The frequency of Olympic & Track and Field titles run very thin, just like the real life event, we end up waiting years until the next one. With only days away from this year's main event, SEGA is here with their official title for the Olympic event - Beijing 2008. Where some Lycra-clad gamers would settle for running around in circles or throwing all manner of objects with an Italian plumper or a blue spiky fella in Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, there will be others that would prefer a more accurate representation of the Olympic event. Luckily SEGA’s Beijing 2008 delivers this in gold, silver and bronze spades.
In Beijing 2008 you can pick from a healthy 38 national teams, competing in a staggering 38 events. Most major events in the Olympic Sport are covered for in Beijing 2008, these are best described as the six main group categories they fall into; Track, Field, Aquatics, Gymnastics, Shooting and Other.
On the track there are seven events to button-mash your way through, from 100m sprint to 1500m (if you have the stamina for it). If jumping over hurdles are your thing (or in my case running through them) then both 100m women’s and 110m men’s hurdles are available here too.
Field events represent the same button mashing mechanic found in the track based events, with the addition of timed launches and angle combinations. Field events range from the traditional long jump and high jump, through to discus and javelin.
In the Aquatic arena you can play through the 50m sprint, a few exhausting 100m style events, a 3m springboard and 10m platform diving events. These latter two diving events contain some tricky analogue stick “mirroring” controls that will surely test out your ambidextrous abilities - great if you are an expert Rock Band drummer.
Next up is the Gymnasium, where button mashing is replaced with timely button presses. The most interesting of these is in the beam and floor exercise events, where specific buttons need to be pressed in time when your character’s feet touches the beam or exercise mat. This makes for a more natural approach to these events rather than the dance mat mechanic seen in previous titles of this genre.
Three events are represented in the Shooting category; Skeet, 10m Air Pistol and 25m Rapid Fire Pistol. Any gamer will have some kind of gun fetish within them, so being able to handle a pistol or shotgun in a medal winning event will always go down well here. All of these events ask you for your range accuracy and timing skills - shooting off five successful shots in less than four seconds in the Rapid Fire event can be an intense experience.
In the final category we have a mixed bag of events filed under the catchy title of Other. Archery places you in a knockout tournament against eight other opponents. Weightlifting sees your pumped-up character tackle various attempts in lifting the heaviest weight you can lift, using some confusing analogue stick combos. If you liked the endurance tests of the other events you’ll also like the Cycling Team Pursuit even, where you control one of two teams of four cyclists around the oval track, keeping your energy levels up by switching between fresh-legged leaders. Canoeing/Kayak K1 event was probably the worst event for me. The controls are pretty daunting at first and it will take a lot of effort to become close to being competitive in the event. Judo is also present in the Other line-up, where two men, dressed in white canvas, fight to get the one another on their backs. Rounding off the last of the Other events is Table Tennis knockout event. This event doesn’t come close to Rockstar’s adaption of the sport but it’s a challenging and worthy addition to the overall line-up.
All these events feature male and female competitions, with the exception of some gender specific events. This practically increases the variety of challenges two-fold, which helps boost this titles value for money. You can choose to jump into each of these events by firing up the Training mode. This is where you can select any single event to practice on. In Competition mode you can choose to go against AI opponents, local multiplayer or over Xbox LIVE, in player or ranked matches. In Competition mode you can select a few of your favourite events together, for a mini Olympic Games of your very own. If you want to be in it for the long haul you can begin the Carrier mode. In this mode you get to partake in all the events, spanning 10 days. After each successful event you are awarded with performance attributes points which you can spend on your character. Here you can level-up your character’s performance in particular areas such as stamina, power, agility and speed. By the time you reach the finals, you’ll have one lean, mean, running machine at your fingertips.
Whichever mode you decide to compete in, you will face possibly the steepest difficulty curve that you will ever experience in a Track and Field game to date. Personally I class myself as a decent Track and Field gamer, but when firing up a 100m event for the first time I thought I would easily leave my computer opponents in my dust, boy was I wrong - finally a Track and Field game that can provide a challenge in its single player mode! Granted the AI proves to be a very steep challenge in each event, but like with any real life sport – practice, practice, practice - only training regularly in each event will eventually reward you with Olympic medals.
Luckily in Beijing 2008 you don’t have to rely on good old Jonny AI as your competition, as you can grab up to 7 other chums over LIVE, or locally, and show off your well trained joystick waggling skills! What is good about Beijing 2008’s online Multiplayer is that not only can you compete and beat each of your personal best times with your buddies, but you could also set world records over Xbox LIVE.
This is the first Olympic title (we’re discounting Mario and Sonic’s here) to appear on next generation consoles, so a track and field game in a new polished next-gen suit is expected here and SEGA’s Olympic title doesn’t fail to deliver. Beijing 2008’s presentation is of a very high standard throughout. Each character in the game contains fluid and seamless animation. The character models themselves are highly detailed and show a wide range of variety in them. The stadiums and arenas compliment the characters that play within them, with animated crowds filling the observing seats to the event marshals that run on field to measure your throwing attempt.
If you are a fan of Track and Field games, you will not be disappointed if you decide to pick up a copy of Beijing 2008. With the many events available to you, in both male and female types, along with the lengthy and challenging Competition mode, there will be plenty on offer here to keep you coming back to tackle your personal best. Add the ability to compete online against other Xbox LIVE Olympians around the world, and you have the one of the best Track and Field game to date.