Name: Beijing 2008 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games
Genre: Sports - Olympics
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The Summer Olympics are right around the corner, and that means it's the season for Olympic video game. This year, Sega and developer Eurocom have the license for the official game of the Beijing Olympics. How does it shape up? Well, not that it's saying that much, but it might just be the best Olympic title ever.
With 38 different Olympic events, there’s no shortage of variety in Beijing 08. Unlike many previous track & field-type games, Beijing 08 does a great job of mixing up the play mechanics. There are the obligatory button mashing events, like swimming and sprinting, where your only real concern is mashing A and B (or wiggling the right analog stick) as fast as possible, but there are also plenty of events that require skill, timing and quick thinking to excel. For example, the balance beam event requires you to tap the face button that corresponds to colored areas as your gymnast steps on them, and the diving events require you to match the speed of spinning circles with an analog-controlled cursor. The level of variation in game types is matched only by the level of variation in the computer’s AI difficulty. Some games, like the shotput and discus throw, are very easy to medal in every time, while the 110 meter hurdles are nearly impossible to even compete in. Despite this, the controls are generally fun, reflecting some or all of the motions an actual athlete would utilize in the event.
Beijing 2008 is by no means a graphical powerhouse, but, for the most part, the visuals get the job done. The various Olympic venues are well-rendered, though a bit oversaturated and cartoonish. Character models look nice, especially in motion, but suffer from skin that looks rubbery, and faces that seem lifeless. Pretty much every action that your athletes perform I animated well. The problem is that your performance in the game often fails to translate to the screen. For example, in the diving events, even when you massively screw up, your on-screen diver completes her dive perfectly. There’s little to no visual feedback to indicate whether or not you are failing. Admittedly, the diving games are so difficult, you’ll hardly ever even look at your diver, but it’s still disappointing that no matter how well you do in the event, the only difference you’ll see on screen is the size of the splash when you enter the water. Some events actually do a decent job of this, like the vault, where a poor performance yields you a sloppy jump and a face-first landing.
Presentation is not Beijing’s strong suit. Even though the game’s graphics are capable, there’s a generally unfinished feel to the game. During the game’s far-too-frequent load screens, you’ll see one of only 6 or 7 trivia facts, and they get old pretty quickly. Likewise, the fact that athletes often over-enthusiastically celebrate scores that really aren’t that good shows that the game could have used a lot more polish before shipping. The game’s sound is okay, if completely unnoticed. In fact, I can’t remember a single song from the game at all.
Playing Beijing 08 with friends is probably the most fun thing to do in the game. That is, as long as it’s on the same console. Online, the game suffers from serious lag issues. How serious are the issues? In one online 100 meter dash match, I watched as my American runner cruised past my Jamaican opponent, finishing in first by a large margin. The visual representation on my screen, however, apparently didn’t reflect the actual results, as I was awarded the bronze medal. The really strange thing is that I received an achievement for finishing the race in under 9.8 seconds, but my official time was listed as 10.3 seconds. The Jamaican runner’s time was 9.69 seconds, which I still maintain is actually my time. Events where players compete separately don’t have this problem, and can be fun to play against online opponents. Perhaps the best part of taking Beijing 08 online is the leaderboards, which compare the best of the best for each event for all three systems combined.
Despite its many flaws, Beijing 08 has a certain addictive quality to it. Some games, like many of the shooting and gymnastic events are a lot of fun, especially head to head, and it’s always a blast to wear out your thumbs in the many button mashing events. The flimsy presentation detracts from the game’s Olympic feel, but there’s certainly a weekend’s worth of fun to be had with the game. If you’re an Olympic junkie, there may be even more than that.