A barebones presentation and somewhat thin event roster detract from an otherwise fun, and often intense experience. Developed by veteran studio Eurocom, Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games allows you to compete in 14 events spread across eight categories while representing one of 24 countries.
The button-mashing gameplay elements of older Olympic video games are generally replaced with fluid mechanics, though a rather high difficulty level and a number of control schemes to master could scare away the casual audience that this game is intended for.
When you first launch the game, you are greeted with an attractive menu system and several options to choose from.
Training mode allows you to repeatedly practice a single event while ranking your progress on the global leaderboards. In Training, you will also find several assists like highlighted gates in the skiing events and tips that will help you tweak your performance.
When you are ready, you can then dive into the Olympic Games mode, though there is very little “Olympic” to be found here. You can create a custom stack of events to play through or have the game randomize all 14 events for you. Unfortunately, there are no opening or closing ceremonies and very little fanfare in general, making the Olympic Games mode feel like a glorified quickplay session. Events are also limited to four computer or human-controlled competitors, so it never really feels like you are in competition with the world at all
The events themselves are broken down into eight categories: Alpine Skiing, Ski Jumping, Freestyle Skiing, Snowboard, Short Track Speed Skating, Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton.
Alpine Skiing features the Men’s Downhill and Super-G as well as Ladies’ Giant Slalom and a rather unrealistic Slalom event. The Alpine Skiing events are all controlled similarly, using the left analog stick to steer, the right trigger to tuck and the left trigger to carve. There are also some timing and button-mashing mechanics related to starting races.
Ski Jumping is a brief, but intense event that tasks you with calculating wind and launch angles before attempting to balance in mid-air using the triggers and land within a prescribed zone. Though most events allow you to toggle between first and third-person views, Ski Jumping is played in first-person only which can make balancing tough.
Ladies’ Ski Cross sees four competitors on the track at once and introduces a jump mechanic not present in the other skiing events. Missing the timing of a jump in Ski Cross or missing a gate in any skiing event will result in a fairly severe speed penalty.
The Aerials event is perhaps the most difficult of the bunch, but can also be the most rewarding to succeed at. After selecting a jump based on degree of difficulty, you then calculate push-off and launch angles. The core of the jump asks you to rotate the analog sticks in time with a preset pattern.
Jumps with a degree of difficulty under 4.000 can be handled with the left stick exclusively, but climbing the leader boards will require tougher jumps that ask you to rotate both sticks in sequence. This mechanic will be familiar to anyone that played the diving events in Beijing 2008.
Both of the Snowboard events are multi-competitor races that are controlled much like Skiing, though they feel quite different, like motorcycle racing compared to car racing. The game engine takes a rather noticeable frame rate hit during these events, likely because of snow in the air. Noticeably absent from the event lineup are half pipe and super pipe competitions, which are arguably the most popular Snowboard events with fans.
At first I was wondering why no Long Track Speed Skating events were included in addition to the Ladies’ 500m and 1500m Short Track events, then I quickly realized that any more time spent with the frustrating mechanics would likely result in a thrown controller. Button-mashing rears its ugly head in these events and steering is a bit to sensitive. The Short Track Speed Skating events are definitely the low point of this package.
The sliding events on the other hand are extremely visceral and intense fun. Both the Two-man bobsleigh and Men’s Skeleton are controlled by steering with the analog sticks, while you steer the Luge sled with the triggers. The idea in sliding events is to get as high into the bank of a corner as possible to maximize your speed without hitting the top wall.
Your run can end in a split-second if you aren’t careful and I often found myself holding by breath as my athletes made their way down the course. A generous helping of blur, shaking camera and depth-of-field effects give the sliding and skiing events a real sense of speed.
Challenge mode gives the game some longevity. This mode is broken up into three mountains; easy, intermediate and advanced. Many of the challenges are fun and require you to do things like hit a certain speed in the Bobsleigh or make a clean run through a Slalom course. Others are not fun at all, like challenges that ask you to beat strict times using reversed controls.
Aside from a distinct lack of cowbell during the sliding events, the sound effects in Vancouver 2010: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games, including the rumble of skis or a sled and wind rushing past are quite good. The game also features a licensed soundtrack that includes quite a bit of Canadian content.
Graphically, the game holds up well considering it appears to use the same engine as Beijing 2008. Athlete models are large and feature good animation in most cases. Aside from the snowy Snowboard events, everything runs very well also and features a crisp, clean look in line with Olympic TV coverage.
No Olympic video game would be complete without multiplayer options. Vancouver 2010 offers a number of ways to play against your friends including local multiplayer, system link play and of course, quick and ranked matches via Xbox LIVE. It should be noted that when playing online only one person per console can play.
Also, during the first week of release I found it tough to find other Xbox LIVE players, rarely filling a 4 person match. There is however, no shortage of leaderboard competition and the community grew exponentially during the first week.
While I did enjoy most of the events, I can’t see myself or many others playing this game after Olympic hype dies down at all. Aside from some notable event omissions, including a complete lack of Nordic, Figure Skating and Curling events, there is very little to keep players interested for more than 30-60 minutes at a time.
In future Olympic video games, I’d love to see a mode that allows you to create and train an athlete leading up to an Olympic competition. I’d also like to see a more complete event lineup and a true Olympic-style progression through the 17 day festivities.
+ Online Competition
+ Good Audio-Visual Presentation
+ Racing Events are Genuinely Intense
– Thin Event Roster
– Little Pageantry or Olympic-Style Festivities
– Lots of Controls to Remember, No Customization