Starting up London 2012 fills you with an enormous sense of wellbeing. It’s the Olympics – it really is. Utterly wonderful as the event is though this really shows off the benefits of having the official licence for something special. Like FIFA or NHL being official makes it real. It gives the developers that much more confidence, too, as with the great power of a licence comes great responsibility. Without fail (near enough) this results in presentation of such panache and vibrancy that the whole package gets off to a fabulous start, ensuring the final impression is always one or two points higher than for something more unreal. London 2012 from Sega Studios Australia doesn’t disappoint. It makes you believe in the London Olympics, with celebrity commentators and media you’ve seen and heard over the past years and months. You’ll start to have faith in the games because of this virtual version and like a positive feedback loop it yields yet more faith in the game. You’ll find yourself an Olympics fan, whatever your state of saturation to date.
Which is why it’s such a shame that the official licence doesn’t appear to extend to the athletes themselves. You can’t run a 100m as Usain Bolt, or tackle the velodrome as Sir Chris Hoy. It’s perhaps reasonable not to have this. After all the licence is presumably for the Olympics. Not the competing countries. It still jars, though. It takes you outside of the illusion and makes you remember that all you’re really doing is playing a button-bashing game, albeit a Generation Y version of one. You’re not actually an Olympian and country’s hero.
So, the button-bashing game underneath it all, the cold and harsh reality. It’s somewhat disingenuous to describe it as such though, in all honesty. The developers have gone out of their way to introduce variety to the tried and trusted Track and Field event controls. This is a good thing, especially considering there are over thirty events which if they didn’t have any difference in how you compete, would all be the exact same game with different graphics. After ten or so events in your first Olympics, or one hundred when appearing in your tenth, this would lead to serious problems.
The main game mode is the Olympics competition itself. Starting out you can choose from easy or medium difficulty (with the ability to unlock hard later in the game) which equates to six or ten days of competition, with two events per day - each with a qualifying round and a final should you progress. The events which occur on these days will vary depending on your choice from the smorgasbord made available by the game. Typically you’ll have more choice early on but later there’ll be no avoiding your horror sports as they’ll be the only ones left. Even if you’re on a six day event where there should be more than enough different challenges available on the last day.
The 100m is always a good place to start. Here you don’t press A and B, or X and circle consecutively and repeatedly. You start the race on the B of the bang with a press of X and continue this at a pace allowing you to build a gauge towards the top of the bar and maintain it there as the ideal area (where you keep the bar green as opposed to red) reduces in size. Get towards the end of the sprint in the hunt, having not gone too slowly to win or too fast such that your legs turn to jelly thanks to lactic acid build-up, and you can push the left analogue stick forwards to lunge. If you time this correctly it could be enough for that gold medal.
Contrast the 100m with the other sprint races and you have the same control scheme. It’s the same for the long jump and other field events in terms of the run-up, too. The jump, or throw part brings a little finesse into proceedings. The long and triple jumps require you to time your leap so that you use all the run-up space and nudge the left stick at the perfect angle once, or three times if hopping skipping and jumping. The javelin asks you to pull back on the left stick until you see a number, correlating to degree of angle of throw, start to reduce. Push the stick forwards at the right time, straight ideally, and a world record may be yours.
The combination of button-bashing and stick nudging, pulling and pushing can explain the vast majority of events - even the beach volleyball with it’s awfully life-like swimwear. How they are differentiated lies in the combination of buttons, the rate of bashing and the more and less awkward analogue stick motions. For weightlifting you hammer X to get power, snatch both sticks down and then jerk them up, at the right angle to avoid toppling - before repeatedly smashing X once more to steady yourself. Table tennis gives you topspin, backspin and more if you do the right quarter circle motions on the stick. Kayaking even brings into play the L2 and R2 buttons giving you a sharp turn in either direction to allow you to move upstream. Swimming utilises X to kick-off, then the sticks become your arms as if you actually are swimming, before a random button to turn is required. Fundamentally each event is a quick time event and yes, they are all controlled quite similarly but with a greater differentiation from event to event than any other Olympics or athletics game has managed before.
This differentiation is enough early on, as mentioned. The joy of competing in an Olympics and getting gold medals, topping the country’s leaderboard and hopefully smashing a few Olympic and world records along the way is delightful. After a few competitions though it gets rather dreary, rather too much hard work and a bit of a slog. You’ll play through on medium to unlock hard, and probably then on hard too - or easy if you want a few of the more straightforward trophies. A harder difficulty means in the most part that your opponents perform closer to the top athletes in real-life, allowing you to just keep on doing what you’ve done to try and improve your personal best. There are a few changes to certain events - more gates on the kayaking, for instance, but this is the exception rather than rule. But at that point the joy of single player competition will more than likely dissipate leaving a soulless experience unless you can get yourself ingratiated into an online session, or have one to three friends to make it a localised party game.
As with any game local multiplayer makes the whole thing more enjoyable as you’re competing against real people. The question here is would you rather play a straitlaced 100m race against your brother, friend, mother and so on, or spice things up with a little craziness such as that you can get from Mario and company? There are certain alterations to events here if you use the party mode available, but it’s only slightly left of centre as opposed to the full on bizarro competition when up against Peach and Luigi. Of course what this game provides that Bowser doesn’t is the online competition. You can compete in events online and add to a global country tally of medals. local pride is something you can be a part of. It’s a good job too, as trying to beat the individual leaderboards in various events will likely be impossible - already each event has a number of ridiculously high scores that most will never ever achieve because the combination of skill and luck is something that will rarely present itself in the right mix.
London 2012 is a fine example of an Olympics type game. The presentation is excellent, the events are more varied than you might expect and the subtleties of controls mean you’ll have a wonderful time as you begin any experience with the game. The problem is that well before the actual olympics are over you’ll tire of this as well. There’s replayability built in if you dive into online competition, or build parties around the real and virtual Olympics. There’s a wholly gettable platinum trophy and for some all of this may be enough. For most though the real excitement will die down and fade away. This is what you’d expect from a game like this, and as such you’ll not be disappointed. It’s one of the finest, if not the finest track and field type game ever made, but it is still a track and field game.