Like so many sports, London 2012 – The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games (phew) is a game of two halves. Boasting an impressive tally of 45 events, the official Olympic tie-in doesn't disappoint in the content department. But while a decent proportion of its offering strives for sporting glory, the remainder of the package feels frustratingly fulfilled with a place on the starting blocks. It’s that lack of consistency that prevents the game from earning a podium position, even if it is just milliseconds off the pace.
As you’d expect, the experience is arranged into an array of disciplines based on real world activities. Track and aquatic events dominate a large percentage of the roster, but there’s also room for shooting, gymnastics and more. Each sport is accompanied by its official venue, providing a sneaky snapshot of how the Games will be presented on television later this year.
There’s a refreshing idealism to London 2012 that complements publisher SEGA’s philosophical optimism. The presentation is saturated and jovial, conveying an uplifting tone; bright, blue skies overlook each of the events, and colourful commentary is provided by BBC reporter Seth Bennett and former athlete Allison Curbishley. While the latter phones in her performance a little, Bennett is consistently believable and exciting to listen to.
For the most part, the gameplay manages to avoid genre pitfalls too. As opposed to repurposing the mind-numbing button bashing of old, London 2012 introduces a rhythmic element which requires you to control your stamina in order to succeed. Track events, for example, encourage you to carefully strike a balance between two adjacent performance gauges. Tap the button too slowly and you’ll struggle to maintain pace with the rest of the pack, but overdo it and you’ll run out of energy before you reach the halfway point. This minor tweak enables you to manage your performance in a more strategic manner, and it’s particularly effective in longer sprints such as the 400 metres where a well-timed burst of energy can be the difference between silver and gold.
Elsewhere, the game does a great job of introducing a variety of alternative input mechanics. For example, swimming uses the analogue sticks to recreate the sensation of moving through the water. Again, the timing of each motion is important, with a focused swim rewarding you with the speed required to outpace your competitors. Meanwhile, jumping and throwing activities depend on your ability to optimally select the correct angle of approach, while rowing puts you in control of every stroke.
The controls feel well thought out for the most part, and add an enjoyable learning curve to a decent number of the events. Practising enables you to hone your skills, which is a rare occurrence in an athletics game.
Unfortunately, not every event is as accomplished. Weightlifting relies on archaic button bashing, which, while able to convey an appropriate sense of physicality, renders it fairly dull. Similarly, shooting events lack the refinement of alternative activities, relying on a laborious cursor and slow pacing. Furthermore, the game’s insistence on using analogue controls in table-tennis detracts from the overall pace of the sport, prompting a rather clumsy interpretation of the real thing.
The inconsistent nature of the activities means you’ll swiftly gravitate towards preferred events, but it’s to the game’s credit that it enables plenty of player choice. A quick play mode allows you to create your own playlists, while a multiplayer oriented party mode lets you promptly dive into your favourite sports.
The single-player campaign provides plenty of opportunity to specify too. Here you’ll participate in ten full days of Olympic action, selecting different events as you progress. You’ll need to qualify for the finals of each activity first, before competing for medals and rising through the national ranks. It’s a fairly brief experience, but it captures the atmosphere of the Games well, and with various kits and items to unlock, there’s plenty of encouragement to replay the campaign multiple times.
In addition to the offline experience, London 2012 also boasts a fairly basic online multiplayer component in which your performance is tied to your home nation. Awarded medals are added to your country’s overall online tally, capturing the Olympic spirit well. Unfortunately, the feature is not prominent enough, and without personal persistent unlocks to extend the online experience, it’s hard to imagine the game’s online community staying active for very long.
Like most other sports compilations, London 2012 features optional support for PlayStation Move. An alternative version of the aforementioned party mode allows you to compete in a variety of motion control enhanced events, but while the implementation is undeniably above average, it still struggles to contend with the very best experiences already available for the peripheral.
The disappointing shooting events, for example, are greatly enhanced with the precision of the motion wand, however, additional offerings such as archery and table tennis feel disappointingly twitchy, and fail to improve on the vastly superior Sports Champions.
To add replay value to the experience, London 2012 also includes a co-operative challenge mode. The objective here is to individually compete in a variety of pre-defined events, while also working together to achieve combined score quotas. As you progress, you’ll unlock stars, which can be used to unlock additional challenge events and various arcade mini-games. We particularly like the on-rails adaptation of skeet.
London 2012 is frequently within touching distance of a podium place, but it sadly stumbles at the final hurdle. A lack of refinement in a number of the events mean that, while the title captures the atmosphere of the Olympic Games well, it crosses the finish line sandwiched somewhere in the middle of the pack.