|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Eurocom||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SEGA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 8, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4 (online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Konami's Track & Field arcade cabinet came out in 1983. It was a blend of Olympic-themed, multi-sport action characterized by manic button pressing won a lot of gamers over (especially when the game was ported to the NES).
Here we are, 25 years later, and many Olympic-based video games have come and gone, but has there really been any real evolution of the gameplay? Developer Eurocom acquired an official license for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has secured it again for this year's host city Beijing. Beijing 2008 forgets to nail the one area it needs to most controls and this results in a lackluster experience.
There's a caveat that should be thrown out there in the name of fairness: most developers struggle to get a single, sports-themed game right (such as basketball or football). Any group that takes on the Olympic Games has a monstrous challenge they've got to nail a plethora of events. The compromise that usually ensues involves boiling down the events into mini-games that utilize a simple control set. Beijing 2008 is no different in this regard you can select from 32 countries and compete in close to 40 events, each with its own unique controls. 360 owners can jump in from the get-go, but those with PS3s have to sit through a 1.6 GB install before things get under way.
The majority of events stick to the same buttons you'll be twirling the analog sticks and mashing the shoulder buttons, while some events throw in the face buttons for timed button presses. The decision for all the events to utilize similar control sets must have been intentional on the part of Eurocom and the rationale makes sense: don't make players memorize completely different control mappings for each event. Yet, this actually backfires in a weird way. All the events have such similar controls that you'll end up doing something from the last event thinking it corresponds to the current one. There's only one solution: you've got to play the events continually until you build up muscle memory in your fingers.
Since Beijing 2008 is such a control-centric game (if a sports game doesn't feel right, it's no fun), it's worth taking time to describe areas where it excels and falters. Most of the race-based events such as cycling, the 50m freestyle, the 100m breaststroke, and 100m track rely on how fast you can alternately mash two buttons back-and-forth. This may initially seem like a fun mechanic, but on longer races it can get tiring quickly, and since there's no other way to build speed or maintain power, the fun factor drops quickly. Also, the power meter seems to fluctuate randomly. Sometimes you'll barely be tapping the buttons to maintain (or increase) your speed, while other times you're nearly breaking your controller to stay out of last place. Cycling mixes things up by allowing you to have multiple team members and swap them out based on a fatigue level, but since the game does this automatically, the idea seems wasted. Longer track races also utilize a fatigue meter, but it's just for show. You can't really slow down to rest, so you just keep hammering away on the same two buttons until your fatigue meter refills.
Bad controls aren't limited just to race-based events. The canoeing/kayaking event is next-to-impossible to control, and instead of worrying about going through the correct gate, you'll be lucky if you can even keep your vessel pointed in the right direction till you hit the finish line. From a control standpoint, Judo is the most difficult to understand. You hit directions based on, on-screen cues, but after that you're left wondering how to flip and pin your opponent. The computer never flat-out tells you how to accomplish it, so you just mash the face buttons hoping for victory. The diving events allow you to pick a particular kind of dive but have a horrible ring-based system. When it's time to jump, two rings appear on the screen. Each contains a ball that you have to keep within a colored area by moving the analog sticks. There's only one problem the balls move in opposite directions and the analog stick sensitivity is way too susceptible to the slightest bit of force, making it a grueling process. There's one more control problem area: events that utilize throwing such as the shot put, discus, hammer, and javelin throws require you to rotate the sticks, build up to a proper angle, and then release the appropriate object. Good luck accomplishing this without fouling (by stepping over the line) or actually getting any decent distance.
Event-wise, it's not all bad. There are a few gems in the mix. Anything revolving around a shooting mechanic like archery, skeet shooting, and the air pistol works well. Archery involves determining your initial accuracy and compensating for wind, while the air pistol events require you to control your breathing. These all feel like real life elements executed properly. The accessibility of table tennis is nice. Nailing shots is rewarding (thanks to a power smash button) and keeping a rally going is satisfying. However, the real surprise in terms of solid controls and overall fun is the gymnastics events. The parallel bars, vault, rings, balance beam, and floor exercise might not conjure up a lot of excitement, but they're all interesting in their own right. Most of these events revolve around DDR-like mechanics, where you time button presses based on character movement. The way it all ties into the character animation makes it look and feel solid.