Beijing 2008 (PS3, X360, PC)

On your marks, get set… and find out just what Beijing 2008 is really like!

The Olympic Games has seen their fair share of video games throughout the years. Since gaming started to become big in the early 90’s, there has been an Olympic title for every generation, starting with the Sega Master System’s “Olympic Gold” representing Barcelona. We’ve seen the two year cycle present itself with summer games then winter games, and then run through it’s entire life again and it’s now with Beijing that was actually see a change with the second title running for the next Olympiad.

The first title was “Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games,” a game which at least tried to be different, compared to the sea of mediocrity that Olympics video games seem to always stick themselves under.

It’s sort of hard to explain if you haven’t played an actual Olympics game prior so I’ll do my best.

Normally, Olympics games suck. I say that as a generalisation, but since the Olympics are a pretty well defined category, it’s a lot easier for me to say without sweating too much.

I’ll even say it again.

Normally, Olympics games suck.

In the defense of the developers, it must be obscenely difficult to come up with a gaming mechanic that matches all the needed skills and sports that one has to have to become an Olympic athlete. As a result, most developers have stuck with the same mechanics over and over again, the same mechanics which never worked in the first place.

Take running for instance. Running has always been a slew of hitting two buttons in a left-right-left-right pattern over and over again making track & field events little more than mind numbing button presses. It’s been this way for a while. Seriously, if you were the developer and you were limited to a controller, how would you make running playable, let alone fun?

Anyway, now that the official Olympics are about to begin, Sega have released Beijing 2008, a game that aims to fully represent the Beijing Olympics, and what does it do that’s different?

Not a bloody thing.

Ok, well that’s not entirely true. Now you have to use a combination of awkward controls with button mashing and bonus stick pulling to achieve sports which you probably couldn’t find a correlating maneuver that matches what you’re doing.

Let’s take running for example again. While you can still run using the two button mash sprint, you can now do it by beating the living hell out of your analog control stick. In fact, you can use this technique for almost every single game & event in Beijing 2008.

Whether it’s hurdles, hammer throw, cycling, swimming, kayaking: anything. Throw in a couple of pointless button presses on the left or right triggers and you’ve got a game mechanic.

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And what a game mechanic it is! Why it’s… err, the same. The same as every other Olympic game except now we get to do it all over again by holding our controllers in ways that make Sega’s Iron Man game seem usable. Seriously, before this I thought that Iron Man had the world’s most irritating control scheme, but it appears that Sega have out-done themselves with this one.

Note to Sega (and anyone else working on a control scheme): it is not fun being forced to hurt yourself playing a game that has no interesting end result. Oh, a gold medal. Woo-hoo. I just hurt my hand by forcing my palm over an analog stick in a ridiculous amount of rotations while pressing a button every now and then and all I got was this lousy freakin’ digital medal?

There’s absolutely no reason to put yourself through this sort of trauma unless there actually is an end result, and while it can be entertaining, those few seconds that cruise on by before the confusion sets in on how anyone could think this is a good game.

What makes all this pointless is how much Sega are doing to your controller. Seriously, I can’t think of any situation other than the developers talking to hardware manufacturers and giggling lightly while they contemplate how many new controllers will be sold as a result of the destructive force of Beijing 2008. Somewhere between the furiously fast actions of rotating your analog stick for five minutes straight while you “cycle” and button mashing to get someone swimming or running, there are going to be some broken controllers and that’s just poor design.

If the lack of anything resembling “fun” or “enjoyment” isn’t enough to dissuade you from going near anything other than a demo of Beijing 2008, then maybe hearing about the sound or graphics might.

The sound is minimal and lacks any sense of realism. Sure, there’s background noises and sound effects that could be real, but between the same voice over proudly stating “Welcome to the” and then the name of the sport, audio feels like it was rushed by someone who had better things to do.

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The visuals are much in the same boat. Some of the time, characters and fabrics look great… provided they don’t move. When your character does move, it’s almost as if their arms and legs have been bolted to their bodies. Like a personal Frankenstein, the muscles look like they were attached to skeletons with glue while movements lack that human touch, and that’s something I’d have expected better from with Sega.

Where are those delicate and beautifully rendered humans that games like Virtua Fighter gave us back when AM2 and Naomi were running in the arcade? Am I wrong to expect more from one of the original game publishers?

So now that we’ve gotten the review out of the way, I’ll try one of those first paragraphs again: now that the official Olympics are about to begin, what does Beijing 2008 do that shows it’s different from it’s Olympic video gaming brethren?

Almost not a bloody thing.

On the whole, Beijing 2008 isn’t really doing anything good. At one point, you get to launch fireworks by hitting buttons during the opening ceremony, but that’s probably one of its only redeeming features. There is multiplayer provided you can find someone who likes the torture as much as you do.

I might have mentioned this earlier, but I have played a lot of Olympics video games. There’s something about seeing a whole variety of sports represented in a single video game that I’ve always liked the idea of. So far, I’ve only got fond memories for Olympic Summer Games, the title that ran for Atlanta in 1996 and appeared on 16-bit consoles like the Sega Genesis / MegaDrive and the Super NES. When I was younger, I found that game semi-fun.

But Beijing 2008? Well, this game is just a chore. I can see it being great if you’re learning how to become a masseuse and you’re after an easy way to rub some muscles into those hands while breaking a few controllers here and there, but fun, well that’s something this game just plain isn’t.

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Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Sega
Classification: G
Formats: PlayStatation 3, Xbox 360, PC
URL: Beijing 2008 – The Official Game of the 2008 Olympic Games

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark