My fingers still bear the scars from a competitive gaming childhood. While I tired my hardest to beat my brother at every game, it was Track and Field and its many copies that saw the most fevered competition. During my younger years I was innocent to the ways of button mashing. It wasn’t until International Track and Field on the PlayStation that I discovered a technique using a penny and two shoulder buttons. My controller and fingers were never the same again. With this kind of pedigree I eagerly anticipate every new contender, with SEGA’s officially licensed Beijing 2008 being the latest game to have my hands screaming for mercy.
With the Olympics being such a grand affair, the game includes 38 events set across 10 sports. If you follow any of the main events then chances are they’re included, but if you watch the Olympics for the football and tennis, look elsewhere. The majority on offer here are score or time based, but a few almost random events have been thrown in to spice things up a little.
Track and Field events are quite obviously core to the game, with the expected array of sprinting, throwing and jumping events. A classic is the 100m sprint, known by many as the finger decimator. Beijing 2008’s new twiddling analogue stick technique (optional two-button alternation is available) is perhaps an even bigger killer though. My hand is still bruised from a heated set of races which culminated in a blistering 9.73 seconds photo finish. The longer the distance the more gruelling things become, but it’s pain you’ll want to live through – especially on Xbox 360 where records are often accompanied by Achievements.
Throwing and jumping events vary in the required technique, with some using the typical speed and angle approach, while others are based on timing a series of button presses or stopping a marker within a set zone. They’re not all brilliant, but the majority are good fun and challenging enough to offer a degree of progression. Swimming events are always good for a laugh too, mainly because of their length in comparison to track events. Here you once again have the option to use a two-button tap technique, but it’s far better to use the dual rotating analogue stick method, with each stick being rotated in a different direction. It’s incredibly tough when competing in two-length races and will almost certainly result in hilarious controller grips and contorted facial expressions.
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Things sadly take a turn for the worst when you move away from the track and pool. Numerous shooting events simply aren’t fun, the various gymnastic events fail to excite and Judo and Table Tennis are simply odd. The key to fun in games like this is speed. You can introduce as many events and control options as you like, but when the dust settles after a few rounds of playing through all the events, it’s the sprint events that reign supreme. The lacklustre events in Beijing can be forgiven though, especially as you can even go online and compete against others and check out where you appear in the world rankings. Appearing in the top 100 is reward enough for the permanent damage you’ve done to your hand.
Despite what you might think, Beijing 2008 isn’t all fun and games with your friends. When playing alone you’re able to effectively become your nation’s entire Olympic team. You’ll train them, improve their stats and eventually go for gold across the line-up of events. It’s a decent effort at a solid solo experience, but not really enough to recommend buying the game for on its own. Multiplayer is where you’ll get the majority of enjoyment.
Being the official game of this August’s Olympic Games, and seeing as it’s only arriving on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, you can expect some impressive production values. Everything looks very nice and the menus have a next-gen flair to them that we simply didn’t get on previous consoles. Some stiff animations aside, we can’t ask for much more. If there’s one area that really could have been tightened up it’s load times. The loading between events becomes quite grating, especially when trying to play through a quick game with friends.
At the moment Olympic fever hasn’t really hit, yet we’re still quite partial to a few sprint races in the office during our lunch break. Once the big event starts in August, being able to take part in the events from the comfort of your living room will be even more enticing. Make no bones about it, Beijing 2008 isn’t doing anything all that new, but there’s just something undeniably addictive about going for high scores and fastest times. If you’ve got an urge to twiddle an analogue stick faster than any human knew was possible you can do a lot worse.