Ah the sweet smell of Gold, Silver and Bronze fills the air yet again as countries around the world ready their very best athletes to face one another for the unrivaled, nationalistic glory that each Olympic event can bring. Another Summer Olympics means yet another video game that attempts to bring the competitions onto our consoles. But is this more of the same tried and true formula that weíve seen in the past? Button mashing and power meters galore, Beijing 2008 is mostly more of the same but it does bring a couple new flavors into the genre to freshen things up and ultimately create a decent Olympic arcade experience.
The menu screen is very snazzy but also functional with almost a ďGRID-esqueĒ feel to it as each choice is rendered fully in 3D and gently sways back and forth to the Chemical Brothers inspired beats thumping away in the background. When you select the option you want the game transitions into your next set of selections nicely with more 3D twists and turns. It all looks extremely clean and well-done.
An ongoing and welcomed theme for the latest batch of sports titles on the 360 is truly enhanced visuals that appear to be taking full advantage of next-gen consoles and their graphical prowess. Beijing 2008ís events all look and feel authentic. Each athlete has a brief cutscene prior to their event where they will wave to the crowd, check their weapon, or whatever they need to do prior to their performance. The athletes themselves do not appear to resemble the real-life athletes who are competing this year however. Michael Phelps isnít here, there is no Usain Bolt or Shawn Johnson which definitely hurts the personality of the game. Itís tough to get too excited about the faceless (not literally) competitors and it would have been nice to recognize some names and faces here and there. Perhaps EA could create their own Olympics game and call it Michael Phelps 2009 and buy up all the necessary contracts. The crowds are basic but cheer when expected in a realistic fashion and well. The venues where each event is held all look spectacular and include faithful recreations of the Beijing National Stadium and Beijing National Aquatics Centre.
The main menu allows you to practice various events individually or in groups, enter into a competition, compete in your very own Olympic tournament (as a country), customize a given countries competitors (although the level of customization of limited to pre-rendered faces), check out the XBL leader boards and adjust various game options (sound and commentary). Itís all very simple and nothing really jumps out at you as being particularly new or impressive as it is basically all the things youíd expect to see in this type of game.
There are only 32 given countries to select from including all the big guns (i.e. USA, China and Russia) and some smaller countries such as Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas. Itís a shame they couldnít pump the game chock full of all the participating countries (thatíd be 205 total) because Iím sure there are plenty of people out there who jump at the chance to control the Marshall Islands or Tuvalu right? OK maybe not but itíd still be a nice inclusion. Most of the countries are European but some notable exceptions include Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The events are split up into 7 Track, 8 Field, 6 Aquatics, 6 Gymnastics, 3 Shooting, and 6 other disciplines. See below for a breakdown of what is included in each discipline.
Track: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 110m Hurdles, 110m Hurdles.
Field: High Jump, Pole Vault, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Shot Put, Discus Throw, Hammer Throw, Javelin Throw.
Aquatics: 50m Freestyle, 100m Backstroke, 100m Butterfly, 100m Breaststroke, Diving - 3m Springboard and 10m Platform (both diving events are womenís events).
Gymnastics: Parallel Bars, Vault, Rings, Floor Exercise, Beam, Uneven Bars.
Shooting: Shotgun - Skeet, 10m Air Pistol, 2m Rapid Fire Pistol
Other: Archery, Weightlifting + 105kg, Cycling - Team Pursuit, Canoe-Kayak - K1 - Kayak Single, Judo (81-90kg), and Table Tennis (singles).
Itís not a bad selection overall with 36 different events. If your favorite event isnít included here youíre obviously going to be upset but considering the variety of choices and the different gameplay elements found it is still impressive. It isnít entirely clear why some events (i.e. table tennis??) were chosen over more popular ones (i.e. beach volleyball or boxing) but the game doesnít really suffer too much because most of the events are pretty solid.
The good news for those who arenít fans of the de-facto control schemes seen in Olympics video games is there are many events that do not require you to sacrifice your controllers and fingers. Although each event has its own special control scheme a large portion of the events use variations in button mashing (i.e. press A then B repeatedly), stick waggling (i.e. rotate LT clockwise and RT counterclockwise) and synchronized button presses (i.e. X, B, A in time with a runnerís steps). Other events such as diving require you to move the sticks in unison with two colored dots around the diver representing the LT and RT. Iím a bit anti-button mashing so the events that forced me to jam A and B wildly to gain speed really turned me off (you can imagine how fun a 400m event or longer is). Fortunately those events also have an alternate method of control which involves rotating the right and left sticks but even that gets old pretty quick. A few of the events will have you scratching your head for a bit while you try to figure out exactly what they are asking you to do. Although you are sometimes given a brief tutorial prior to the start, it isnít totally clear even from these careful demonstrations what you should be doing with your fingers. This trial and error period is a huge turn off but I found that once Iíd finally determined exactly what I was being asked to do that game quickly became fun again. For the most part the events are decent but there are a few that warrant mentioning as being considerably poorly implemented. The judo and table tennis events are really a bore to play though and donít seem to offer much in the way of a challenge. Part of the problem is that these events are terrible in comparison to say a good fighting game (i.e. Fight Night Round 3) or Rockstarís Table Tennis which can offer a wide variety of challenge and skill. If SEGA had really tried to offer a different take on these events they might have been able to come up with something worth playing but the fact is they feel like terrible versions of other much better games.
Replay Value / Longevity: 65
If you have a group of friends to compete against and youíre all around the same skill level this could be a good game for you. Of course youíre limited to 4 local players but online you can go against up to 7 other people though XBL. While this does add some much needed replay value, it is really tough to recommend this game as a single player experience. The Olympic tournament isnít very fun to play all the way through as youíre simply whisked away to each new event after completing the previous one following a short medal presentation. It didnít hold my interest in the slightest and I quickly moved back to playing other sports titles Iíve owned for months in favor of Beijing 2008.
If youíve been a fan of previous Olympics video games youíll probably find this game as one of the best. The combination of stellar graphics with a bunch fun and exciting events make it an excellent choice for someone who is already a fan of the genre. For the casual gamer however there are lots and lots of better games out there and this one doesnít really justify a purchase. Iíd recommend it as a rental while the games are going on so you can scratch a possible Olympic video game itch that you might get watching Phelps make Olympic history. But if youíre looking for a sports title that will stick you to your couch for the next couple months this is not it. Overall Iíd give Beijing 2008 the silver medal as an Olympics video game, because while it has fantastic visuals and a majority of good events it just doesnít innovate the formula enough to make it a must-have sports title.