I’m not what you would call a huge sports fan, but I love watching the Olympics. Whether it’s the winter or summer games, there is just something about the prestigious sporting event that drives me to follow every moment. Maybe it’s seeing athletes from nearly a hundred different countries competing to fulfill lifelong dreams of bringing home gold medals. Perhaps it is the thrill of watching events that you simply don’t see on television every day. Whatever it is, I tend to buy into the hype, and because of this, I willfully volunteered to review the video game tie-in, aptly named Vancouver 2010 – The Official Game of the Olympic Winter Games. After some initial frustration, Vancouver did offer a little bit of entertainment, but the fun wore off fairly quickly.
The lack of content in Vancouver 2010 becomes apparent right away. There are only 24 countries to choose from, and fifteen events—this includes both men’s and women’s. Yes, that's not fifteen sports; there are only fifteen individual activities in the entire game. While I understand that not every event may have translated smoothly into a mini-game, there are some very questionable absences. For example, why are the only snowboarding events men’s slalom and men’s boardercross? Why is there no half-pipe, which should have been a given? Additionally, the three sledding events (men’s two-man bobsleigh, men’s luge singles, and men’s skeleton) are repetitive and feel exactly the same. I would have rather had one sledding event and some more variety in the rest of the games. There is also no option to create a character, another thing I felt would have been an obvious inclusion.
The gameplay itself is very straightforward. Vancouver 2010 offers a training mode, Olympic mode, and challenges, which are separate from the Games themselves. Since the training mode is basically just the same tutorials you can play in Olympic mode, there’s no real reason to try it out. When entering the Olympic games, you choose a country, though it doesn’t really matter since you will be represented by a generic male or female Olympian with absolutely no customization options. You can make your own Olympic playlist, selecting from all of the events, or just go through them all at once. Obviously, in this gameplay mode, the objective is to finish in the top three and end up on that podium at the end of each event.
Challenges, on the other hand, task you with different goals than simply beating your fellow athletes. This mode takes the available events and assigns a new objective to them. When skiing downhill, instead of just being the first to cross the finish line, you’ll have to beat the clock while hitting snowmen to gain additional time. Bobsledding may challenge you to hit a certain max speed. The game has a few easy challenges unlocked to start, with more and more difficult ones becoming available as you complete them; there are thirty total. The challenges actually ended up being the highlight of the entire game, which, considering this is supposed to be a game based on the Olympics, is a bit strange. I found myself caring much more about completing challenges than getting gold medals.
The controls for most of the games are simple, with none of the button-mashing madness of the previous Olympic tie-in, Beijing 2008. Skiing and snowboarding events require pushing off with the A button, and using the right trigger to speed up and left trigger to carve, which slows down the athlete in order to make a tight turn. Speed skating is a mix of hitting A on the straights and holding the right trigger to go around corners, while the sledding events just require steering by use of thumbstick. The only event that offers much variation is freestyle aerial skiing, which involves jumping off a platform and doing several rotations in the air by moving one or both thumbsticks. With so few events and so many of them with the same basic control scheme, Vancouver 2010 can get repetitive pretty quickly.
One positive thing I can say about Vancouver 2010 is that it looks better than most tie-in games. True, most of the environments consist of a blanket of white snow or an icy luge track, and there isn’t much to look at as you make your way through any given area, but you do get a pretty decent sense of speed on most events. There aren’t many audio highlights to speak of, and other than the sound of the crowd cheering, the only other thing you’ll really hear is the announcer counting down before you start each event. The presentation may be minimal, but it’s more visually pleasing than many games of the same vein.
It may be a tie-in of the world’s most prestigious sporting event, but Vancouver 2010 is still just that: a tie-in. Because of this, I wasn’t expecting brilliant, Game of the Year material, but I did want at least a reasonable facsimile of the excitement and fun of the actual Olympics. Instead, I found myself with a final product that was only mildly entertaining, and even with up to four players being able to compete both online and off, the fun factor is very limited. Even more limited are the repetitive events, and you’ll probably have played all of them in under an hour. The challenges add a bit of variety, but overall, the amount of content in Vancouver 2010 probably wouldn’t even fill a whole weekend. If you’re really jonesing for some Olympic fun, Vancouver won’t tide you over until the games start on February 12, but it might at least offer a few hours of enjoyment.