I headed to Utah’s Olympic Park to get hands-on with several of the events in Sega’s upcoming Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games (try saying that three times fast), which launches in time for the upcoming festivities in the Great White North. Several Olympic athletes were on hand to check out the game, so read for both their take and ours.
Going Downhill – Not In A Bad Way
With so many big games coming in early 2010, games like Vancouver 2010 have a challenge in getting on gamers’ radars. Sega recently figured out a novel way to draw some attention to this multi-event Olympics title: inviting the gaming media to get a first hands-on at the site of the last Winter Games, Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. Surrounded by athletes training for February’s games in Vancouver, I was allowed to get hands-on with four of the game’s 14 events: Two-Man Bobsled, Snowboard Cross, Ski Jump and Downhill Skiing.
The first event I played was bobsled, which simulates the downhill ice-track event with simple controls. After hitting the X button -- Sega was demoed the game on PS3 -- to build power and jumping in the sled with the Circle button, all the player needs to do is steer the sled down the track -- but there’s a catch. It’s a two-man team, so you control both athletes with the left and right analog sticks, leaning them in unison to master the track’s curves. Picture a lightning-fast version of Katamari Damacy and you’ll get the idea.
The speed and accuracy of the in-game Olympic bobsled track drew the attention of several nearby bobsledders, who came into the warming house where the event was being held between their runs. Those who played it seemed to be impressed with the authenticity of both the controls and the layout of the track. According to John Napier, pilot of the USA three-man bobsled team, “It’s kind of creepy, because the start house and the building next to it are pretty factual. The whole first half of the track is dead on as far as the height and length of the corners and everything. Down near the bottom, there are a few little discrepancies, but even still it’s really dead-on. It’s pretty cool.” He was equally impressed with the feel of the bobsledding mechanic. “I actually got nervous at one point,” he said. “It was a ‘50/50’ corner, curve 13, and I got down there and I was a like ‘oh boy, it’s bringing up old memories!”
After the bobsled event, I moved on to Ski Jump, a first-person plummet down Vancouver’s giant hill. Despite impressive graphics that convincingly put you in the boots of a champion jumper, the gameplay for this event is little more than a series of timed button presses to launch, build power and land. Despite the simple gameplay, the Ski Jump event fostered the hottest competition of all the events.
The final two events, Snowboard Cross and Downhill Skiing, were similar to each other in substance, yet still felt distinct from one another. Both game types focus on steering your athlete, building speed by crouching, and navigating corners by carving. The game mechanics for the two were the same: hold R2 to crouch, hold L2 to carve. Snowboard Cross also requires to jump at the top of kickers with a button press, and each can be played in first or third-person. The strength of these two games is the simplicity of the controls combined with the quality of the presentation. Especially in the first-person view, these events do a great job of putting you in the shoes of the athlete. The graphics are sharp, the sound of snow crunching under your board or skis is convincing, and the combination of camera shake and motion blur creates a very real sensation of speed that make these two events feel like a racing game. The controls respond nicely and give you a good amount of instant feedback, scoring you on individual jumps or gates so you don’t have to wait until the end of the event to gauge how you’re doing.
Although I only played a small number of events from the final game, I left Sega’s Vancouver 2010 event impressed with what I’d seen. All four games were easy to learn but tricky to perfect, the graphics were universally impressive and courses on display seemed accurate to their real-world counterparts. I don’t expect it to steal the spotlight from the other mega-titles on the way early next year, but fans of the Olympics or Sega’s previous Olympics games will be very pleased to hear how nicely Vancouver 2010 seems so far.