In order to play video games with a sporting theme you have to be, at the very minimum, a reasonably decent fan of the sport in question.
Why else would you tolerate almost universally bad controls, questionable physics and extremely suspicious AI in order to sit on your sofa and barely break a sweat? Because surely, if you were that interested you'd be outside running about actually participating in sport, and presumably avoiding that huge bright orange thing in the sky, or whatever it is that people do outdoors.
Generally speaking, the very bottom rung in terms of appreciation and loyalty within sport gaming circles are the multi-disciplined events. It's all very well hyping a FIFA release, at least you've got the most popular sport in the world to leverage, and if it turns out to be a shocker you can still guarantee that all of South America will buy a copy.
The Olympics? Not so much. The selling point of a title like this is also a double-edged sword, as there are a whopping 38 events across ten sports. Just to clarify, there are no swords involved, sorry.
As with virtually every other multi-sport title released since Track & Field, physical prowess is measured by your ability to press, mush, stab, shake, twiddle and eventually throw your controller with the highest level of accuracy your particular console is capable of receiving. Looking like an idiot throughout this process isn't mandatory, but standing up and recreating the slow motion scene from Chariots of Fire is unlikely to win you any fans.
The events on offer consist of field, track, aquatics, shooting, gymnastics, other, and combined. The tutorial mode is an absolute must for pretty much every event, as there are differences in the victory conditions and method of control as you switch between them. Most of the track events consist of moving the analogue stick from right to left or wildly stabbing at the B and A buttons as fast as you can, or pushing a button at the right time.
This is of course assuming you've managed the tricky trigger launch system shared across multiple events, which will see you get a handful of false starts before everything clicks. Once you've managed to use the same launch method to dive over the finish line, you've probably got it sussed, and you're quite likely to have set a world record as well.
Most events are initially quite taxing - the pole vault, for example, requires a fair bit of discipline to time an accurate launch, and you will find yourself stabbing buttons simply hoping to fluke it. Other events are poorly catered for in the tutorial mode, and you'll struggle to even figure out the controls, let alone what you're supposed to be doing (kayaking).
The real problem is that despite some events being quite natural to control, such as archery and shooting, too many are awkward messy affairs that carry on for far too long. Constantly flicking the analogue stick during long cycling competitions is tedious at best, rage-inducing at worst, and either way unlikely to make you want to come back for more.
It's staggering that the woeful Judo was even included in this title, and to be honest the only excuse I can think of for the poor combat and generally random chance to win is down to production deadlines. Obviously nobody wanted to ask China to forget about their love of the number eight and kick the games off in September just so the official video game could be tweaked.
Eventually though, and provided your hands haven't locked up, you'll assemble a collection of various events that don't suck, and might even consider trying a bit of multiplayer.
Not only can you compete through the system link as well as offline two-player, the wide world of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network are open to you, allowing high scores and grudge matches to be played out amongst people with several backup controllers and claws for hands. Just don't bother with the swimming competitions, we all know who won those.
Beijing 2008 manages to replicate China's Olympic endeavours in some ways. It's clearly had a lot spent on it, everybody on-screen is smiling and you wouldn't want to inhale it - but at the same time you get the impression that it doesn't quite live up to expectations. It's a shame, because there is actually quite a lot to like about this game, it's just been washed out by frantic controls, repetitive animations and boring cinematics. The brief moments of enjoyment in the game have afforded it a last minute bronze.
If you want to try before you buy, SEGA has pointed us to a web-based mini-game - there's a competition to win a copy of the game and an Xbox 360, too. You can check out more about this title at the official site.
In the meantime, ponder this; the next Olympic title we review might be on the Xbox 720 or PlayStation 4.