring that none of the sports are too tricky to master or frustrating; after all, who’s going to play it for very long if they can’t win medals? We completed our first play-though on medium difficulty achieving Olympic records in most events and coming away with more gold medals than the British team would ever dream of.
Track events are incredibly simple to pick-up, requiring nothing more than a tap of the ‘X’ button while trying to keep the meter steady within a small area to maintain optimal pace. Overshoot the meter and the runner slows down. The system feels a little weird in the 100 metres race when you think you should be able to slam down on that button like crazy, but it works well enough in the longer race events where it’s more about pacing. Overall, the race events are good fun, but we do prefer the old ‘Daley Thompson’s Decathlon’ style of running where you just hammer alternatively on two buttons until your fingers drop off.
Field events, including long jump, triple jump, javelin and discus are a little trickier to master initially, requiring you to push the analogue stick at exactly the right time and achieve the optimal angle to throw a projectile or jump. There’s a very small margin of error too, but you get multiple tries in each event, so after a few throws you soon learn to get the timing right.
Sega has mixed the control scheme around for other events, which ensures the games don’t become too repetitive. In swimming, for example, you move the analogue stick as if they were arms, which feels very natural in the pool. Kayaking and canoeing require a bit more skill; and it’s good fun trying to use your paddle to navigate your way around some great looking courses. There’s a few stinkers too, with weightlifting requiring nothing more than the ability to wear out your buttons, but the variety of games on offer, which also include beach volleyball and table tennis, ensures there’s lots of variety and something that everyone will enjoy.
Outside of Olympic mode there’s some decent options too with up to four players able to take part in ‘Events’ and ‘Party Play.’ The ability to customise your line-up of events and play them in any order you wish is also a bonus. The real gem of London 2012 though is the online mode where you can play for National pride against real players and compete for world records. Admittedly, we’ve often struggled to find anyone online (which seems a little strange) but when you do get into a game it feels much more serious and exciting than playing against the CPU and more in line with the competitive nature of the Games.
London 2012: The Video Game isn’t quite the gold medal winning game it perhaps could have been, but SEGA certainly deserves a bronze medal for its efforts. There’s a good range of events to get stuck into and it’s presented very nicely. Though it lacks a certain finesse and polish in some events, we’d be surprised if London 2012 didn’t stir up feelings of patriotism by all those who take part.