The heart-rate monitor makes exercising both fascinating and visually beneficial, while the game's sturdy presentation ensures you are motivated whatever your current fitness level.
We'd never feel comfortable in a gym. Above all else, we just don't want to mix with the type of people that'd comfortably flaunt their posh membership card as if it were a pick-up line. It's not like we're even self-conscious video game playing stereotypes, we'd just rather not spend £900 for the privilege of watching sweaty men warm-down with a celebratory shower gang-bang.
We've always strongly believed that the world is the best gym. After all, that top-of-the-range treadmill in Esporta has numerous programmes trying to imitate the art of running out-doors. Why not just, y'know, go outside and run naturally? At least the surroundings are more interesting. We'd take parked Meganes over stern-faced trainers.
The only problem with the real world is motivation and the weather. At least in the gym it never rains. Likewise, there's always someone with a nonsense sports degree around to say, "Congratulations, you're doing well." It doesn't matter if your personal trainer's shorts are too tight, because encouragement goes a long way in fitness. For people who aren't clinically insane, fitness is boring.
That's why EA Sports Active 2 is so perfect. It allows us to wallow in our own reclusive nature, while actually getting the full personal trainer experience. And no tight shorts in sight. Seriously, if we were pursuing a career in fitness training, we'd be a little concerned about what EA's crafted here. For ~£70 you get the full personal trainer experience without any of the aforementioned quirks. EA Sports Active 2 is never going to get you a date with Rosie Jones, but it will help you to feel good and give you a guaranteed variety of exercise each time you load it up.
The package comes stocked to the rafters with peripherals and rubber gubbins. The most important component is the heart-rate monitor, a crafty piece of technology that straps onto your left arm. The effects of the heart-rate monitor are immediate the moment you strap it on. EA Sports Active 2 constantly displays your heart-rate prominently on the game's HUD, a trait which is imperative to the success of the product. Not actually being in contact with a real-life personal trainer means there's always the temptation to cheat. As with anything in fitness, cheating comes marked with the old "you're only cheating yourself" tagline, but EA Sports Active 2's heart-rate monitor finds a crafty way around that. In other fitness games of the same type you could cheat and get away with it. Here you can still get away with it, except there's a big fat heart on the screen to make you feel bad. It's a motivating technique, if only because it's fascinating noticing the effect each exercise has on your body. At the end of each EA Sports Active 2 workout, a big graph pops onto the screen showing your heart-rate levels at each point of the workout. It's not only a stunning piece of motivating material, it also demonstrates just how well designed EA Sports Active's workouts are. The peaks and troughs in the feedback are perfectly spaced, and it gives the impression that you've done yourself good without destroying your body. Left to our own devices, we'd just try and obliterate ourselves in a series of high endurance exercises. EA Sports Active 2 spaces its exercise perfectly, so you never feel on the verge of collapse. The exercises are really well designed so you see all stages of endurance, without ever feeling like you're going over the top.
It also feels like the game really has a grasp on the type of motions you're making. The other peripherals included in the box are an arm sensor and leg sensor. Despite some reports to the contrary, we never once had an issue with the peripherals tracking our motions. They even seem capable of picking up the subtlest of motions, such as reminding you to keep still if you're doing certain crunch exercises or stretches. Yes, it is possible to cheat, but in most instances the game seems capable of deterring that kind of behaviour. It just seems to work in a context where it's easier (and naturally more beneficial) to actually do the exercises rather than find exploits.
The game allows you to pool from a variety of programmes and workouts. We opted for the basic three-week programme for the purposes of this review, but there are full nine-week schedules available, as well as a-la-carte excercise sessions. The programme we opted to test took us on a variety of cardio improving exercise sessions, each about 20 minutes in length and reasonably balanced. The exercises changed on a daily basis, removing monotony and allowing us to work on different areas of our body. We also tried one of the a-la-carte sessions, opting for an advanced 40-minute power workout. This was a little beyond our range, but it demonstrated that the game's scalable regardless of your current fitness.
Of course, it's also possible to create your own workout sessions based on your own personal favourite exercises and requirements. Personally, we recommend sticking to the pre-created workouts as they seem to be really well designed and have a good variety of exercises in them.
Alongside the motion sensors, EA Sports Active 2 also includes a resistance band. After some clunky construction we got to test out the band, and found it to be a suitable replacement for weights. The band provides mild resistance when placed under the feet, and allows you to follow a number of posture and weight lifting exercises without the additional cost of equipment. The game does allow you to substitute the band for weights if you have them however, allowing you to input the specific weight you are using to get accurate tracking based on your circumstances.
Exercises range from standard warm up stretches to jogging and crunches. Some of the more physically draining exercises substitute the drab "follow-the-leader" visuals for a mini-game type scenario. For example, the bicycle mini-game is simply a combination of sprinting, jumping and squats, but the gameplay (while extremely simplistic) disguises the monotony of standard exercise. It makes a fun alternative. The personal trainers are also really good. There's a choice between a man or woman trainer, and both are calming, giving a good explanation of how to complete each exercise, while explaining what effects it will have and giving you good encouragement. Everything feels natural, allowing you to focus on the exercise itself. The music also accompanies the workout types, with slow dreamy music helping the warm-down. There's the option to pick your own music from the XMB if you'd prefer though.
For all of EA Sports Active 2's strengths in the actual exercise area, it does fall apart a little outside of this. There's no scales or weight tracking, so you have to manage any gains yourself. The nutrition surveys are also ambiguously labelled, rendering them pretty pointless.
It's a minor slight against a pretty perfect package though. You really feel the benefits after completing a workout with EA Sports Active 2, and while the game won't magically give you the physique of a celebrity sports star, it can clearly be used as a component of a healthy lifestyle. Throw in some additional running and a nutritious diet and you really will see the benefits. And with EA promising more workouts as DLC and online tracking via www.easportsactive.com, this is clearly a product we'll be using long after the review is finished.