After publishing an array of Track & Field titles for Sony's PlayStation console, Konami puts its best foot forward with ESPN International Track & Field on the PlayStation 2. Utilizing the raw power of the PlayStation 2 hardware, the game leaps out with smooth 60fps visuals and a distinctly ESPN look, while also packing solid button-mashing gameplay. Grab your controller, a Multitap, and some friends - ESPN International Track & Field seeks to bring the thrill of competition into your home.
Initially, the game offers ten events: the 100-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, long jump, pole vault, javelin throw, 100-meter freestyle swim, weight lifting, horizontal bar, trap shooting, and rhythmic gymnastics. However, success in these can unlock two additional events: the hammer throw and the high jump. There's a trial mode for practicing and a championship mode for competition, but additional mode selections and character options are nowhere to be found. If you desire a create-a-player mode or custom team options, you won't find them here. Oddly enough, while the PlayStation 2 version of the game adds the rhythmic gymnastics event, it also loses the women's vault from the Dreamcast version.
Despite minimal features, International Track & Field rocks in terms of gameplay. Adhering to the double-tap control mechanics that Konami pioneered in the 1980's, International Track & Field is easy to pick up, hard to master, and physically tiring. Every event, whether it involves running or strength building, uses repeated tapping of the X and circle buttons to increase onscreen speed or power meters. When the meters reach a certain level, the up and down digital pad buttons or the L1 button serve as action buttons, enacting the necessary array of jumps, throws, lifts, crouches, reloads, and swings required by the game's 12 events. Response is quick and precise, and the use of alternating button presses isn't frantic enough to lead to frustration. One thing is for sure - thanks to the game's more relaxed mashing mechanics, the PlayStation 2 version of International Track & Field is a bit less painful on the appendages than the Dreamcast edition.
Thanks to its intuitive control, International Track & Field's renditions of the 100-meter dash, long jump, freestyle swim, pole vault, and hammer throw are better and more realistic than those of any other modern track and field game. Of special mention are the horizontal bar and rhythmic gymnastic events, which require you to do Dance Dance Revolution-style timed button presses in order to perform gymnastics movements. Since there's no use of analog controls for timing, the javelin throw and triple jump events in the PlayStation 2 version are also much more enjoyable than those in the Dreamcast release. Other than a lack of things to do in single-player mode, ESPN International Track & Field excels at all of the events it aims to portray.
In terms of visuals, the PS2 release of ESPN International Track & Field improves upon the Dreamcast release in most areas. Utilizing the PlayStation 2's additional horsepower, the game's stadiums, fields, and arenas are teeming with a plethora of minute details, such as blowing flags, flowing clouds, and Diamond Vision screens. Actually witnessing singular spectators moving about is rather impressive. The on-field visuals are crisp, never distracting, and always put the athlete at the center of attention. Konami motion-captured real Olympic hopefuls for the game, and it shows. The way each athlete walks, warms up, and moves in flight exudes an amazing sense of realism. Through an increased number of camera angles, a slick interface, and vibrant status indicators, the PlayStation 2 release also better conveys the trademark feel of an ESPN broadcast, at times resembling something you'd stumble across on ESPN2 at three in the afternoon. On the downside, though, the texture diversity is sometimes less than that of the Dreamcast version, and there is some visible jaggedness during the javelin, hammer throw, and running events.
Although the game takes advantage of the PlayStation 2's horsepower visually, it errs on the side of utilitarianism when it comes to sound. Each event has the requisite grunts, groans, footsteps, and landing effects one expects from an athletic competition game, but nothing in the way of environmental noise. Some background music or in-event stadium noise would have been nice, although hearing grown men groan, grunt, and strain is nevertheless pleasing.
As the PlayStation 2's only current track and field game, International Track & Field is an excellent first attempt. Future releases will hopefully improve upon the situation with more events and diverse character creation features, but this release is remarkably sufficient. Despite a few rough edges, Konami has nailed it when it comes to gameplay and fun.