Beijing 2008 Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Beijing 2008 Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Those Hoping for a Medal Winner Should Look Elsewhere

Konami’s Track & Field arcade cabinet came out in 1983. It was a blend of Olympic-themed, multi-sport action characterized by manic button pressing won a lot of gamers over (especially when the game was ported to the NES).

Beijing 2008 screenshot

Here we are, 25 years later, and many Olympic-based video games have come and gone, but has there really been any real evolution of the gameplay? Developer Eurocom acquired an official license for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has secured it again for this year’s host city – Beijing. Beijing 2008 forgets to nail the one area it needs to most – controls – and this results in a lackluster experience.

There’s a caveat that should be thrown out there in the name of fairness: most developers struggle to get a single, sports-themed game right (such as basketball or football). Any group that takes on the Olympic Games has a monstrous challenge – they’ve got to nail a plethora of events. The compromise that usually ensues involves boiling down the events into mini-games that utilize a simple control set. Beijing 2008 is no different in this regard – you can select from 32 countries and compete in close to 40 events, each with its own unique controls. 360 owners can jump in from the get-go, but those with PS3s have to sit through a 1.6 GB install before things get under way.

The majority of events stick to the same buttons – you’ll be twirling the analog sticks and mashing the shoulder buttons, while some events throw in the face buttons for timed button presses. The decision for all the events to utilize similar control sets must have been intentional on the part of Eurocom and the rationale makes sense: don’t make players memorize completely different control mappings for each event. Yet, this actually backfires in a weird way. All the events have such similar controls that you’ll end up doing something from the last event thinking it corresponds to the current one. There’s only one solution: you’ve got to play the events continually until you build up muscle memory in your fingers.

Beijing 2008 screenshot

Since Beijing 2008 is such a control-centric game (if a sports game doesn’t feel right, it’s no fun), it’s worth taking time to describe areas where it excels and falters. Most of the race-based events – such as cycling, the 50m freestyle, the 100m breaststroke, and 100m track – rely on how fast you can alternately mash two buttons back-and-forth. This may initially seem like a fun mechanic, but on longer races it can get tiring quickly, and since there’s no other way to build speed or maintain power, the fun factor drops quickly. Also, the power meter seems to fluctuate randomly. Sometimes you’ll barely be tapping the buttons to maintain (or increase) your speed, while other times you’re nearly breaking your controller to stay out of last place. Cycling mixes things up by allowing you to have multiple team members and swap them out based on a fatigue level, but since the game does this automatically, the idea seems wasted. Longer track races also utilize a fatigue meter, but it’s just for show. You can’t really slow down to rest, so you just keep hammering away on the same two buttons until your fatigue meter refills.

Bad controls aren’t limited just to race-based events. The canoeing/kayaking event is next-to-impossible to control, and instead of worrying about going through the correct gate, you’ll be lucky if you can even keep your vessel pointed in the right direction till you hit the finish line. From a control standpoint, Judo is the most difficult to understand. You hit directions based on, on-screen cues, but after that you’re left wondering how to flip and pin your opponent. The computer never flat-out tells you how to accomplish it, so you just mash the face buttons hoping for victory. The diving events allow you to pick a particular kind of dive but have a horrible ring-based system. When it’s time to jump, two rings appear on the screen. Each contains a ball that you have to keep within a colored area by moving the analog sticks. There’s only one problem – the balls move in opposite directions and the analog stick sensitivity is way too susceptible to the slightest bit of force, making it a grueling process. There’s one more control problem area: events that utilize throwing – such as the shot put, discus, hammer, and javelin throws – require you to rotate the sticks, build up to a proper angle, and then release the appropriate object. Good luck accomplishing this without fouling (by stepping over the line) or actually getting any decent distance.

Beijing 2008 screenshot

Event-wise, it’s not all bad. There are a few gems in the mix. Anything revolving around a shooting mechanic – like archery, skeet shooting, and the air pistol – works well. Archery involves determining your initial accuracy and compensating for wind, while the air pistol events require you to control your breathing. These all feel like real life elements executed properly. The accessibility of table tennis is nice. Nailing shots is rewarding (thanks to a power smash button) and keeping a rally going is satisfying. However, the real surprise – in terms of solid controls and overall fun – is the gymnastics events. The parallel bars, vault, rings, balance beam, and floor exercise might not conjure up a lot of excitement, but they’re all interesting in their own right. Most of these events revolve around DDR-like mechanics, where you time button presses based on character movement. The way it all ties into the character animation makes it look and feel solid.

There are several options of how to approach all the events: you can enter training, competitive mode, or embark on the Olympic Games mode. Training is necessary to get down all the distinct control sets, but once you graduate from that, the majority of your time will be spent in competitive mode, which allows you to play with others locally or online.

Beijing 2008 screenshot

When tested for review, the online play did exhibit some lag. There was nothing game crippling, but in events where just a fraction of a second matters, it’s something worth noting. Perhaps the biggest benefit of competition mode is that you can setup your own series of events. For example, you don’t just have to stay confined to track events. If you want to setup a custom series of events that starts with table tennis, throws in some gymnastics, and then follows it all up with some air pistol action, then you can do that.

Olympic Games mode may tempt you with the allure of getting a gold medal, but it has a host of problems. First and foremost is the ability to customize your team – it’s not really there. All you can do is swap out one generic character model for another. This mode also sports some RPG-like elements, but they’re not really fleshed out. You are awarded points to upgrade skills or diminish team fatigue, but spending points on skill areas merely brings you up to the level of the computer and you have to constantly fight off fatigue – so, the entire point system is unnecessary. If you could train a custom team before you entered the Olympic Games and start out with higher stats than other teams, then the idea would work. This mode does have a feature the other two don’t: leaderboards. After every event, you get to see how your score or time stacks up to global rankings.

Audio-wise, there isn’t much going with the game. You’ve got typical crowd chatter and cheers from fans, but the actual soundtrack is a series of songs that sound like someone mixed traditional Chinese instruments with house beats. The graphical department has some strange problems too. While the overall level of details is good, it’s almost as if someone forgot to turn anti-aliasing on – everything in the game has a severe case of jaggies. Also, there are blatant bugs. For review, a retail PS3 copy of the game with the latest update (1.10) was used and the game froze on one occasion. There was also a weird graphical glitch where everything but the on-screen meters disappeared.

Beijing 2008 doesn’t escape from the stereotypical Olympic Games video game mold – it’s a series of some good and bad mini-games that, while somewhat fun with others, don’t amount to much entertainment.

The character models and animations are great, but the game suffers from prevalent jaggies and weird graphical glitches. 2.5 Control
There’s a terrible ratio at play – for every event with decent controls, there are two events that will frustrate players. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
House beats and traditional Chinese instruments? This works better than you may think, but the limited number of tracks wears thin quickly. 2.5 Play Value
Online play is fun, but has some lag issues. The single-player can be boiled down to a collection of mini-games, which makes for a not-so-fun solo experience. This game is meant to be played with some buddies (either locally or online). 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Over 30 Official Events and National Teams: Across ten authentic-looking stadiums, players will represent the country of their choice and compete in such sports as Track & Field, Aquatics, Gymnastics, Cycling, Judo, Table Tennis, and Canoe-Kayak for the highest honor.
  • In-Depth Olympic Games and Competition Modes: In Olympic Games mode, players will organize their daily schedule and customize their national teams with agility, power, stamina, and speed for competition in 38 events. With up to three friends, players will participate in either single or multi-event challenges in Competition mode.
  • New Gameplay Mechanics: There are a variety of controls across all events, including a time-based system where timing, power and angle are essential, a rhythm-based method that requires increasing and sustaining speed, and a targeting system to aid players in accurately hitting targets.
  • In the Zone: Pulls players right into the athlete’s mind, getting them closer to the action and giving them time to accurately control every move.
  • Global Online Competition: As a member of the aspiring US Olympic Team, players will face challengers from across nations. A multitude of online features, including exhibition events, and leaderboards will allow players to prove themselves before the world.
  • Capturing the Olympic Spirit: As the exclusive official video game, Beijing 2008 offers an authentic look and feel of the Games, ultra-realistic recreations of the Beijing stadiums and a chance to soak up the atmosphere from the Olympic Host City in your own home.

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