Ah, the Olympic Games. Regardless of whether you’ll be watching it or not, the Olympics is always impossible to ignore, with extensive news coverage, the inevitable social network commentary and a smattering of merchandising. Of course, that means another iteration of the official video game, simply titled London 2012. The idea is simple: throw a whole bunch of Olympic sports into a package and let players go at it, whether by themselves or with their family and friends. Thankfully, the number of years between each Olympic Games means that gaming technology can skip ahead in the meantime, resulting in what should (technically) be a more enjoyable and immersive experience for the player.
If you’re not sure what I’m hinting at, I’m talking about Xbox Kinect functionality (and similarly, PlayStation Move functionality for the PlayStation 3 version of the game). Given the Kinect’s reasonably decent track record (ha) with sports games, it was inevitable that London 2012 would utilise it somehow. Impressively, developer Sega Studios Australia didn’t shoot themselves in the foot making Kinect functionality a feature in every aspect of the game; in fact, the Kinect sensor can only be used in Party events, encouraging hilarious shenanigans with up to three other players. Like most Kinect games, having a large playing space is essential, otherwise the sensor has the tendency to fail to pick up your movements. (If your intention is to make others feel awful, you can always accuse players beside you of cramping your sweet Olympic style.) If you’re not like me and know not to risk the room space to carve your path to glory, you can always go it alone and fight it out against 3 CPUs.
However, even playing alone presents problems due to the iffy Kinect controls, which I’ve unfortunately come to expect. It’s not a problem with how you’re meant to control your character – I thought these were very well thought out – but the actual implementation. As I mentioned before, the sensor fails to pick up precise movements which, in a game like this, is extremely important. I found table tennis to be a particularly bad event to play with the Kinect, with my paddle flipping out all over the screen each time I tried to do… well, anything. Table tennis and indeed, most of the other events fare much better when played with a controller. They certainly aren’t as imaginative in terms of controls, with a lot of the sports such as running and weight lifting comprised of pure button mashing. Others such as archery and diving are better, requiring a degree of skill and reflexes to get you a gold medal-winning score. I understand why the developers would have had to go down that route; there are a lot of events represented in London 2012, so expecting a level of complexity present in games such as EA Sports titles would be unreasonable.
London 2012 doesn’t have that many game modes, although the requisite Olympic Games mode is made a little more interesting with the help of a neat twist on online leader boards. Each medal you win for your country results in points on the National Pride leader board, a very clever idea that gives a real sense of competition and that will fuel your patriotism. However, you never really get the feeling that you yourself are participating in the games due to the lack of any real character creation mode, which would have been a very cool addition. There is a piddly little athlete customiser, allowing you to change their appearance complete, which smarts of an insult to the real life athletes. It does, however, give London 2012 a chance to show off its gorgeous character models and animation, even though the men’s outfits look uncomfortably… bulgy.
I actually had more fun than I was expecting to have with London 2012. Even though I have less than no chance of ever being an Olympic athlete, the game does a damn good job of conveying the atmosphere of the actual Olympic Games, right down to the inspirational music and annoying commentators. There are problems with Kinect functionality and gameplay is repetitive, but what can you expect from a game sent out into the world to rake in cash from merchandising? All this said, if my standard was a bar in the high jump event, then London 2012 has made it over pretty easily.