It's that time again, when vague disinterest gives way to devoted nationalism and cries of "Gold!" As the Olympics draw closer, so does the release of the video game: Sega's London 2012 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games. We recently had the chance to sit down, suit up, and embrace our inner athlete. Featuring more than 45 sports across five different console platforms, there are plenty of ways to get your sporting fix. You'll be able to participate in a number of events, from cycling to synchronised diving, striving for Olympic greatness at the end of it all.
Thankfully, the controls in London 2012 are significantly improved, compared to previous Olympic video games. But while the once-infamous button-mashing events are far fewer in number, they still make an appearance. Quick-time events attached to sports, such as trampoline and vault, help capture the authenticity of the actions performed during the events. Artistic director Dean Ferguson stressed to us during our demo that it was particularly important to have the player feel as if they are directly involved in the success or failure of their athlete's performance. That said, while faithful, it took us a few tries (even with the aid of the tutorial) to figure out how to balance timing and precision to perform at our digital best.
Trying your hand (or legs) at hurdles requires you to push forward on the left analog stick, and tap "A" at the correct time to vault over the steel barricades. Missing the required timing sends your athlete's knees towards the obstacle at speed.
Sega has even gone to the lengths of setting up an in-house motion-capture rig at its Brisbane studio to help create realistic movement for the characters. The same attention to detail has been applied to many of the game's venues, digitally reconstructed using real-world blueprints, and helping give credibility to the "official" feel. Unfortunately, though, while they have gone to great lengths to capture the authenticity of the experience, the licence doesn't extend to permitting the developers to use the likenesses of real athletes. Where many players may have been looking forward to finally beating Usain Bolt at his own game, they will be forced to line up on the blocks with a virtual unknown.
Difficulty for each of the events is flexible for a range of skill levels, but, even on the normal setting, attempting to kayak down a white-water rapid was about as awkward on the Xbox as it probably is in real life. Because of this, the inclusion of both Kinect and PlayStation Move support is extremely clever. We suffered some unresponsiveness during events, but when they were working at full speed, we had much more fun shooting an arrow or batting back a ping-pong ball than we did performing the same action on a controller.
The Move controller is perfect for events that require the quick snap of a wrist, as the device mimics a paddle, while arms work just as well on the Kinect as your awkwardly positioned arms would with a real bow and arrow. The Kinect follows as you draw back your bow, and fires as you throw up your arms. It took some getting used to--not to just release our invisible arrow as you would a real one.
The great strength of London 2012, however, is not in its numerous sports or unique control system, but rather its alternative play modes. Next to classic single-player, the game introduces a party mode, where iconic sports such as archery have been changed up for something a little more lighthearted by featuring a rapid-fire version. In it, players compete for the highest score in a designated time. Add to this the online multiplayer functionality, and we can see players getting sporting enjoyment long after the torch has moved on to the next town. Sega has done a decent job at making a genuinely fun minigame compilation, even if only to let you mock your friends while they exert excessive force throwing virtual javelins about.
London 2012 is out on June 28 for the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3.