Unless you've had your head wrapped in a cultural blackout blanket, you'll have noticed that the UK is gearing up for perhaps its most sport-filled summer since the 1966 World Cup. As hosts of the 2012 Olympic Games, all eyes will be on London as the capital is flooded with the world's greatest athletes. Letting even the most slovenly couch lover get a glimpse of gold medal glory are SEGA, who have put together this year's official tie-in game, the awkwardly titled London 2012 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games. We put our thumbs through their paces at a preview session of the game while 35 storeys up the BT Tower. Read on for our initial thoughts!
Athletics video games have a long and sometimes patchy heritage. For every amazing Konami Track and Field game or Daley Thompson's Decathlon, there's a Nagano Winter Olympics or Mario and Sonic cash-in. With London 2012 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games however, SEGA seem to be on track to walking the fine line between depth and playability.
30 events in all are playable (including old favourites like 100m Sprint and Javelin alongside newcomers like Keirin cycling and 10m Synchronised Platform diving events), each supported by a host of online and offline multiplayer modes. While we were unable to test the feature, both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions will have motion controlled events, chosen for and tailored to the different advantages of the Kinect and Move controllers respectively.
Visually rather impressive as far as these sort of games go, each event saw athletes fully motion captured for spot on animations, while the digital recreations of each event venue are 100% accurate, built from the very same CAD architectural blueprints that the site builders themselves used. In some cases, the in-game venues are ready before their real-world counterparts, with the SEGA team's digital representations now being used as reference points.
Rather than going down the all out button-mashing-at-top-speed route, SEGA have tried to inject a little bit more patience and technique into each event. While many will still see you frantically tapping a dash or speed boost button, you'll also have to make sure your athlete doesn't peak too early in a race by hitting dangerous "red" speed levels, and carefully time finish line lunges, hurdle jumps, throws, dives and all manner of other appropriate actions. As you'd expect, each event has a slightly varying control method, but all are often simple enough to get to grips with after one or two goes thanks to cleverly placed onscreen prompts and pre-event tutorials.
We tried a handful of events at the preview showcase for the game.100m Sprint was the most familiar of all; playing on the Xbox 360, it was simply a matter of tapping the A button at a decent rate (but not so fast as to over exert our athlete), before leaning the left stick forward for a photo-finish lunge. 110M Hurdles worked in much the same way, but required a well timed, held push of the left stick to clear each obstacle. Both worked well, and we were quickly dashing away at respectable speeds.
Swimming events took a slightly different approach. Diving with A and breaking away underwater with rapid A button taps, it was more of a rhythmic event, pulling back and forth sequentially on the left and right analogue sticks. Patience and skill were more important here than RSI-inducing movements.
Javelin was pretty standard fare if you've played track and field games before, building a run up with the A button before pulling back on the left analogue stick to pick a throwing angle and releasing it to hurl the javelin. Our throws were pretty pitiful, suggesting field events may take a little longer to master than track ones.
We then tried two of the more unusual events in the game. Trampolining played out a little like Parappa The Rapper, hitting increasingly more complicated onscreen button prompts in a rhythmic fashion to impress the judges. Beach Volleyball was fairly involved and may be one that casual gamers could struggle with, playing similarly to a stripped-back Virtua Tennis game.
All in, it was very enjoyable, and a gaming experience that we're sure would be exponentially more fun with pals. With the options to create playlists of your favourite events, as well as wacky party spins on the standard event formulas, many an afternoon with family and friends could be lost here.
From what we've seen so far, SEGA have nailed a happy balance between skill-based gameplay and "pick-up-and-playability", a key factor if you're going to get the party crowd on board. We love a good track and field game at Tech Digest, and so far SEGA's efforts here look really promising. We're looking forward to getting our mates around, getting some beers in and racing away for a full review before the game's 29th June release date on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.