ESPN International Winter Sports
The Winter Olympics have now passed but for those looking to recreate the magic of this years events this could be the game to help you do just that. The official game of the tournament, Salt Lake 2002, was to be honest a big disappointment. With just six events, of which only a couple were really good, it was never going to set the world on fire. So then it's up to Konami, the past masters of the Olympic based games, to turn this state of affairs around and give us a game worthy of the tournament. Of course being an unofficial title the game is simply called ESPN International Winter Sports but what's in a name when it's the quality of the gameplay that really counts.
The first big improvement on Salt Lake 2002 is the number of events that are on offer. There are ten events in Winter Sports and unlike Salt Lake 2002 most of them are actually good. The events included are Slalom (alpine skiing), K90 & K120 (individual ski jumping), Moguls (freestyle skiing), Speed skating 500m, Bobsleigh, Curling, Halfpipe (snowboarding) and Figure skating. One thing we must say about all the events is that the presentation is very authentic and superior to Salt Lake 2002.
The main problem with games of this nature is the control method. The dreaded button bashing, as it is known, that leaves the thumbs sore and the hands aching has always plagued games of this nature. In the eighties we had Track and Field and Daley Thompson's Decathlon and Supertest, the latter two of these broke several of my Spectrum 48k joysticks. Fifteen years later and much hasn't changed. Winter Sports, to it's credit does attempt some innovation and several of the events, like Figure skating and Halfpipe, move away from the tried and tested thumb crushing experience. Figure skating for example relies on you pressing the buttons in the exact same order and time as they are showed on screen. It's a system that works well but as a result of watching the buttons appear on the screen you can't watch your figure skater perform. You have to wait for the replay to view your efforts. Button bashing is the name of the game for some events though and this is all too 'painfully' obvious in the Speed Skating 500m.
As mentioned earlier the presentation is superb. The animation is top class too and the athlete models are as realistic as the PS2 could possibly get. One disappointment on the graphical side though is the pixelated crowd. This is all too obvious in the Halfpipe event with some of the crowd animated so poorly they look like they stowed away from a PSone game. On the subject of disappointments the number of countries available totals a meagre number of eight. You can pick either a man or a woman from anyone of the eight countries (although in some events the choice between the sexes is not possible). You can't even create your own athlete which is a shame. Each of the athletes available have their own statistics and you can actually feel a difference if you pick a decent one.
The events all initially feel impossible to win and after a lot of practice that feeling is only slightly marginalised. Trying to obtain even a bronze medal will keep you occupied for weeks. Of course the difficulty level may seem off putting but it does add longevity to the game.
As per usual there are no subtitles for the commentary. As with Salt Lake 2002 this doesn't spoil the gameplay in anyway but it does take some of the atmosphere away. Watch the Winter Olympics on TV and you could have had subtitles but there is no such option in the game and in many ways this is just plain unfair.
What it boils down to though is that if you want a game of the Winter Olympics then it would be a far better decision to opt for ESPN International Winter Sports over Salt Lake 2002. The events are better and more numerous, the graphics are slightly better, the events are not all thumb blistering efforts and the chances are you'll appreciate the greater challenge on offer.
Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10 It may not bear the mark of excellence that you usually associate with Konami products but it is still a good interpretation of the Winter Olympics and that is something no other title can claim.
Deaf Gamers comment: Yet again there is no commentary subtitles. When is somebody going to include this in a sports title?