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Summary'till your fingers bleed
The GoodI've complained before about "Olympic" games that do little more than offer a bunch of athletics events with a couple of other events thrown in to make some number. Well, not here, with 12 events ranging from Athletics, Swimming, Diving, Kayak, Skeet Shooting, Weight Lifting to Track Cycling, which, while lacking archery (a staple on all games in the genre) make a good job of portraying the Olympics.
Graphically, that depends on what the player expects. Instead of offering realistic graphics, characters are designed a bit like cartoons with more effort put on models than in texturing, with some nice details such as the weight lifter huffing and puffing as he performs. As most models have very simple and limited textures, they sometimes look odd, but under some angles, what seems to be a lazy job on the graphic department shines. Muscles are well designed, and some of them even have the cephalic vein popping up, a physical trait shared by most athletes.
Then, there's the great Olympic mode. Start with each athlete in the rock bottom, and it's up to the player to start rocking those buttons and watch his stats climb. How? Each event has a series of minigames (the "CyberGym") involving actual training drills regarding the events, actually serving a double function: both increase the stats of the athlete and train the player. Ever heard an athlete saying that training is harder than the race? You'll learn they're right after a few training sessions. After completing (to the best of your capabilities) each training rounds, there's a competition to be beaten, and the trained skills added permanently. Before being able to join the Olympics there are three levels to clear, the fourth tier being only for those wanting the perfect athlete.
The BadAnd allright, the Olympic mode is great... but there's a limit. Doing it once is great fun, but then the novelty ends, leaving "levelling up" nothing else but a chore (RPG fans - you might like it!). Considering the game doesn't even store personal bests (OH, PLEASE! IT'S A PC GAME, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!), unless you don't mind having a record sheet in the disc case, the drive to repeat the qualifying stages to shave a couple more milliseconds isn't there.
A major problem are the number of bugs. There's nothing more frustrating than making a decent hammer throw (one of the toughest events), and have the game booting back to the desktop when it fails to do something. Usually throw a commentary line, which are very passable, to add to injury. So you lose a good throw to listen something that does add the very least to the enjoyment.
The Bottom LineWhile, as far as official games went this one is by far the best looking, I can't bring myself to recommend it. The reason is simple - it lacks a simple, with predefined attributes or just all-equal Olympic mode to be unlocked once the player completed the four part mode. Really. Considering I have a thing for these games, and even still I've started more competitions in Winter Olympics just goes to show how tiresome the whole process can be. And my PC gamepad is holding together for almost eight years, I'd rather to keep it this way for a few more time, thank you very much. Even considering I need a new one, and this one breaking would be the perfect excuse.
Well, enough ranting about the long Olympic mode. The game won a BAFTA award, and it shows why. It's perfectly executed, and the best option (still haven't seen Athens 2004, so hold my word on this) for Summer Olympics in a long time (hmm... Summer Challenge, maybe?). 12 events, each perfectly balanced offer a varied experience, so it isn't just a matter of mashing away all the buttons in all events. Want one with timing? Platform diving. Skill? Kayak. Mashing with some tactics? Cycling.Shoot stuff? Skeet. There you go, a lot to choose from.
Just don't try if your fingers can't put up with the pain. Or if you love your gamepad too much to harm it.