XBOX REVIEW: TORINO WINTER OLYMPICS 2006

Don't feel bad 2K games, I haven't played a decent Summer Olympics game either. by Cole Smith

January 30, 2006 - It's been four years since I had to suffer through an abysmal Olympic Winter Game videogame. If you can believe it, things are even worse in Torino than what when down in Salt Lake City back in 2002.

Games fashioned after Olympic events are typically a letdown. They are more like souvenirs of the event than actual games. There are only eight of them and I've played mini-games that have more depth. The fact that this game is selling for less than $20 is almost an up-front apology from the developers. Take the apology and leave the game in the bin.

There haven't been any Olympic arcade games of note since the invention of Pong. Consequently we don't expect much - and we don't get much either. Considering how well developed the racing and snowboarding genres are it would seem almost impossible not to make a good Winter Olympic game. Transfer the racing mechanics to the bobsleigh and luge and the snowboarding to downhill skiing we should have a great variety of competitions on hand. The developers did manage to get the speed skating and cross country skiing mechanics down by having the player mash alternate buttons to generate enough speed to be maintained by a rhythmical, consistent tapping of the two buttons. This imitates the motion of the left and right leg and is the only control system that has an actual feel to it. Different intervals between presses are required for straightways and curves. You'll need long strides to gain speed on the straightways and you'll have to tighten things up when taking a corner. You can sense when you're getting out of synch and take measures to get back on track.

Not only are there very few events, but some of the ones that do appear in this game are repeated. Cross-country skiing is included in no less than three different events including the Nordic and Biathlon. What's the difference between the bobsleigh and the luge? According to this game, not much. In both events you shoot yourself off like a plunger hitting a pinball. Press the button at the appropriate time to generate the most power and your sled will snake its way through icy channels. The analog stick allows you to move to the right or left to avoid hitting the walls. The control system is more reactive than proactive. It's really difficult to anticipate the direction of your sled and you'll usually make your moves after you hit the wall a time or two. The controls are about as effective as trying to influence a bowling ball after it's left your hand by contorting your body.

To answer the question, "What's the difference between the bobsleigh and a luge?" Your men can move left and right in the bobsleigh. If it weren't so pathetic it would almost sound like a joke - which I guess it is in a way.

Alpine skiing has none of the excitement of Amped but compared to most of the games presented here it's probably one of the most fun. The controls are simplified but at least the scenery changes as you head downhill to swerve among the flags and reach the bottom as fast as you can. With the controls, you crouch your character down and guide him or her left or right through the series of flags on the slope. The faster you can carve the more speed you will build up. If you miss a flag you'll lose points. Regardless of how bad you're doing at in any particular event, you can't stop it and start over.

Ski Jumping is exiting for a few minutes but once you get the hang of the system, it's all downhill from there. You must learn to maintain your balance and generate as much speed as you can before you launch yourself into the air to gain the most distance. Once in the air you have to be concerned with your descent. It's crucial to learn the exact spot where to anticipate to put your skis on the ground. Expect to do a few face plants at first but it's relatively easy to learn. Once you conquer it the only challenge will be to beat the best time. As with all of the competitions, the results are based on time. If you really want to go for the gold, you'll have to replay these games until you're blue in the face. They say practice makes perfect but in this case it makes me sick.

Cross-country skiing relies on a stamina meter. Your ability to regulate the meter accordingly is the key to winning the event. You can push your character by expending stamina but when you run out he or she will be sucking wind. On the other hand you can use the stamina conservatively but you'll probably wind up eating snow dust. It's an imaginative game but it's short on longevity. The races are long and you just won't feel motivated to get into many more of them although you are forced to, as a few other events require some partial cross-country skiing activities.

With no opening or closing ceremonies, or otherwise flashy presentation, the game is as boring to look at as it is to play. Granted, the graphics look good when static but the animation, especially of the characters, is stiff and choppy. It looks like the Special Olympics for Rusted Tinmen. The commentary is delivered in a flat, boring tone that would make Leonard Cohen sound exciting. (See: Obscure references 101) Not only are the announcements stale sounding, but they provide nothing in terms of information, only vague and arbitrary comments - many of them reduced to one word. And if that wasn't enough, they are repeated endlessly. The crowd sounds are also on a loop and abruptly kick in and out like a comedy skit gag. It's just too bad there's nothing intentionally funny about this game.

Up to four players can take part in this virtual Winter Olympics but they all have to be in the same room since there is no online play. Pulling out a copy of Torino 2006 is a great way to get your friends to leave your house at the end of a day.

By Cole Smith
CCC Senior Writer

Rating out of 5
Torino Winter Olympics 2006 (Xbox)
3.1
Graphics
Everything looks fine until something starts to move.
3.3
Control
The controls have been over simplified to facilitate non-gamers.
2.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
If you hear something that sounds good you probably left the TV on in the other room.
2.0
Play Value
Even if this game had an online mode there wouldn't be many people to play against.
2.4
Overall Rating - Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: X, PS2, PC
Dev: 49 Games
Pub: 2K Games
Release: Jan 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Cole

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best