Athens 2004 PlayStation 2
by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Eurocom
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
With Euro 2004 now merely a memory and the Copa America matches being played when all of us Europeans are in bed the next major sporting event on the calendar is the Olympic Games in Athens. The Olympics is always special but probably more so in 2004 as it returns to the country that gave birth to the whole event. With the Olympic Games being the most popular sporting event in the world, and with Greece having won Euro 2004 and being in the mood to celebrate, it's sure to be a great occasion. As always with a major sporting event a game is released to commemorate the occasion and that game is Athens 2004, which also happens to be a PlayStation 2 exclusive.
Olympic flavoured games have always been popular but I must confess I haven't been impressed with any of the efforts on modern day platforms. In fact if I had to pick my favourite it would be Daley Thompson's Decathlon on the Sinclair Spectrum and that has to be around 20 years old. That said though I have been pleasantly surprised by what Athens 2004 has to offer. Yes it's a good old button basher at heart but there are some differences here and I like the way the whole thing has been presented. But first things first, let's take a look at the 25 events that have been included in the game.
Track - 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, Hurdles
Field - Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Pole Vault, Discus, Javelin, Shot Put
Swimming - 100m Breaststroke, 100m Freestyle, 100m Backstroke, 100m Butterfly
Gymnastics - Floor Exercises Men, Floor Exercises Women, Rings Men, Vault
Jumping - Individual Mixed
Weightlifting - 105kg Men
Archery - Individual 70m Women
Shooting - Skeet Men
Whilst this is a comprehensive line up of events it's by no means the complete line up of Olympic events. After all there's no football, no fencing, no badminton, no softball etc. In all fairness though it would take many years to develop a game with all the Olympic sports and it would be a developers nightmare having to make sure every sport played correctly. Overall I think the range of sports included is satisfactory and what you would expect to find in this kind of game.
From the main menu of Athens 2004 you have a choice of Arcade or Competition mode. Choosing the Arcade mode will give you the option of practicing a single event, taking part in a single event, playing in party mode (more on that in a moment) or playing in challenge mode. Choosing to play in Competition mode throws you into the Olympic games. You can choose to play a single event or the Decathlon, Heptathlon, Athletics, Aquatics, Gymnastics modes. You can also play in all 25 events by choosing the Champion option or you can select custom to pick the events you want.
Whilst the variety in the events is very good it means nothing if the game play isn't up to scratch. We said earlier that the game is a button basher and for the most part this is true. The running events for instance require you to hammer away at the circle and X buttons and also using the L1 button to position yourself on the starting blocks as well as the final lunge for the finish line. There are a fair few events that use this three button combination but there are some events that do things differently. The Discus event for instance requires you to move the right analogue stick in a circular motion in order to gain momentum before finally pressing the L1 button to complete the throw. The Individual Mixed jumping event requires you to control the horse with the left analogue stick, control the horse's speed with the right analogue stick and press the L1 button to jump. You're still going to end up with aching thumbs after playing for while but at least there are events (more than I've mentioned) that don't require you to hammer away at the buttons.
One of the modes I mentioned earlier is the Party mode which can be for 1 to 4 players. Party mode is different from the other Arcade modes because it lets you use a dance mat instead of the controller. For this reason the events that you can participate in have been reduced and you'll only have access to 100m, 200m, 400m, Pole Vault, Long Jump, High Jump, Triple Jump, Floor Exercises Men, Floor Exercises Women and Vault. Personally I think the Party mode is the highlight of the game and I really enjoy being able to run on the dance mat. Played along with 3 other friends (via a Multitap of course), it would be sensational. The hammering away on the circle and X buttons have been replaced by running on either the up or down directional pad along with the pad that is adjacent to it. In a race you'd start off by placing your feet on the left and right directional pads and when the word 'Go' appears on the screen you move to the pads of your choice and start running. Some events don't require you to run though. The Floor Exercises Women plays like a dance game in that you have to press the correct directional arrows as they travel to the top of the screen. Eurocom have found an excellent use for the dance mat and it's a shame that you can't use this method of control for modes other than the Party mode (the game detects that a dance mat is present and makes the other game options unavailable).
The presentation of Athens 2004 is just what you would expect, top notch. The official logos and mascots can be seen on virtually every screen possible, so it leaves you in no doubt that this is indeed the official game of the Athens 2004. Graphically the game looks very good and the athletes all look good. The crowds animate although they don't look anything special. It would have been great to have been able to create your own athletes instead of just having the predetermined ones but on the whole it's not much of a problem. Attention to detail is evident in all the different events and the look of the game is impressive.
Deaf gamers will have no problems with Athens 2004. Of course the commentary that accompanies most of the events is not subtitled but this is really the only element that is missing for deaf gamers. Each event has both text instructions and a movie that shows you the controls for each event. The movies don't use speech but instead use images of the controls along with a slow motion clip of the event in order to show you what needs to be done. In Party mode you'll see movies that depict the dance mat rather than the Dualshock 2 controller which is a nice touch. Should you forget the controls once an event has started you can access text instructions from the pause menu which is activated by pressing the start button.
Whilst Athens 2004 is not wildly different from any other Olympic based game that's gone before it has some great elements that make it fun. The Party mode in particular is a whole heap of fun particularly if you can invite your friends round who also have dance mats. As a single player game it really comes down to how you get on with button bashing as a lot of events require you to do this. That said I was pleased with the events that differed from this tried and trusted method as the controls they opted for worked well. As the only official game of the 2004 Olympic Games it's not going to have any competition for your money but it doesn't really matter because Eurocom have created a good single player game that happens to have a superb multiplayer game in the shape of Party, which makes it a must if you happen to have a dance mat and a few friends.
Game Rating: 8.0/10
With great presentation and a solid line up of events, it's a game fans of the Olympic Games will be pleased with. If you have a dance mat and a few friends though you'll love Party mode.
The commentary isn't subtitled but otherwise there are no problems.