Version tested: Xbox 360
It's unfortunate that this frosty sports simulation has arrived just as everyone in Britain is thoroughly sick of bloody snow, but unlucky timing should be the least of its worries. The button-mashing, stick-waggling sports genre was never likely to reveal many hidden depths, but even by the limited standards of this peculiar subset of gaming Vancouver 2010 is a slender experience.
Some of the blame for its malnourished state can be directed at the event itself, which is a pale icy shadow of its more famous Olympic counterpart. Lower in profile, narrower in scope, it doesn't offer much room for a developer to impress: while the game of Beijing 2008 overstretched itself with 38 events, ranging from judo to javelin, Vancouver 2010 can only offer 14, the majority of which involve sliding down mountains as gracefully as possible.
With so little variety, the simplistic gameplay soon becomes a problem. Unless you're pathologically addicted to leaderboards, you will have accumulated lots of silver medals and exhausted the game's shallow charms before the opening ceremony of the real thing has finished.
That's not to say effort hasn't been made in some areas. The animation is impressive, presumably motion-captured given the realistic tics and twitches that the virtual athletes display while waiting for the events to begin, and the crisp white snow and azure blue sky fit in well with SEGA's clean arcade aesthetic. The game looks lovely and inviting.
Most of the events are even well-implemented in terms of control. They're just ill-suited to videogames or castrated by the need to be a serious official game of a serious sporting event. It may be the first game in history to feature snowboarders who jump sensibly and with the minimum of fuss.
Apart from an incongruous and tepid pop-punk soundtrack the whole game feels starchy and dry, as if anything resembling actual excitement or personality would be the equivalent of loudly cracking off an enormous echoing fart through the sacred rings.
Such reverence is strange, since the game never once feels Olympian. There's no structure to the game - just a bland list of events that can be played in practice or competition modes, in whatever order you fancy. You get a little national anthem scene for the winner of the gold after each event, but there's absolutely no sense of occasion, no ceremonial highs or even the illusion that you're taking part in a major global competition.
Everything feels small, but it's the repetition that sinks it. When you start the first skiing event - Men's Downhill - the effect is impressive. By the time you've played through Men's Super-G, Ladies Giant Slalom and Ladies Slalom, the impact has dimmed. After a few more turns, you'll be stifling a yawn and crying out for something more.
There are a mere handful of courses shared between the various downhill events and, once you've spent an hour or so mastering their familiar corners and curves, they become a pointless exercise in the most basic time trial mechanics imaginable.
The repetition plumbs ridiculous depths with Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton though, which are almost exactly the same. The only minor point of difference comes from having to use both sticks to adjust the position of two bobsled riders rather than the single condom-clad athletes of the others, but it has a negligible effect on the gameplay.
These are sports that may require unique skills and strengths in real life, but when you're steering with a joypad rather than your body weight all nuance is lost. The fact that all three events use the same track makes it even harder to tell them apart. It's not an isolated complaint, either. Ladies Ski Cross is identical to Men's Snowboard Cross, for instance; the same controls, on the same course, but with a different character.
On the rare occasions when the game does venture timidly out from its comfort zone, the results are inevitably mixed. The ski jump is a thrill for a few tries, but it doesn't take long to master the timing of the rudimentary button-presses required and then it becomes little more than a bite-sized distraction. If you played the demo, then you've seen all this event has to offer, too.
Ladies Freestyle Aerials, meanwhile, uses a similar system to the wretched diving events in the Beijing 2008 game. Using both sticks to align rotating rings and moving buttons is stiff and awkward enough to be irritating, and it rarely feels fair, let alone fun. The two ice-skating events offer only long, tedious button-bashing circuits around the rink with slippery steering, which may be accurate but doesn't really translate to a thrilling videogame experience.
There's a tempting "Challenges" option on the menu but, sure enough, that's just another way to rehash the same events even more times. You'll be doing the same races down the same courses, but trying to hit a specific top speed, or beat a certain time, or hit snowmen to keep the clock from counting down. You almost want to pat the developer on the head for making an effort, but it's still the same mouthfuls regurgitated and served up over and over, and it will take more than a sprig of parsley to make the meal appetising.
What's most interesting is what's been left out. Despite the stark lack of variety, the winter events that could have supplied this much-needed change of pace have been mysteriously ignored. Figure skating may not be the most marketable sport around, but with a little influence from the numerous skateboarding games out there, it could have broadened the package.
Ditto for ice hockey. This may be well-served by standalone titles, but even in a stripped-down form it could only make this more substantial. The long-haul stamina trial of a cross-country ski-and-shoot biathlon would be difficult to fit into the glorified mini-game template, but that's precisely why it's so sorely missed. And was there really no way to find space for a bit of curling?
Everything about the Winter Olympics that can't be crammed into the narrow confines of a frostbitten racing engine has been swept under the rug, and what has been included is undone by brazen repetition. Whether because of time or budget limitations, or just a simple decision to keep the development as simple as possible, Vancouver 2010 is irrevocably diminished. There's no faulting the production values, but there's no way to recommend such a painfully thin game.
3 / 10