When Athens 2004 hit the PlayStation 2 in July of this year, it seemed like a fairly uninspired but somewhat necessary exercise. The summer games had arrived, someone needed to make a new video game following in the tradition of Track & Field, and Eurocom was saddled with the task. Now it's November--time for the heavy winter coats and long nights--and in a rather baffling move, Athens 2004 is just now appearing on the PC. Aside from showing up well after the party is over, Athens 2004 for the PC has been gutted of its four-player support, as well as some of the more enjoyable minigames found in the considerably more relevant PlayStation 2 version.
Comparisons to Track & Field are easy to make here, simply because Athens 2004 is little more than a collection of athletically inclined minigames. There are 20 different events for you to compete in, and there are a variety of different ways for you to do so. There's a handy practice mode, which is absolutely essential for understanding the somewhat cryptic nuances of a few of the games. You can choose to compete in a one-off event or in a series of events, such as a decathlon or a heptathlon. If the prefabricated competitions don't suit your liking, you can also generate your own custom competition by cherry-picking the events that you enjoy the most. A big part of the appeal of Athens 2004 on the PlayStation was that it nurtured the inherently competitive nature of the games with full four-player support. This has been knocked down to two players on the PC, though single-system multiplayer just feels kind of out of place on the PC.
The events themselves include a decent cross section of competitions from the summer Olympic Games, including dashes of various lengths, hurdles, the long jump, the high jump, the triple jump, the pole vault, the discus throw, the javelin throw, the shot put, aquatic races of various lengths, weight lifting, archery, and skeet shooting. Gone is the equestrian competition, which felt like a really strange choice when it appeared in the PlayStation 2 version to begin with, but the complete absence of gymnastic events stands out as a big omission, especially considering the incredible popularity of those events in the real Olympic Games. The mechanics of most of the games in Athens 2004 boil down to mashing two buttons as fast as you can and occasionally tapping a third. But despite this extreme simplicity, the game's implementation of abstract, esoteric meters can make some of the events needlessly confusing, simply because there is not often an obvious correlation between what the meter represents and what's happening onscreen. Although what you're seeing onscreen changes, you don't get much sense of variety in the actual gameplay between these events.
Once you figure out the game's cryptic interfaces, it's just a matter of endurance. The game is an absolute nightmare on the fingers. Few other games these days are so demanding of continuous, rapid-fire button pressing, so if you're not used to this type of mechanic, you may well find yourself with cramped hands after playing Athens 2004.
By general standards, Athens 2004 isn't a good-looking game, though it is the most technically accomplished Olympic video game to date. Considering that the last time a comparable product came to the PC was with Eidos' miserable Sydney 2000, it's not much of a feat. To its credit, the game has a tidy look to it, and though it's fairly economic with the polygons, there are a few nice touches, such as the wobble in the high-jump bar as you pass over it, or the long-distance runners that continue to run laps in the background during various other track-and-field events. The game helps cement a TV-broadcast feel by constantly switching to different camera angles over the course of an event, and it makes liberal use of instant replays. The biggest problem with the graphics in Athens 2004 lies in the athlete models. Though the game lets you play as nameless, young athletes from literally dozens and dozens of countries around the world, the athletes all have exactly the same build, and they only alternate between a few different facial types and skin tones. This leaves you with a lot of really generic-looking athletes who often don't really look like they're from the country that they're supposed to be representing. The overall presentation doesn't hold up as well on the PC as it did on the PlayStation 2, largely because the textures haven't been enhanced any, revealing a lot of muddiness at higher resolutions that you simply couldn't see on a standard TV.
The sound is fairly subdued, with a few, occasionally silly-sounding, athletic grunts playing over some simple crowd noise loops. You'll also hear the crack of the starting gun, and you can hear the field announcer echoing through the park. Additionally, you're treated to an English-accented TV-style commentator. The commentator doesn't have a huge number of clips to draw from, and so he often ends up repeating himself. Occasionally his commentary isn't appropriate for the action, but he manages to mostly remain contextual and relevant. There are a few short clips of rock and funk that play during the instant replays, and there's a sort of regal-sounding tune that plays over the main menus. This is about the extent of the music that you can expect to hear in the game.
Athens 2004 is a lousy port of a console game of middling quality. The timing of its release is almost more of a liability than its technical aptitude, making Athens 2004 for the PC almost wholly irrelevant. The simplistic button-mash that comprises most of the gameplay at least felt a bit at home on the PlayStation 2, but the absolute lack of depth becomes apparent much more quickly when you're spending almost the entire game hitting three buttons on a full keyboard. Even if your fondness for the 2004 Olympic Games is at the level of mania, there's no defensible reason to buy Athens 2004.