On Your Marks
These days no self-respecting international sporting event is without its own videogame, and the 2000 Olympics are no exception. Containing 12 of the 25 events, Sydney 2000 presents sprints, hurdles, javelins, hammers, triple and high jumps, dives, bikes, weights, shotguns, canoes and one Olympic size swimming pool for the sporting connoisseur's delight. These are navigated using the traditional athletic game control system, so investing in a vice to grip the pad while you hammer the life out of it is advisable if you want to see gold around your virtual neck. For immediate gratification the game offers an arcade mode, putting you straight into the action by allowing up to eight players to attempt any of the events. A handicap setting meters this, so those with particularly dextrous fingers don't necessarily always have the upper hand. Jumping straight to this option though proves frustrating from the off as by emulating reality you only get one shot at each event before having to endure lengthy reloads. In this case though it just feels like four years. The place to start is the coaching mode, where each event is introduced with explanatory text and button timing can be honed to perfection.
For the single player, once you've got the hang of when to press the buttons the Olympic mode is the real muscle of the game. In this you endeavour to train your athlete to Olympic standard in each event by progressing through several levels of qualifying competition, using a 'virtual gym' to boost your performance along the way. The 100 metres sprint for example requires considerable use of the treadmill. Each test needs a certain distance to be covered in a shortening time, with random stabs needed at the action button as lights appear. Cunning indeed, the gym exercises themselves through virtue of being almost identical to the actual events do provide some level of training for the player as well as the virtual athlete, albeit in the art of coordinated button bashing. To provide variety additional gym exercises are thrown into the mix that test player reflexes and timing. As you progress your athlete's strength and stamina increases, an excellent grade pass in each training event will see you clear each qualifying round with ease - until at Olympic standard superhuman finger skills are required to attain a medal. In this mode the player is treated to a lengthy opening ceremony using the 3D engine, and should a medal be attained the winners podium does indeed await. As with the arcade mode you are permitted only one attempt at each event, failure resulting in either returning to a saved game or a restart from scratch. There's no going back, other than to the Head to Head mode, which allows up to eight friends with trained athletes stored on memory cards to compete against each other via multitaps.
The Greatest Spectacle on Earth
Graphically the game is satisfactory, although that seems somehow unimportant as most of the time playing it is spent gazing at the various power and accuracy bars to ensure an optimum performance. The engine is solid if standard, the stadia colourful and animated, and the motion capture fed figures proportioned well enough to give an admirable superhuman quality. It can't hope to compete with its PC or Dreamcast siblings but the Playstation does what it can to provide a suitable atmosphere for most events. Steve Rider adds an authentic feel to the commentary, aided by Stuart Storey and Paul Dickenson, and it does its best to remain fluent throughout. Occasional sudden inflexion changes raise a smile but the vocal talent is far preferable to the music. Some variation in the jungle-oriented soundtrack might prevent the urge to turn off its machinegun like beat, that perhaps being a subtle reflection of the game and its controls.
The Finish Line
Despite the glamour and the guaranteed success that comes with a licence like this even the Olympic mode falls short of providing the armchair athlete with something more than International Track and Field, or any of its 16 and 8 bit predecessors. All the events on which the game focuses boil down to repeated dual button hammering with carefully timed stabs at a third when an action is required. Those that don't are for the most part so poorly implemented that they are more frustrating than fun to play. The criminal non use of the analogue stick in events such as the Skeet Shoot and the Kayak Slalom leave the player wondering why they were included at all when there are so many Olympic events to choose from. That said, Attention To Detail wisely steered clear of including the more popular sports serviced well by individual titles. No one would expect to see Football or Basketball as an option here, but there's plenty of scope for unused originality. Equestrianism perhaps, or Fencing would have provided relief from the inevitably monotonous wrist straining antics the game relies on. Perhaps with the recent arrival of dance mat controllers we may see athletics games in future requiring the participants to button bash with their feet, a spectacle I'm sure that would be immense multiplayer fun (Sports that require you to exert yourself? It'll never catch on.. -Ed). Until some new innovation breaks the ageing mould though these games will always be the short-lived social fun they have been. Sydney 2000 just serves the same idea with a visual overhaul.
For those who enjoy this kind of competition the recent, largely overlooked, Bishi Bashi Special may provide an alternative perspective while retaining the same frenetic pad action. Sydney 2000 though will remain a diversion riding the crest of current Olympic popularity until the spectacle itself finishes and someone says, "I've had enough of that. Stick Gran Turismo back on." Release Date - available now