It's been barely two weeks since the London 2012 Olympics ended with one of the strangest closing ceremonies I've ever had the pleasure of watching. The Olympic Games may have ended with a bizarre music concert, but the heart was in the right place. Britain showed the world that it's not embarrassed to throw an unusual party, even if it featured such curious oddities as a pink-inflatable octopus, the Spice Girls or even Russell Brand. It's easy to mock the spectacle in hindsight, but at the end of the day, it was an Olympic Games that showcased the mindboggling array of global (athletic) talent.
Our local athletes were in fine form as well. South Africa left London with 6 well-deserved medals. Chad le Clos managed to beat the reigning Olympic Champion, Michael Phelps, in the 200m butterfly (he also gained an additional silver medal in the 100m butterfly), while his team mate, Cameron van der Burgh, netted a gold in the 100m breastroke. Team South Africa gained three additional medals from canoeing, rowing and the Women's 800m, with exceptional performances from Bridgette Hartley (canoeist), Caster Semenya (runner) and the rowing team of Sizwe Ndlovu, John Smith, Matthew Britain and James Thompson. Meanwhile, four-time Paralympic champion, Oscar Pistorius made Olympic history by being the first double-leg amputee to compete in a track and field event in the Summer Games. It was without a doubt one of the more exciting Olympics, which definitely contributed to a two-week slump in productivity (and a few of us missing far too many deadlines).
If you're still basking in the afterglow of a very successful Summer Olympic Games, then the news of an official video-game sport tie-in (by Sega Studios Australia), should bring a toothy smile to your face. However, if your experience with similar sport tie-ins have left you cynical, with aching fingers and an aversion to button-mashing gameplay, then you might be in for a pleasant surprise. While London 2012 features its fair share of button-mashing, the experience is much kinder on the fingers than in other similar titles (like SEGA's previous Olympic title Beijing 2008). In this game, the gameplay doesn't merely involve repeatedly bashing two buttons (and destroying your precious game controllers in the process). Instead, various events play differently, and each event features its own dedicated control scheme. For instance, the analogue sticks are used to simulate swimming strokes in the swimming events, gymnastic events require quick timing, and running events curb the need for button-mashing by introducing a nifty stamina management system. You're still going to press X repeatedly, but the button-mashing is kept at a respectable level. With a praiseworthy events roster of over 40 events, London 2012 does run the danger of having too much variety (in terms of control schemes), however, prior to starting any event, you are given an option to play through a very helpful tutorial. It's the perfect system to ensure that you don't become overwhelmed.
Various events can be played either individually, or as part of a playlist. The main game mode (singleplayer campaign) throws a medley of different events together, and you're tasked with taking your favourite nation (obviously South Africa) towards gold medal domination. While most of the events are perfectly realised, not all are equal in quality. I enjoyed the swimming, shooting, weightlifting and canoe slalom, but the gymnastics and diving events felt a little hit and miss. It also doesn't help that the gymnastics are not well represented. The trampoline (men only) and the men and women's vault are the only two gymnastics events. It's a shame that rings, parallel bars or even the pommel horse were not included. I also felt a little disappointed at the lack of boxing and judo, although the latter has proven to be notoriously difficult to translate to a video game (Judo was a confusing mess, with an overcomplicated control scheme in the official Beijing 2008 game). My other gripe is that the official event licence did not extend to some of the more prominent athletes. It's a real shame that you're not able to play as Usain Bolt or even to compete against him in the 200m. Although to London 2012's credit, it is possible to use the limited athlete editor to change names and to make minor physical adjustments to the game's built-in roster.
If there's one aspect of London 2012 that should have been a sure-fire hit it's the online multiplayer. This is especially true if you consider the potential for pitting players from various nations against each other, and competing for national pride. At first glance, it does seem as though the online pays homage to the subject matter's roots. There's even a leaderboard that keeps track (medal tally) of the various countries involved, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The net code is also temperamental for us South Africans. My attempt to represent Team South Africa, and win a few more gold medals were hampered by a series of frustratingly laggy online games. This could be merely a roll of the die situation, since online does depend on a host with a speedy connection. Obviously, the situation is less dire when I played against my fellow South Africans.
At the end of the day, London 2012 is a perfect party game. It's a title that's bound to be a hit at your next braai or even as a casual precursor to a Rugby/Football party. It may even gain you a slight reprieve from the Singstar groupies (and their harpy-like assault on your ears) or even from the plastic guitar-wielding Guitar Hero nuts. But, as a singleplayer experience, London 2012 is unquestionably limited. There are no Madden-style statistics to play with, or even your own specific athlete to create, train and unleash on the “World's grandest and most recognisable athletic sporting stage”. However, as a gaming nod to this year's Olympics, London 2012 has a lot going for it. The presentation is top notch and the events are a lot more fun than you could ever imagine. In a nutshell, it's one of the better track and field type games.
- Pre-event tutorials and simple controls
- Decent and enjoyable Olympic events
- Limited customisation options
- Easy on the fingers
- Laggy multiplayer
- No licensed athlete likenesses
- Could have used a few more events (judo, boxing, football, more gymnastics events etc.)