EA Sports Active 2 Review (Xbox 360)
Despite what you might think about most EA games, it’s typically hard to argue about the level of "slickness" in its titles. From flashy but clean menus and licensed music to loaded feature sets, EA's games tend to look good in and out of the box. What’s behind the sparkle can be debated, but what’s on the surface more often than not looks good.
This time, however, we’re not looking at an annual team sport, but an interactive exercise game, EA Sports Active 2. Regardless, I would apply the same argument to this game. Most people will like the look of the game, as well as the feature set and user friendliness. Some people, though, will question the activities therein, which most likely shade your overall opinion of the title.
Out of the Box
To start, this game’s physical package is robust as they come. In the box, which retails for around $100, you will find the game disc, an exercise band, and the most interesting component, a heart-rate monitor.
The exercise band feels as cheap as my first go-round with EA Sports Active on the Wii, but I have not read about any face lacerations this time around, so I suspect my initial fears were unfounded. You also have to make sure you’ve tied the ends tightly and correctly, as I had the exercise band come apart during an activity.
The heart-rate monitor, on the other hand, is a nicely constructed accessory. It’s solidly built, with a very strong and secure Velcro strap. It even has a little 360 light ring. Putting it on my arm did not impact workouts, and it is light enough to become unnoticeable. The heart-rate monitor also seems to work extremely well, assuming you have positioned it correctly.
Getting into the game itself, you are initially tasked with setting up a character. There’s a pretty deep customization suite for a "casual" game; remarkable considering your character is really only used for visualization purposes. There is not any body evolution like Wii Fit, so the creation of your character is simply for aesthetic purposes. Also EA is going for a more serious tone, making any kind of incorporation of Xbox Avatars inappropriate.
Included in the profile creation is the process of entering data, including height and weight. Also interesting is the ability to tie your game into a progress-tracking website. I should note that the Kinect makes entering this data extremely tedious. While motion-control systems are great for moving during games, they are not that brilliant at data entry. I quickly picked up a controller for most of this segment -- you will want to as well.
Let’s Get Physical
So once everything is setup, you have some choices in terms of where to start. You can complete a pre-designed workout as part of a multi-week program; you can create your own workout, choosing from a list of various activities; or you can choose a standalone pre-designed workout.
I was a little disappointed by the selection of multi-week programs, of which there are only two. In terms of an exercise program, that’s not a lot of choice, let alone customization options. This is not like the first Yourself: Fitness that designed a program based on a personal inventory. Instead you have two choices, and from there three levels of difficulty. In fairness you can customize your weekly schedule, but the game does not wait for you. If you miss a workout, the "program" rolls on.
Whether you are following a packaged program or designing your own workouts, the variety of activities is substantial. From simply jogging or sprinting across a virtual landscape to shooting and blocking soccer balls, there are a lot of different things to do. Dodgeball, goalkeeping and boxing rank among my favorites.
That being said, I don’t think it would surprise anyone to say that the quality of these activities is inconsistent. Yes, they all look pretty good, especially with a bright color palette. But sometimes the Kinect did not seem to pick me up, causing my on-screen persona to go crazy, or even worse, miss a key moment in the workout. It’s discouraging to be "riding" a mountain bike and jumping at the right time, only to have the game discount your efforts because of technical problems.
These lapses in the Kinect coverage were not flagrant, but they were common enough to cause some level of frustration. I put the issues in the frequency of once or twice per workout, depending on the activities. And some, especially the stretching and stationary activities, would credit me for doing something I totally wasn’t -- keep in mind that "you are only cheating yourself" if you actually "game" the workout like that.
Most of the activities come with a tutorial that shows you what to do. They are not interactive, so they amount to simply watching a movie. But they are pretty helpful and can be skipped.
Where’s the Feedback?
What’s not that helpful is the vocal feedback you receive, which is rather repetitive and monotonous. Beyond that there are stats that are kept, such as calories burned and "goals scored," but no real direct instruction as to how to get better. That may be expecting a lot from a game, but with the technology that's in place I’m not sure it’s a stretch to ask the game to recognize that I need to lift my feet higher. After all, it knows when I’m low enough to dodge a ball or high enough to block a kick.
The heart-rate monitor does provide some instantaneous feedback in terms of intensity. It’s nice to have that information right on the screen, and the game uses it to track other stats. However, I wish that the game would do more adjusting on the fly. Is your heart rate too low because the workouts are too easy for you? The game is not going to change to make it tougher for you, so some feedback is needed somewhere. To put it simply, it’s a shame that instant information is not being used to create instant change.
While I’m no exercise scientist, I found that in a few of the designed workouts, there was not enough warm-up time. In one session I did two stretches that were focused on my core and back. Then my first two exercises were quick high-knee and high-kick runs around a soccer field. I tried to keep pace with my virtual trainer, but I could tell my legs were not quite up to it yet. Needless to say, real-life stairs the next day were a bit tough.
With that oddity aside, I will say that I like the pace that the game sets by quickly switching up the activities. If you don’t like an exercise, are having a hard time keeping up or are tired of dealing with Kinect issues, it’s not hard to skip a single event.
Outside of the activities you may find yourself a little overwhelmed by the amount of menu options that are available to you. It’s a little like EA tried a shotgun approach to making a fitness game by throwing lots of stuff onto the disc. The menus are a little cluttered for my tastes, and the first couple of times you play, you may have trouble knowing where to start.
This game comes with a level of polish that we almost expect from EA. Despite all of the options, stats and information, everything has a clean and fresh look that is pleasant enough to make you want to exercise.
I would say that if EA makes a third edition of Active, these small but important issues, like valuable feedback and increased Kinect detection, will need to be ironed out. For now know that you will get a polished, if somewhat flawed, workout experience.
In the Gym: A solid package of various activities and information make this a pretty ambitious title. The events themselves are challenging and fun, but the occasional technical problem can get in the way.
Visuals: A nice bright look for this game highlights the fun of working out. The game is not quite photorealistic, but it is not cartoon-like enough for the use of avatars (a good thing).
Audio: Generic music that sort of feels appropriate for a "gym" game. The instructors could vary their advice once in a while.
Entertainment Value: You are paying a lot for this game, but you do get two pieces of equipment and the disc itself. And this is something that you’ll need to use for a while, not a weekend gaming marathon. If you can find it on sale (I saw it for $60 recently), it’s a must buy. At $100 you need to weigh how much use you’ll put into it.
Learning Curve: This game makes it easy once you are in a session, but you may have a hard time knowing what to pick. Beware that you most likely will want to start on easy difficulty if you are out of shape or not used to hard workouts -- my experience was that the game occasionally needed more warm-up time before hitting the hard stuff.
Online Play: There’s a decent website and community that lets you track your stats, but there is no online play to speak of here. However, you can work out with a friend locally.
Score: 7.5 (Good)