Every four years, a magical showcase invades a foreign city and steam-rolls onto our television screens. It’s an event unlike any other, where a nation’s worth is not judged by the size of their GNP or even the toys in their military, but rather on how far or how fast a few of their compatriots can jump, swim or run. Yes, my fellow gamers, the Olympic Games is almost here and there’s also a video game.
If the thought of an official video game based on the 2012 Summer Olympics leaves you eager to run for the hills and lament the state of the video-game industry, rest assured I sympathise. Sports tie-ins have had a chequered past, and much like with dodgy movie tie-ins, you generally know what to expect. The graphics are usually ropey and the game itself is nothing more than a seedy cash grab.
It’s for those exact reasons; I went into SEGA Studios Australia’s latest game expecting the worst. In fact, the day I received the game, I dusted off my custom-made Geoffrey Tim voodoo doll and poked it with a smelly sock. My mind was seemingly made up. A damning review was already being concocted in my head and SEGA’s London 2012 would pay for the unforgivable sins of past licensed games. I had it all figured out. It would be the review that caused a scandal. The one where the internet trolls would flood to the website, everyone would know my name and I too would be allowed to use the Lazygamer staff bathroom (instead of going in a bucket in the parking lot).
And then the unthinkable happened. I inserted the game into the PS3 and an unmistakable smile crept on my cynical and moustached face. All my preconceptions were for nought, and while the game is far from perfect, it’s not nearly the repugnant mess I was expecting. In fact, London 2012 is a decent game. It has a respectable events roster (over 40 events from at least a dozen Olympic sports). It even allows for the editing of athlete names and the option (albeit limited) for character customisation. If you really wanted to you could change every single athlete to resemble yourself (and like Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in the Dictator, you too can be a multiple gold medallist). If that’s too creepy, maybe this would be a good time to mention that the game provides an early glimpse at actual stadia. All of which have been authentically modelled.
While the menu and loading screens use motifs and design elements that will be used for the real event, the real surprise lies with the gameplay. Games based on the Olympics or similar events haven’t really changed their control system in decades, and if you’ve ever played Summer Games on the Commodore 64 or International Track and Field on the PSone, you will know that success depends on how quickly you can push a button. I had mentally prepared myself for frantic button-mashing. I even expected that one of my PS3 controllers would become an unfortunate casualty, a proverbial sacrificial lamb to the gaming gods. And yet, London 2012 was actually kind to both controller and fingers. It still features quick reflexes, careful aiming and finger gymnastics that’s worthy of a gold medal, but it’s definitely less torturous than similar games (like SEGA’s previous Olympic title Beijing 2008).
It also helps that each of the various events play differently. It’s not merely a case of bashing two buttons repeatedly and then taunting your friend for having the finger dexterity of a drunken sloth. For instance, swimming events require the use of the analogue sticks (to simulate swimming), and success in gymnastics rests on quick timing. Running does require you to repeatedly press the x button, but a nifty stamina management system keeps the button-mashing at a respectable level. Given the number of events and the different control schemes involved, the game would have felt a little overwhelming, however prior to starting any event, you can choose to play through a very helpful tutorial.
Events can be played individually or as part of a playlist of your favourite events. You can even engage in a medley of different events during the single player campaign, and push your favourite nation (obviously South Africa) towards gold medal glory. While most of the events are adequate, not all are equal in quality. I found myself enjoying the swimming, shooting, weightlifting and canoe slalom, whereas the gymnastics and diving events felt a little hit and miss. Granted, I can imagine that both are notoriously difficult to translate to a video game, but even the character animation and control scheme left much to be desired. Volleyball and table tennis are two other events that I felt a little disappointed with. Both events could easily have stolen the show. Instead, they feature simplified controls.
However, the presentation of events and even the medal ceremonies (with national anthems) are especially well done, and visually, London 2012 is without question, aesthetically pleasing. It’s not the best looking title on the platform, but it certainly puts a colourful and pleasing foot forward.
There’s less emphasis on finger-destroying, button-mashing antics. Instead, London 2012 takes a page from the rhythmically-inclined sector of the gaming world by mixing it up and delivering a delightful goulash of button-mashing, analogue stick molesting (that will even delight the non-gamers). PS: For a slightly different experience, dust off the old PS Move controllers. I know you want to.
London 2012 is a perfect party/braai game, and a decent middle-ground to stop your friend’s drunken girlfriend from insisting on torturing everyone with her Singstar performance. However, beyond basking in Olympic glory with your friends or playing the odd event alone, the game succumbs to that age-old issue, “replay value”. Once you’ve played through all the events, there’s not much there to keep you coming back for more. Online Multiplayer is also included, but it’s not nearly the hook this game so desperately needs.
Overall, London 2012 is a pleasant surprise. It’s a lot better than I expected, and as a tie-in to the real event (that should hit our TV screens in a week), it certainly got me excited for the Olympics. Sadly, the game is far from perfect, and some of the events (especially diving, volleyball, table tennis and gymnastics) could have benefited from more polish. Additionally, the move away from a control system that only ends up abusing your precious game controllers gets an approving nod from me.
Reviewed on PS3: Devoured with tea on Normal difficulty
Last Updated: July 16, 2012