Winter Sports 2010
Third time's a charm? If you're a fan of winter sports and, more pointedly, the Winter Olympics, chances are you've already sampled the relative merits and disappointments on offer in Sega's officially licensed Vancouver 2010 and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games. However, if your blinkered appetite for skiing, snow boarding, and figure skating has not yet been sated (or spoiled) then cheer up, because publisher RTL has just what you need in the form of Winter Sports 2010: The Great Tournament.
Created by German developer 49Games (the same folk responsible for the shockingly dull Summer Athletics 2009), Winter Sports 2010 is something of an anorexic sporting package that offers up snow and ice-based sporting distraction across a mere eight Olympic, sorry, Great Tournament events. While the obvious lack of ambition is evident from the outset, the available events do at least vary enough to inspire gameplay curiosity thanks to predictable inclusions such ski jumping and short track speed skating through to figure skating and the winter biathlon.
Sadly however, while the prospect of becoming an expert alpine sniper, a ski-jumping lemming or a bobsleigh-shaped bullet is all well and good, any genuine sense of anticipation is quickly lost during most events due to twitchy controls that swing between arbitrary button mashing and half-baked attempts at rhythm timing. And, as a result of the controls feeling largely loose and imprecise, important aspects of character presentation such as power, strength and grace are all compromised.
It's not all bad news for Winter Sports 2010, and a few of its events do a passable job of sporadically hitting some of the right notes without ever running the risk of actually excelling. Oddly, though, those occasional moments of serviceable gameplay actually only further dent the overall package because they happen during events such as skiing and snowboarding - both of which have been executed to a far greater standard in other games.
Of the remaining events, guiding a rocketing toboggan down an icy tunnel is strangely underwhelming, speed skating is fast and furious but feels too easy because bend navigation is automatic, while the cross-country biathlon and ski jumping are both as dull as dishwater - much as they are in the real world. And, while we're talking about where the game falls down on its selection of events, where the hell is curling? I mean, it's the one winter sport we all have a guilty fondness for, it would have been perfect... even if it had sucked. An opportunity missed there.
From a visual standpoint, Winter Sports 2010 seems fairly passable at first glance - especially when hurtling down a precarious ski run - but look a little closer and there's a definite lack of depth and detailing. For example, while playable and non-playable competitors are pleasingly realistic, their animation lacks weight and subtlety, while snow and spray effects are poor and crowds often consist of the same three or four models given the copy-and-paste treatment.
Beyond just leaping casually from event to event in single-player quick races, Winter Sports 2010 also offers up an evolving Career mode during which players can collect and trade event experience in order to improve the skills and equipment of their aspiring athlete. While the Career and its related challenges are a brave attempt at maintaining player focus, it's difficult to invest vast amounts of time in becoming a sporting champion when the core gameplay mechanics feel as though they're fighting player progression more than the A.I. competitors.
The same can be applied to Winter Sports 2010's online multiplayer, which presents an interesting level playing field mode called 'fair play', which tasks players to prove their gaming skills by using characters with identical stats (Career characters can be used in 'tough mode'). While the multiplayer mode might work, there are two things conspiring against it - namely the aforementioned control annoyances, and that I can't really pass judgment because finding willing players to join any of the online events was... shall we say... difficult.
Given that Winter Sports 2010 only has a paltry eight disciplines in its locker, it would be wrong to label it as 'a jack of all trades'. It would, however, be much more accurate to describe it as 'a jack of some trades' and it goes without saying that it is absolutely the master of none. One plus point, 49Games is at least consistent in its lack of quality seeing as Winter Sports 2010 is certainly no worse than Summer Athletics 2009. Upon reflection, that's not really a ringing endorsement.