Beijing 2008 Review (Xbox 360)
Recently, sports gamers have fretted over the word "accessible" and what it means to video gaming in general. When a company strives to make a sports game "accessible," the common connotation is that it will be "watered down," made too "kid-friendly," or simply less authentic.
So, to their credit, SEGA hasn't made Beijing 2008 "accessible" in any of those senses.
Unfortunately, they also haven't made it accessible at all.
Think of just about any Olympic or Track and Field game you've ever played, and you have a good idea of what to expect: lots of events and lots of button-mashing. Beijing 2008 features 36 different events – although some, like the 100m, 200m, and 400m, are very similar. All told, there are 27 different controls schemes to learn over 13 fields of competition. However, some are much easier to master than others.
This is where that word "accessible" comes into play. Beijing works best as a party game, online or off. But so-called "casual" gamers may be turned off by the steep learning curve of some of the events.
It has been over 20 years and game developers still don't know how to change up the formula.
There aren't any interactive tutorials or on-screen graphics that help you during the events. The only way to know what to do is by watching an often too short film before the event, or by reading the manual.
Frustration will surely ensue after your wife's third attempt at the triple jump goes successfully until she launches her athlete at an 88 degree angle by holding the trigger a fraction of a second too long. So unless you have some very dedicated and patient friends, your party should find entertainment elsewhere.
So, Beijing 2008 is not as accessible as, say, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. Maybe it shouldn't be – that game already exists to serve the casual gamer market. But if it's not "accessible" as a group game, does the intense practice pay off as a single player experience?
Unfortunately, no; this aspect of the game is lacking as well. The only dedicated single player mode has you taking a country through the games, with some light RPG elements thrown in.
When you qualify for an event, you earn some points that can be used to improve your team in categories like stamina, speed, and agility. These apply to your whole team, although it's not clear how or who benefits from which enhancement.
Beijing 2008 features a variety of sports to play through.
You can deduce that speed will enhance your sprinters, but does it apply to a thrower's approach? You must also watch your team's fatigue level; points can be spent to "rest" your team.
The game boasts team "customization," but you are really just assigning one of about 15 generic athletes to each different event. In other words, your custom American team may feature "white guy #1" swimming, "Asian female #3" in the archery events, etc. I'm making up those labels, by the way, because you can't even assign names to the generic athletes.
Finally, if you don't satisfy a daily quota of qualifications, your progress is lost and you have to replay that "day's" competitions – regardless of your results in any individual events. Essentially, it's like dying in a shooter and having to restart the level from the beginning. Not very realistic.
If you do indeed have the right mix of people to play this game, or you don't mind a pretty basic single player experience, there are many things to like about this game.
Unfortunately, the game falls just short of doing great things.
Visually, this game is outstanding. The player models are very fluid for the most part, and highly detailed. You can evaluate how you did after an event based on the model's emotional display.
Water effects are particularly nice – a quick glance at any of the swimming events could convince anyone the Summer Games have started early. Celebrations, on-screen presentations, and a short interactive fireworks display are well done and fully support the Olympic theme. This game definitely looks and feels Olympic.
Some of the controls are different than past Olympic games, and utilize both analogue sticks at the same time, "balancing" a dot in a certain area, or simulating a throw with the flick of a stick. Even the ability to toggle a stick instead of pressing two buttons alternately is a blessing – although your controller might not think so. The mechanic for getting a "quick start or jumping the gun" while challenging, works well.
While some of the events are unique for a multi-sport game, it's these events that work the least. Controls in the table-tennis, Judo, and kayak events are done poorly. Shooting events are dull and the archery event play out like every darts mini-game you've ever played. Cycling is just a cross between swimming and sprinting.
It could probably be labeled a "niche" game, and for those people looking for this specific type of experience, it may satisfy your needs.
Being that this is an Olympic game, it's inherently not going to have the same level of interest as football or baseball (at least here in the States). It could probably be labeled a "niche" game, and for those people looking for this specific type of experience, it may satisfy your needs.
However, the best "niche" games, to me, fulfill that corner of the market while serving as a bridge to bring others in. If you don't have an intense love of all things Olympics, you probably won't have the patience to look past this title's shortcomings.
In The Olympic Stadium: Gameplay is hit or miss across the various events. Some are original, some are pretty repetitive, and some just don't work (Kayak). Many are difficult to achieve even average results, which might turn away some.
Graphics: Visually, this game is stunning. Great character models and Olympic themes.
Sound: Your standard generic sports game music and announcer here. Although you can turn "commentary" on or off, it's used so infrequently it probably doesn't matter.
Entertainment Value: Works best as a multiplayer game, but finding someone who wants to play may be tough. Won't appeal to the mini-game crowd. Not much to offer the single player unless that person loves the Olympics enough to repeatedly simulate the games. The variety of events helps replay value a bit.
Learning Curve: For those events that are standard (sprinting, etc.) it's pick up and play. For others, it will take a while to learn the controls and build up enough hand stamina for a lengthy "mashing session." Once you have the controls down, you may still have trouble qualifying or medaling against the computer. In-game, on-screen controls or interactive tutorials would have helped. As it is, you can't even pause to check what controls to use.
Online: Options include head-to-head, eight player single competitions, and tournaments. Online is probably the best way to experience this game, although there is a bit of lag at times.