Vancouver 2010

GamesCom 2009: Vancouver 2010 Preview - Hitting the Slopes

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While most people will have had idle day dreams about what it would be like to score in the last minute of the World Cup final, crash home that winning touchdown or crunch an unstoppable forehand down the line to snag a Grand Slam – not many will have had the same thoughts about many of the events at the Winter Olympics (I await the deluge of dissenting voices). It is fair to say that the winter events have always taken a back seat to the more commercially viable summer ones, which is something of a surprise considering the breakneck nature of certain winter pastimes. SEGA have decided to build on Beijing 2008 with another Olympic title, though this time it is striving for something a bit more innovative than button bashing, and it’s set in this season called winter – go figure.

With the Winter Olympics covering over eighty events it would obviously not make much sense to try and cram them all into one game. In this case the developers have listened carefully to feedback from the Beijing game in order to help plan out what should and should not make the grade. A lot of people that played the last title complained about fiddly controls and overtly difficult events - the real issue was the fact that just pressing a sequence of buttons did not make the player feel like they were part of the action, especially with slower events like gymnastics. So the key focus in this game were events that centered around speed, adrenaline and danger.

As a result there are fourteen events on show, ranging from the ski jump and downhill skiing, to two man bobsleigh and skeleton. The key aspect of each is to make the events as intuitive as possible, and that is where the first person view comes into play. It has to be said that we were sceptical about making a sports game first person but it seems like the team may well have pulled it off. In the ski jump for example, you can see flecks of snow hitting your visor, and hear the athletes breathing and heartbeat as he prepares to kick off. Hit the slope and there is a neat blur of speed, before you bunch up and spring off the jump, while in the air you will struggle against the elements to maintain balance before hitting the deck triumphantly (or in a giant heap). It really should not work but it somehow does, and that is what the developers were aiming for – a game that makes you feel like you are doing the sport itself rather than just acting as a mere onlooker.

It is about the experience rather than being a straight simulation and the controls reflect that. Most events require timed button presses and subtle steering rather than overt movement, plus the first person mode can be switched out at any time so you can view the action in third person too, though the developers were keen to demonstrate that you could get equally impressive times in either. Obviously it is a game that can be picked up by almost anyone without the need for instructions, and that is exactly why this kind of game thrives with multiple players.

You can set up your own Winter Olympics (online or off) with the events you would like to compete in, or just go for a random selection. Five of the events are split-screen affairs, so multiple players can challenge each other directly, while you can also compete on a time/points based set up with the remaining events. You can still use first or third person even in split screen so the choice of how you want to race is down entirely to you. The same is true online too – though you can only play against multiple people in the same five split-screen events. A neat touch online is that times and scores will be collated on a country by country basis so you can compare yourself against home grown foes and try to nudge your homeland to the top of the world pile.

While there is plenty of fun to be had with friends it seems that solo players will have been thoroughly catered for. Obviously there are training modes for each of the events, so you can hone your skills in time for your next online showdown. The main mode then is the Winter Olympics proper, whereby you can play through every event or just a select few should you so wish. Each event is scored on a number of levels and the score will pop up mid-event so you can judge how well you are doing. The real fun though will come through the Challenge mode, which is comprised of thirty events spread over Bronze, Silver and Gold difficulties. These range from knocking over a ton of snowman while hurtling down the track, all the way up to beating a game developer’s record time. Complete the Bronze level and you will move up to Silver, and so on. You can be sure that a fair few achievements are tied into emerging triumphant over these bad boys.

Overall this game could well be a bit of a surprise. The events look truly stunning in places, especially as you get ready to push off and sit looking out over the wide open vistas. The first person view could also be a nice masterstroke and offers something a little bit different. The only question will be whether or not the fancy presentation and pick-up-and-play gaming will be enough to sell, what is at heart, another set of sporting mini-games. Time will tell, but we should have a better idea come January 15th 2010 when the game launches in Europe (January 12th for the US).


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US January 12, 2010

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