The Not-So-Special Olympics
Part of what makes the Olympics so fascinating to watch is the sense that every moment is the culmination of 3,000 years of history. We all recognize the iconic rituals—the torch relay, the Parade of Nations, the way Americans spend two weeks pretending to care about sports that aren’t football—but there’s another, less-familiar Olympic tradition that’s every bit as important. For the last few decades, every Olympiad has been accompanied by an officially licensed collection of uninspired button-mashing minigames. You know, just like the ancient Greeks would have wanted.
This year’s model, London 2012, doesn’t do terribly much to buck that trend of mediocrity. The game is perfectly competent from a technical and presentational standpoint, and all of the 40-odd minigames are at least passably fun, but, as a whole, the experience sorely lacks depth or variety. The vast majority of gameplay is the same three basic inputs—mashing the A button, hitting face buttons in rhythm with onscreen prompts, and flicking the sticks at precise angles—remixed to vaguely reflect the current sport. Some events, like beach volleyball, kayaking, and the various shooting disciplines, offer more faithful re-creations of their sports, but everything else is the same marginal evolution of Track & Field you’ve already played a dozen times over.
The centerpiece of the game is a campaign mode that lets you take a national team to Olympic glory, working your way through events day by day in an attempt to top the medal tables. Of the 204 nations participating in this year’s Games, only 36 have been included in the game. The absence of consistently competitive countries like Argentina, Cuba, and Egypt is mystifying, especially when nations with rather abysmal medal counts—Ireland and Portugal, if I’m pointing fingers—managed to make the cut.
The narrow lineup feels even sillier in light of how little effort was put into differentiating the countries that were included. Since there are no real-world athletes or stats of any kind, your selection only affects uniforms, commentary, and your team members’ randomly generated, ethnically appropriate names. It would’ve been trivial to incorporate all or even a significant chunk of the participating nations, and the fact that London 2012 skates by with a bare minimum is disappointing.
Once you’ve selected your nation, the campaign plays out more or less exactly how you’d expect. Each “day” of the Olympics, you select two events and compete in their qualifying rounds, and if you make it through, you move onto the finals to compete for a medal. This process repeats for about two hours, and then ends abruptly with a dull cutscene of the closing ceremonies. Amusingly enough, if you finish with more medals than any other nation, the game will inform you that you’ve “won” the Olympics, in direct contradiction to Chapter 1, Section 6 of the Olympic Charter.
Developers Sega Studios Australia managed to pack a surprising amount of ancillary features into London 2102, including unlockable costumes and equipment, leaderboards, custom playlists, and online multiplayer, but they ultimately fall flat because they’re shackled to the exact same mediocre gameplay as the campaign. The only area where London 2012 shows any real potential is in the Kinect Party Play mode. For as much as I love to hate them, motion controls are a natural fit for disposable minigames, especially if you’re playing with your friends. The sheer ridiculousness of flailing around in front of the TV can help turn an otherwise mediocre game into a hilariously enjoyable social experience, and that’s the sort of boost London 2012 desperately needs. Unfortunately, only a dozen or so events are supported, and about half of those are essentially unplayable thanks to poorly designed motion controls. While the events that do work offer a lot of fun, there’s just so little offered that you’d be better served dusting off Kinect Sports or Wii Sports Resort instead.
London 2012 is unexceptional in the truest sense of the word, neither good enough nor bad enough to make any sort of lasting impression. In that regard, it’s more memorabilia than game, meant to be bought in the fervor of the moment, admired briefly for its novelty, and then hastily shoved away in the back of a closet, never to be seen again.
SUMMARY: London 2012 has a few standouts among its 45 or so minigames, but the vast majority are far too forgettable and repetitive to keep your attention for more than a few hours.
- THE GOOD: A few great minigames…
- THE BAD: …and a slew of tedious ones.
- THE UGLY: The hideous, vaguely sexual London 2012 logo.
London 2012 is available on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.