I can't help but feel that these winter sports are sort of insane and self-destructive...
Two things attracted me to Vancouver 2010. Firstly, I’ve always liked gritty sci-fi and the concept of a winter sporting event in a near-future setting intrigued me. Secondly, I’d heard that there was actually going to be a real-life spin-off event for the launch of this game, some kind of winter sports competition which they’re calling the ‘Winter Olympics’, in which countries from around the world compete for medals (and, presumably, free copies of the game). With that kind of marketing budget, I thought it’d be only fair to have a look at it.
Hands up who likes console ports? Anyone? No, nor me. The problem, of course, has nothing to do with games that are written for a console and then released later on the PC. We’re all gamers, and I for one think the more we all hold hands and sing kumbayah, the better it’ll be all round. No, the problem is the sloppiness with which these things are usually done. Come on, people! We have the best gaming hardware! You have twelve buttons on your fancy-pants gamepad? Chopa has three times more than that on his flight stick! Why are we treated like the most casual gamers, then? It’s an old rant, that I’m sure you’re all used to, but it’s depressingly true time after time. This is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, one of those times.
I had a problem with Vancouver 2010 that falls squarely in the ‘completely stopped me enjoying the game’ category. Obviously, this is no mouse-and-keyboard game – the fact that the title screen commands you to “PRESS START” gives you a clue to that. I played with my trusty Playstation 2 controller, run through a reliable PS2 to USB adaptor, which had seen me merrily through plenty of console ports in the past. I configured the whole thing through Windows and all buttons were working fine. During the menu screens the left and right ‘shoulder’ buttons were working fine, but in the game they ceased to have any function at all. There are no in-game options to reconfigure the controller settings and redefining said buttons to the keyboard STILL didn’t work.
Sherlock Holmes said: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Therefore, I can only conclude that the game’s not finished. Still, I can’t shake the thought that I’ve missed something obvious. But seeing as one of the shoulder buttons is ‘speed up’ in downhill skiing and ‘turn the corner’ in speed skating, I spent plenty of time either going very slowly or hitting the wall.
Still, the review must go on. There is a good variety of events available, either individually or as part of a larger competition in ‘Olympic Games’ mode. However, corner-cutting is impressively obvious. Unless I’m mistaken, I was the same guy in every men’s event I played. Can each nation only send one guy to the Winter Olympics? I mean, I know we’re in a recession and all, but that seems a little strange. Every nation seems precisely the same in terms of skill, there is no choice in terms of equipment… it seems like all the lessons learned from other winter sports games over the years have been gleefully ignored. Each event is either men’s or women’s, with no crossover between the two – as Phat Chopps pointed out in the forums recently, this is weird and, quite frankly, bemusing. They’ve clearly got the models and skins for both – what possible reason is there not to allow the player the choice? I’m sure a halfway-decent modder could fix this in a weekend, but I’d be surprised if anyone bothers.
I get that, in the Winter Olympics, many of the ‘hurtle-down-a-chute-as-fast-as-you-can’ events such as skeleton and bobsleigh take place on the same specially-built run, but in the videogame this essentially just means that all of these events are very minor tweaks on the same thing, on the precise same course. There’s about a quarter of your game distilled basically into one level, performed over and over with very minor differences. That must have made life nice and easy on the developers, who were no doubt exhausted after all the work they put into designing their one character skin per nation.
The soundtrack is surf-punky, as you’d expect from a snowboarding game, and fits the mood quite well. The choice between in-goggles first-person or third-person view is handled well, and graphically it looks fine and dandy when it’s hurtling past at 70mph, but significantly weaker once you come to an abrupt halt. The events that weren’t horrifically broken were fairly good fun, in the throwaway kind of way that sub-games that form part of a bigger game can be. It’s a shame there’s no bigger game here.
If I could get a fix for the gobsmacking controller issues that made about half of the events unwinnable, there’s possibly a fun diversion here. The animations before and after the events help create a certain ambience, although a decent in-game commentary would have added hugely.
All in all, (once it's finished) Vancouver 2010 is a game that would work best on the Wii. A cheap laugh for a few hours, nothing more.
... I rest my case.