I used to be a pretty active guy. Since leaving college however, I hardly ever get myself motivated enough for any social sports activities. I was mildly excited for Wii Fit when that came out, but only stuck with it for a short time. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. When I tried the first EA Sports Active, it was definitely an improvement, but I couldn’t get myself into a good workout groove, and gave up on the program. With EA Sports Active 2, I made a promise to myself that as long as the program was working I was going to stick it out. After ten days, I feel like EA Sports Active 2 is working, and I think EA has taken the video game workout to a new level.
Eschewing controllers all together on the PlayStation 3, EA Active 2 utilizes sensors placed on your limbs to gauge how well you’re working out. There’s a heart monitor, which you place on your left arm, and a motion sensor for both your right leg and arm. All three work pretty well, and I didn’t really notice any lag, save for the time that I accidentally put the leg sensor on upside down. Freeing up my hands allowed me to concentrate more on the motions than making sure the controller I was holding was being held correctly. I always found the Wii controller to be cumbersome to work out with. I couldn’t use regular weights, and instead had to rely on the resistance band the game includes. If you don’t have a set of weights, the resistance band is a semi-acceptable substitute, but for someone as tall as I am, I find the band doesn’t work as well as a pair of five-pound weights. Now that I can focus on form and proper motion, I get more out of the workout than I did with the earlier version of EA Active.
While you can create your own workout playlist to use on a regular basis, I decided to use one of the game’s recommended workout plans to start. Since it has been a long time since I’ve tried working out on a regular basis, the “Cardio Kickstart” program was a great way to start. A three-week workout, “Cardio Kickstart” is all about getting your body and heart back into form for the rigors of the more intense nine-week program. You’re supposed to exercise four days a week with this program, while also allowing yourself enough rest days to recover properly. There are three tiers of intensity you can choose from, which you can alter at any time, but I pretty much stick to the moderate workout routine every day. Each session runs about twenty minutes, with warm-ups and cool-downs included. According to the game, I’m supposed to burn anywhere between 90-115 calories each workout, though that will vary depending on how hard I’m pushing myself. Watching the beats-per-minute gauge in the top corner of my screen, I can see how hard my heart is working. There are five zones the gauge tracks, and the more intense I’m working out, the more calories I’m likely to burn. I typically stay within the third and fourth zones, keeping my heart rate up, but not overworking myself. Having the BPM meter in the corner helps me make sure I’m getting the most out of the session without pushing myself too hard, which is a great benefit to someone who doesn’t work out as much as they should.
EA Active 2 does a nice job breaking down your weekly workouts into cardio and strength training, giving you the right amount of variation when you need it. The game will tell you what parts of the body are going to be focused on before you begin the day’s workout, so you’ll immediately be able to tell whether you’re in for a rough day for your legs, or a great day for your arms. I have really terrible knees due to all the abuse I put them through during high school sports, so anytime I see a lot of squats on the breakdown I cringe. Thankfully, since I’m technically in the beginner program, the game goes easy on me, and keeps the reps below twenty. Even though there’s a pretty decent amount of variation in the styles, many of the beginning exercises are just variations of squats. The mountain biking, basketball, and soccer stations all utilize squats, and are all almost the exact same thing, save for the images on screen. Though there are dozens of different exercises, EA Active 2 does rely on repeating the same ones over and over again a bit too much. The main focus of the “Cardio Kickstart” program is to get my body back into shape quickly, so that I can then easily transition into the more rigorous nine-week program. I’m looking forward to starting that eventually, but I’ve still got a long way to go until I’m ready physically, and mentally, for the challenge.
Even though graphics aren’t a main focus of EA Active 2, the game doesn’t look bad. It doesn’t look phenomenal by any means, but it doesn’t have to. As long as the instructor you choose is able to show you the proper technique clearly and concisely, then it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the game looks like. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying EA Active 2 is an awful-looking game. It’s just average. My only complaint in the presentation department comes from the trainers’ motivational dialogue. Too often, the trainer doesn’t actually give any constructive criticism. When I’m doing a running exercise, and I’m clearly way ahead of the trainer, I don’t need to be told to pick up the pace to keep up. If I’m not doing an exercise right, don’t tell me to follow what you’re doing more closely. With all the advances in motion-tracking controls right now, there has to be a better way to give feedback to the player concerning whether or not they’re doing something wrong. If the idea is to get the most out of every workout, wouldn’t you want to make sure the player’s technique and form are as close to correct as possible? Hearing that I’m doing a great job, or that my pace is excellent, is all well and good, but there’s no way to tell that I’m actually doing a good job. It feels a bit empty and shallow. Perhaps that’s just my gripe with a computer that doesn’t really see what I’m doing telling me how “great” I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
This iteration of EA Active introduces online progress tracking, and even allows you to create groups to track the progress of friends and family around the world. You can work out with a friend in the same living room, but since I only have one set of equipment, the Workout Groups allow me to get motivated by seeing how well someone else is doing. I’m fairly competitive, so if I see that a friend is really pushing himself to get better, I feel like I should be working just as hard to improve myself. Eventually, there will be updated workouts to download, but there isn’t any additional content available at the moment. Having Trophies unlock as a way to track my progress also helps motivate me to keep going. I know it seems shallow, but when there’s an actual goal, like doing 100 workouts, to achieve, I feel like I must complete it. Though the Wii had virtual goals to achieve, having that Trophy representation for all my friends to see was something missing the previous version. Even though I should be strong enough mentally to motivate myself, I’m not. I think I need that extra little push that a virtual reward gives me.
With a game like EA Active 2, you’re only going to get a lot out of it if you put a lot into it. If exercising isn’t for you, then this clearly isn’t a title you should be worried about. However, even if you’re only mildly interested in improving your body, or getting into a little bit better shape, there are a lot of positives in using a tool like EA Active 2. I want to stick with this program not just because I’ve already invested time into it, but because I think it can really help me. I don’t think this game is a replacement for an actual gym, or an actual trainer, but for those of you, who like me, don’t have the time or inclination for that type of investment, EA Active 2 is a great substitute. I just hope I have the motivation to keep going because I like the results so far, and am eager to see what this game can do for me in another three months.