As far as the Olympics go, virtual iterations of the event have rarely been as stellar as the games themselves.
Publisher SEGA clearly hopes that their Vancouver 2010 will be the exception, somehow managing to blow gamers away with a release on all major platforms aside from the Nintendo Wii. Vancouver 2010 allows gamers to choose from fourteen different events and six different categories, providing a decent but somewhat disappointing selection.
When first starting Vancouver 2010, the slick presentation will certainly impress. It looks authentic and has the official seal of the 2010 Winter Olympics, so if there is an Olympics title to go for, this may well be it. Each event allows you to enter either a single event where you can play a tutorial, or to put together a number of events and play through in the Olympic mode. In this mode you can compete against some of the major Winter Olympic countries in the world, each with national anthems and official colours.
Disappointing though is that this list includes only 24 of the over 80 countries which participate in the Winter Olympics. New Zealand, as was almost expected, is not included in these 24, though our neighbour Australia is. This was acceptable in the 1990s when arguably New Zealand wasn’t as well known, but these days it feels insulting to have New Zealand left off the list.
Regardless, Vancouver 2010 packs in a decent number of events including Alpine Skiing, Sledding, Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding, Ski Jumping and Speed Skating. Most notably missing though is the Biathlon, which certainly is a shame considering how entertaining these events can be. Some of the events are better than others, and in many ways the game feels like a jack of all trades but master of none. Certainly the speed skating is terribly implemented with some atrocious body movements and button mapping, where in comparison the Bob-sledding is good fun, as well as the Ski Jumping. Most of the events have similar controls, which makes it relatively easy to switch between them.
The biggest qualm which applies to both the single event modes and the Olympic mode is that the AI is not adjustable, and the sports are so that it can be very difficult to remain competitive even if you perform very well. The Ski Jumping is a prime example of this, as the tutorial explains things acceptably, but there is no explanation as to why we consistently lose the event despite performing very well. This difficulty level is frustrating and quite frankly unenjoyable at times. Practice improves things, but there are definitely some issues here.
Then again, it is an Olympics game, and the idea is to find the best players in the world. This is where the multiplayer mode comes in, allowing you to compete in Olympic events against players from all over. This is well implemented and allows you to observe other players runs as well. You can also play against another player on the same console which hopefully should create some decent couch competitions.
Graphically the game looks acceptable. Aspects of it are not so good, and mainly reflect bad animating across some of the less well implemented events. Certainly the game appears next-gen and it's not disappointing. Heavily utilized however are things like motion blur that can make it quite difficult to navigate down a slope on some skis, particularly when the camera angles are so that it can be hard to anticipate a bend over a crest, but I imagine that’s how real skiers feel as well. That said the way the skis carve up the snow and the draw distance as well as the particle effects are certainly enjoyable. What simply cannot be emphasized enough is that there is a qualitative difference between some of the events. But nearly all of the events look and feel authentic and for the most part good, particularly solo events. The group events are somewhat off due to the animating as collisions and the like are not managed particularly well.
A nice thought on top of the run-of-the-mill events are the challenges that the game gives you which you can go through and complete to earn trophies/achievements. There are a range of challenges, from crazy ones, to tasks which will simply help you master the game by encouraging you to play harder, such as by holding the top speed skiing for a set period of time. These challenges allow you to come back later in a sort of time-trial in an attempt to beat your previous scores. Going back and breaking our own records however is equally satisfying, with the game informing us each time we beat our older scores.
If it weren’t for the overly difficult AI, Vancouver 2010 could certainly offer a lot. Unfortunately though the difficulty of some events makes them a pretty unremarkable affair. The graphics are solid and for the most part the gameplay is too, but its all not worth much when at the end of the day you’re really going to struggle to be a gold medallist. And while I have a great deal of respect for real world gold medallists, generally games aren’t met to put us through quite the same difficulty curve.
Still though, some people will surely master the game and be incredible virtual athletes. The online score board showed what was possible but it certainly wasn’t going to be attainable for me. Whether or not that is the case for you, you'll need to find out. All in all, one of the better Olympic Games titles, but it could still be so much more.